Universal Law

The Meadows School campus with green trees and paved sidewalks in Las Vegas, Nevada
Universal Law

If you open any educational journal or do a cursory Google search about student development and needs, you will be inundated with information about the importance of understanding your students as individuals. The articles range from understanding the developmental process of children to getting to know your students outside of the classroom. Many articles are specific to the toll the Coronavirus and cell phones have had on student populations in recent years. Such articles can be informative and insightful. The underlying message in many of these articles is that students are people. Young people, yes, but people nonetheless, with all the challenges of being a human in today’s society. 

Adults sometimes forget this aspect of being a child. As adults, we are in control, at least more in control, over our daily lives. We make decisions for ourselves in a variety of ways every day. Children, even older children, do not have the same degree of control over what they do on any given day. They may or may not be involved in the choices that govern their activities regularly. This can be frustrating for anyone but is a generally accepted norm for young people.

It is important to remember that even though adults have more control over what they do and when they do it, they still get frustrated, forget things, and make mistakes. Adults and children get hungry, irritable, tired, and sad. All of these feelings change the way we behave or perform. In this regard, adults are the same as children but have more experience regulating their emotions and adjusting expectations. 

Typically, adults see children through a particular lens that can obscure their expectations and interactions. Adults often see children as wards, athletes, students, and learners. We sometimes fail to acknowledge that a forgetful student has a life outside of school that might put extra demands on their time and energy, making it even more challenging to remember things for class. A talkative student may be deflecting attention away from the fact that they find a subject difficult or still need to complete their work. Sometimes, adults engage in or accept behaviors from other adults that they do not tolerate with children, even though adults should know better. In fact, there have been many meetings when teachers are talking or doing work during a presentation, speaker, or professional development session. 

Suppose the goal is to change the way a student is behaving. In that case, it is important to reflect upon that behavior and think about ways to engage with a child that will encourage them to do their best without making them feel as if they have failed for not living up to every expectation placed upon them. To be clear, this does not mean there should not be standards or expectations for students or that there are no circumstances that require a more stern demeanor, but rather that we need to approach students in a way that helps them succeed the next time or improve their behavior over time. Also, understand that behavioral change, like any form of growth, takes time and practice. There may be good days and bad days and many reminders along the way. 

In short, adults need to be patient with children. It is necessary to have boundaries and expectations accompanied by the understanding that we all have a bad day, week, or month. What we usually need is support, encouragement, and redirection. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become universal law.” In other words, imagine if the way you behave is how everyone is expected to behave.

Principles of Child Development and Learning

Tracy Neblina
Assistant Director of K-8