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Flipping The Script On ‘Difficult’ Children

Today it’s ‘Break the Rules’ day at my son’s school.
From the a child’s perspective, it all feels very novel and exciting, but the world is so full of ‘rules’; whether they’re clearly defined, as they typically are in school, or more subtle societal rules; I think there’s a lot more value in ‘breaking the rules’ than we can realise.

While I’m a huge advocate for skilling young people up with the breadth of competencies they’ll need to navigate the world; which will always mean a degree of compliance; much-needed change often arises from a refusal to accept the status quo.

Culturally, we aren’t raised to challenge authority; in a ‘progressive’ 21st century England, police have powers to prevent public protests, and the government’s latest school initiative aims to re-establish ‘discipline and order’ in young people.

Society does not promote non-conformist behaviour, and consequently, kids who are oppositional or defiant are often thought of as ‘problem children’.
So problematic, in fact, that achieving this ‘discipline and order’ in 10 ‘behaviour hub’ schools affords a £10million budget.

But let’s flip the narrative on ‘breaking the rules’ for a moment…

I absolutely believe that the art of co-operation is essential. Whether we work with children or live with them, when there’s flow to the adult-child relationship, everyone wins.

And on the other end of the spectrum, children who are oppositional can be hard work; a drain on time and energy, for everyone…

When they challenge, resist, refuse to co-operate, break the rules and make their own rules instead, let’s be honest, they can be infuriating.

And in those moments, it’s easy for us to make judgements about their intentions; to assume they’re being ‘deliberately difficult’, trying to ‘spoil things’ etc. And sometimes they are.

But sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they just see the world in that moment through a different lens than us.

It’s a uncomfortable truth that children are not born with a responsibility to make life easy for grown-ups (despite the fact that we might have school or national policy to the contrary).

Unfortunately though, most of us were raised that way ourselves and so it’s second nature to subliminally pass this expectation on to children.

But here’s a different perspective on our ‘challenging’ kids…

What drove children like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai before they made their imprint on the world?

Yes, they’re exceptional characters, but what would global climate change awareness or the education rights for Pakistani girls look like, had those girls not decided to ‘be challenging’?

I’m absolutely not saying that we don’t teach children appropriate ways of expressing themselves; their alternative views, differences of opinion, their discontent. It serves them well to have the communication and self-management skills to do that.

But what I am saying isn’t that we mustn’t confuse those competencies with passivity or self-defeat or apathy.

Those kids; the ones who’ll fight for injustice, get their voices heard, speak up for those who can’t, task enormous risks, create a movement; are all around us… They could be any child. They could be OUR child.

And when we recognise the strengths in those non-compliant, uncooperative, disobedient, wilful, resistant, oppositional or ‘naughty’ characteristics, instead of just the deficits, we will see them.

What might happen instead, if we labelled those children as independent and free-thinking, determined and motivated, if saw the value in kids who are courageous enough to break the mould or go against the grain?

We’ll see those children who might just change the world…

PS) Download our FREE pdf, “5 Daily Actions For Emotionally Healthy Brains”!

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