The little girl who lives next door had been a problem for a long time. She is the type of child who says "NO" when you tell her it is time to go home, or blatantly defies you when you tell her to stop doing something.
She lives with her grandmother who has, over the course of the 8 years we have been neighbors, decided on several different occasions that she wasn't interested in being friends with us, so I had no way of knowing what was going on at home.
Last year, when this little girl was 5, her Grandmother kept her home from kindergarten feeling she wasn't ready yet. This year at age 6 she went off to kindergarten. Three days after school began she came to call for my daughter in the middle of the school day. I asked why she wasn't in school and she responded, "Because my age was ready but my act wasn't."
I inquired further, wondering what she could possibly have done to get tossed from school after three days of kindergarten. She may have been something of a problem, but certainly the school system couldn't have expelled her, could they? That's when she told me that she was "bad" and had to take "bad pills." I told her that I didn't think she was "bad."
Her entire face brightened and she looked at me with wonder and said, "Really?" Then she wrapped her arms around me and told me she loved me. Suddenly I realized this poor child's problem. She had been convinced in her short life that she WAS bad. What reason does a 6 year old child have to behave well if it isn't expected of her?
Before that moment I had frequently been impatient with her behavior, but I vowed that from that day on she would get only love and patience from me. She went back to school a few days later and has had no further problems. I know, because I ask every time I see her how school is, what she is learning, and does she have fun at recess.
My new found caring has worked out well. She seems to listen better to what I say, perhaps because of the love in my voice. She comes over now not only to call for my daughter, but to show me her new Halloween costume, or ask if she can play with the kittens. She is not afraid of my authority and I am free to genuinely care for her.
It is my hope that over her life she will meet many people who will realize she needs something extra, something she doesn't seem to be getting at home, and she will blossom into a spirited, but well behaved, child.
The next time you encounter a child whose behavior is frustrating to your patience, think about what that child's life experience may be and give that child a little extra love and attention. You never know.