School Psychologist: What I Know About Children that Textbooks Couldn't Teach Me

I have been working as a School Psychologist for 15 years now in a Preschool through High School setting. My degrees include a B.S. in Psychology, an M.A. in School Psychology and an Educational Specialist in School Psychology.  My graduate program included courses in child development, academic and behavioral interventions, behavioral psychopathology, etc. Courses full of the information I would need to be an expert in understanding children and their behavior.

Let me tell you, when I walked into my first job at the ripe age of 23, I was an EXPERT in all things children. How they develop, how they behave, how to get them to behave, how to be a parent. I was ready to change the world. Until the world hit me in the face and said “You silly goose! You know nothing.” And I didn’t. Well, that’s not true. I knew some. But textbook learning is so different from real-life experience learning. I was definitely not an expert. And I learned quickly that children are individual little creatures with their own minds, their own temperaments, and their own agendas.

For the first few years on the job, I definitely had some ideas about what parents were doing or not doing that was hurting/ helping their children’s success. Looking back, I was such a judgmental little b---. What did I know about being a parent? Not much, it turns out.

Now that I am a parent of three children, one in middle school, one in elementary school, and one in preschool, I have learned that I was far from an expert when I first started out. I’m still far from an expert now.

Here are some lessons I have learned from having children that can’t be learned from a textbook:

 

SLEEPING

At a very young age, babies can learn to soothe themselves to sleep following a consistent bedtime routine.

Bullshit. Here’s what I now know. There are two things you cannot force a child to do: sleep and eat. Yes, a routine definitely helps, but some kids are just better sleepers than others. My 12 year old didn’t sleep through the night until he was…. Actually, he never has. My 5 year old is a fabulous sleeper. Their bedtime routines have been virtually identical since birth. Kids are all different.

 

TEMPER TANTRUMS

If a child throws a temper tantrum, that behavior must have worked for him or her in the past. If parents ignore temper tantrums, they won’t happen again.

Again, baloney. Kids are not stupid. Yes, if they throw a temper tantrum once and manage to get their way, the likelihood of them tantrumming again obviously increases. But sometimes kids just throw fits because they can be assholes. The time that my then three year old threw a massive, screaming fit in the middle of a craft store because I said ‘no’ to him buying a giant tube full of jungle animals did not result in me buying him the aforementioned animals. So, he should have learned his lesson right? No more temper tantrums right? Wrong. Even though I always say ‘no’, he still gets upset in a store time and again. Textbooks don’t tell you that sometimes kids are hungry or tired or have an earache, or just woke up in a bad mood. The best behavior modification techniques in the world are not going to make a hill of beans difference if it is past a two year old’s nap time.  Little ones are full of emotions that they don’t have the communication skills to express. So they throw tantrums. It happens to all of us.

 

SCREEN TIME

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2.

Before I was a parent I was very judgmental of children having too much screen time. It is easy to say “how about you talk to your child instead of handing them your phone?” when you don’t have a child and haven’t had a child talking to you for 11 years straight. For real. My 12 year old started talking at 8 months and has not taken a break since. He’s the one who doesn’t sleep much. He’s too busy talking.

I remember thinking that I would never let my children watch tv before the age of 2. We would read books! We would do educational crafts! We would explore the outdoors! And, guess what? We did all of those things. But there were also times when I needed 10 minutes to take a shower for the first time in a two week period, and if turning on a little Sesame Street for my 22 month old was wrong, well, I just couldn’t be right. My stench was becoming unbearable to me and everyone around me.

 

SCHOOL PARTICIPATION

Children who have involved parents do better in school.

Well, this is a no-brainer, right? Before I had kids in school, I would often wonder just how hard it was for parents to sign assignment notebooks each night. Or talk with groups of teachers about how so-and-so’s parents never studied her spelling words with her. Or criticize parents for not reading more with their children. Oh, how easy it was to judge. Now, though? With three kids in school I know first hand that the amount of paperwork those kids bring home is astronomical. There are permission forms, assignment notebooks, reading logs, math logs, spelling lists, the list goes on and on. I try to read with each kid each night, but guess what? Between all of the after school activities, dinner, getting ready for bed, etc., sometime there are just not enough hours in the day. I try to sign assignment notebooks every night, but I’m not perfect. I miss some sometimes. I try my best.

And that is what I have learned. All parents try their best. Some parents have more resources than others, more money, more help, just more. But I think all parents truly do the best they can with what they have. I have learned to judge less and be helpful more. I have learned that parents know more about their kids than textbooks can tell me. I have learned that kids are complicated. And all that I have learned has made me a better parent and definitely a better professional.