Friday, June 12, 2015

When The World shows up in your backyard: teaching kids how to behave in a crowd

I learned an important lesson in second grade.  It was one of those rare moments when the teacher was called out of the classroom - I think it was a substitute teacher, surely not my beloved Mrs. Baldree.  She was called to the office, and told the class to be quiet and stay seated until she returned.  The class, of course, erupted into second grade shenanigans and boisterous talking as soon as she closed the door.

Being the Good Girl that I was, I stayed in my seat and mourned the bad behavior of my fellow students until I got a righteous and mature idea: we should play the Quiet Game!  Since  the room was so noisy and chaotic I couldn't get anyone's attention from my seat, so I went to the front of the classroom and tried to make my suggestion over the rising din.  That's when the teacher returned to the room, to see a class in disarray, deliberately disobeying her instructions, and me out of my seat at the front of the room shouting about the Quiet Game (oh, the irony!).  I was sent to the hall to reflect upon my misbehavior.

It was clearly a misunderstanding ... I was only trying to lead my fellow classmates into better behavior by deliberately disregarding the teacher's instructions.  I stood in the hall thinking about my good intentions and the fact that in a situation where one authority figure was faced with 30 misbehaving kids, my Good Girl aura did not outshine the fact that I was just another kid doing the wrong thing.  Here's what I learned:  if the authority figure tells you to do something and you do not do it, you're  wrong.  Even if you have a good idea.  Even if your good idea supports her authority.  Even if your good idea that supports her authority would lead the rest of the class to do the right thing - if you have to be disobedient ... you're wrong.

One of my most humbling life experiences has been my children's response to me on days when I am out of control.  Frustrated.  Tired.  Overwhelmed.  Not two consecutive moments of peace, and undone housekeeping and schoolwork and business rising like a chaotic tidal wave.  Much to my shame, there have been days when I've taken my frustration out on my children in short tempered and unkind verbal tirades that were out of control and inexcusable.  But my children taught me that kindness, grace, and believing the best in the face of out of control anger and frustration have a positive affect.  My children taught me that when the person in authority is out of control, you have the power to affect the situation for peace - even if you are a mischievous five year old who dared your brother to drink soy sauce until he throws up all over the couch.  When you respond to out of control authority with composure, dignity and respect, you help restore equilibrium to the situation.  You call the person in authority back to calm.  Even when you are a little person with very little power, if things are out of control, your response can help the situation right itself.

Recently, the city we refer to when it's time to go into town became the nation's focal point over a situation at a pool party that spun badly out of control.  My heart breaks for every person involved and for the terrible ugly swirling around screens as the scene replays in America's living rooms.  I thought this kind of thing couldn't happen in my world, and lo and behold, it's right there in my backyard.

We know families who live in the neighborhood where the pool party debacle happened.  My kids are around the age of the kids involved in the appalling situation.  I'm sure no one arriving at the event dreamed it would end up headlining the national news for days on end. The now infamous pool party has been a frequent topic of conversation in our family.  Maybe it has also been in yours.

As our kids were growing up, I found preparation to be one of the best things I could do for my children when we were entering an unfamiliar situation or a situation where expectations on their behavior were high.  Discussing with my toddlers what was going to happen, who would be there, how to respond to various questions and how I expected them to behave was nearly always a guarantee for great behavior.

I think as we process the broader social topics regarding the pool party in the news, it's also important to coach our young people through what to do if they find themselves in a crowd that's out of control.  We'd not had that conversation in our family before.  Here are seven talking points to start a conversation with your kids about what to do if they're in a public setting and things go wrong:

Have a great time, but monitor what's going on around you

As more and more people are added to a gathering, the crowd itself develops a personality and mood, and the bigger the crowd, the greater the influence it has over unthinking individuals.  Your situational awareness becomes increasingly important as the crowd builds; you need to know if things start to go bad.  While you're having fun, keep part of your brain in constant monitor mode.

Do the right thing when everyone else is doing the wrong thing

In my second grade class, everyone else was talking loudly and out of their seats and I thought my good intentions justified disobedience, but all I did was become part of the problem.  Even if you are trying to lead other to people do the right thing, disobedience is still disobedience.  Take your stand as a leader by doing the right thing, even if others don't follow.

LEAVE when a group situation tips out of control

A bad situation starts small but it builds, and then there's a moment when the situation tips.  In a crowd, this is often marked by people trying to be badass, talking loud, and showing blatant disregard for propriety and the property and personal space of others.  When the behavior of the crowd becomes more of a force than the behavior of the individual, it's time to pack it up and leave.  Leave, and do not come back.

Know how far your influence extends

If you're attending an event where things are going wrong and you need to extricate yourself, you need to know that the people you're with are going to be in sync with you.  If a situation is decomposing and you can't convince your friend it's time to go, you may still be on scene when things turn really bad.  Make sure you know how far your influence extends with those around you, because if you don't have influence over the people you're with, you may need to get yourself out of there and leave them behind.

Stand down when a person of authority arrives

If you haven't already extricated yourself from a bad situation when a person of authority arrives at the scene, whether it's a parent, security guard, and especially if it's a policeman, be still, be quiet, and wait for your instructions.  Under no circumstances should you be part of the milling chaos.

Exude respect to those in authority

When a person of authority confronts you - even if they are out of control - exude respect.  From every pore of your body, with every facial expression, every blink of the eye, every spoken word and the very tone of your voice, convey respect.  If they rudely tell you to sit down and be quiet, sit down and be quiet.  Do not be part of the problem.  Just as the sweetness of the child calms a frustrated mother, your calm respect can affect a stressed out peace officer, and any positive affect applied to a bad situation is a worthy contribution.

Distance yourself when it feels like The Group needs to right a wrong

Provided you haven't already left the scene, which is highly preferable, if the collective seems to be trying to right a wrong through disobedience and disrespect, distance yourself as far as you possibly can (again, provided you haven't already left).  The solution isn't going to be found inside the disobedient and disrespectful group.  The solution is in the individual.  YOU be the calm one.  YOU be the respectful one.  Because if every single YOU does the right thing, the situation rights itself.

In the pool party situation, if every person had gone home, if every person had maintained calm, if every person had exuded respect, if every person had maintained their individuality and taken personal responsibility for their influence over the situation, the video now cast into internet perpetuity would not be on a constant loop pulling more and more people into the poisoned ugly.  As parents, we have an obligation both to our children and our society to teach our children how to handle themselves if they find themselves in a public situation and things go wrong.  Because as it turns out, The World hangs out in our backyard.

Shared joy is doubled joy ... let's double the joy for both of us - what are you most grateful for today? Click below to leave your comment. I'll go first :

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