In childcare, its presence is familiar. The two word phrase is uttered during meetings at school, gossip between parents, and daycares nationwide—’trouble child.’ Despite its prevalence in these conversations, many of us haven’t taken the time to understand what this phrase really means, or ponder its implications toward children who unfairly receive the title.
Recently I spoke with Mai Nass, events designer at Bamrec and certified child whisperer (in my eyes at least), during our recent Bamrec Fireside Chat. After discussing topics that surrounded community-building, child-parent relationships, and uplifting the youth, I asked a question that directed our conversation to a more nuanced focus: “What is a misconception people have about children's behavior and growth?” Following a brief pause, Mai explained that many of us judge children at face-value without seeking to understand their personal experiences. Ensuingly, harmful titles like ‘problem child’ come to fruition when we encounter a child who displays behavior that deviates from our expectation.
Explains Mai, “Kids get tagged as a ‘problem child,’ and people spread it around so everybody sees the child [this way], when in reality they just need somebody to talk to.” The harm of normalizing this phrase is that it allows us to dismiss the source of struggle that leads to behavior society views as disobedient. It is easy to forget that children communicate differently than adults do; what may seem like attention-seeking behavior to us can be a call for help from them. And it goes both ways, as well. “Just because a child has good manners, does not mean that there’s nothing they need help with,” shares Mai, adding that “a kid can be super nice but internally struggle with sadness.” Whether it is at work or home, those of us with little ones in our life must practice attentiveness when interacting with them, never ‘giving up’ on a child just because they require extra care. “It’s your job as somebody who's involved in taking care of kids to find out [the problem] and be able to help guide them through that,” concludes Mai.
Moving forward, we must stay vigilant in avoiding the use of generalizing terms, because they stifle the growth of the learning environment that allows every child to succeed. And finally, let's remember to treat children as who they really are: multi-faceted, complex individuals who deserve just as much care as grown-ups do.
Written by Meriem Cherif