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Julie VanSpall – Home Front

We can learn from children’s honesty

Voices Feb. 4, 2019

Balancing honesty and respect can be hard for some children because they don’t recognize the invisible and unspoken “fine line” between them, writes Julie VanSpall.       (Pxhere photo)

After several years of classroom teaching, three years ago I began working as a learning resource teacher. This opportunity presents me with many opportunities to grow as both an educator and as an individual.

For starters, before working in this capacity, I rarely prioritized the importance of teaching social language and inferencing. I now realize that communication struggles are at the root of many anxiety and social issues facing many of today’s children.

Using the “Social Thinking” program of Michelle Garcia Winner, I have focused on learning how to break down the skills of communication in order to teach children who do not grasp these skills naturally.

For some children, tracking a person’s eyes to literally see their point of view is difficult; therefore, it’s no wonder they have trouble understanding someone else’s viewpoint in a discussion. They miss inferences such as sarcasm, jokes, and hints. They also tend to say exactly what they think, oblivious to the impact their words may have on others.

I enjoy teaching social language. There are times, however, when doing so makes me acutely aware of my own deficiencies. For instance, I am the first to admit that I’m a bad liar. In and of itself, this is a good quality; however, when I’m trying to be diplomatic or hide a shocked or surprised response, it has the potential to cause problems.

I have been teased by friends and family who have seen my varied facial expressions. I wear my heart on my sleeve; unfortunately, this also means I wear my disgust on my brow. First impressions are so important; back-tracking is very difficult. If I burst out laughing at the wrong time, drop my jaw in stunned silence, or snap words of impatience, my honest responses may hurt someone.

Balancing honesty and respect can be hard for some children because they don’t recognize the invisible and unspoken “fine line” between them. As an adult, I make mistakes, but I do know the difference and, consequently, end up fretting over my social errors.

One of my favourite readings is St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (Cor 13: 11-12)

This passage reminds me we are all on a journey toward eternal life. Along the way, we develop and grow in our own ways and in our own time. As children, we understand life in part; as adults, we understand more fully. In a similar “childlike” – undeveloped – faith, we now see blurred images of heaven, awaiting the day when we will meet the Father “face to face.”

In their innocence, children are reflections of heaven. As Bishop Robert Barron states, children “are in accord with God’s deepest intentions for them. To say it another way, they haven’t yet learned how to look at themselves.  (They) can … immerse (themselves) so eagerly and thoroughly in what (they are)] doing … because (they are) not looking at (themselves), not conscious of other people’s reactions, expectations, and approval … Childlikeness has to do with that rootedness in what God wants us to be.”

Yes, our understanding improves as we mature and as we develop a greater recognition of the ways in which heaven is reflected “indistinctly” in this life, but we must also hold onto our “rootedness” in the people God “formed,” “knew,” and “dedicated” before we were born, without trying to impress others. (Jer 1:5).

Children are honest about who they are and about what they feel. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with and learn from them. In preparing my students for an adult world by teaching them to be empathetic and to see another person’s perspective, they teach me to worry less about being judged and to simply be myself, just as God intended.

We often walk a fine line between honesty and respect. Combining my life experience with the refreshing influence of my delightful students, I hope to grow in both.