What the bad kids at work taught me

Laura Lothrop

Seeing the context behind outward actions


Kids will find any reason to throw a fit and burst into tears.

They aren’t naturally good at being generous and inclusive; they say whatever is on their mind, and will let their hunger ruin an entire craft activity once the word “lunch” is uttered.

This summer, I worked at a day camp for eight hours per day taking care of around 50 second and third graders. It was my favorite place to be, except when each individual child lost their mind and started to pummel their friends and emotionally crumble over a broken crayon.

Daily, I had to decide if I would let 40-something kids drive me up the wall, or attempt to be the one calm element in that moment of turmoil. I had to force myself to literally get on their level and listen to their high-pitched cries, whether I felt they were legitimate or not.

Every single outburst and breakdown I experienced was always quickly followed by a resolution or new game that swayed each child to think about something positive, and not about the emotions they were struggling to control.

Children want to be heard, and they want to know that the adults around them care about how they feel. As we grow up and become adults, it seems that everyone forgets that we too desire those two basic human acknowledgements.

Treating that “annoying” peer with the same grace that we extend to children offers them the option to regain composure and check themselves. People don’t typically hurt others just because they take pleasure from it.

Children and adults often hurt those around them inadvertently because of past experiences and conditioning that makes them wary to trust. The children I worked with had severe trust issues, which explained their lashing out and run away tantrums when disciplined was attempted.

Everyone is a big kid with a lifetime of past hurts all melted into one being, hurts often never fully resolved or healed from.

If I had ignored the kids’ bad behavior, it would have seriously imprinted into them that I did not care about their actions and the reasons behind them.

Gradually, the naughty kids’ disdain towards me chipped away, as they saw that I didn’t actually want to treat them like a child I babysat, but instead, like a friend that deserves respect.

Humans act out when they think no one cares enough to hold them accountable. A child’s actions are merely a mirror to the insides of their core learned behaviors that they model after caretakers.

If children only see adults and loved ones combusting into anger, they will learn that that is how problems are taken care of, and how to behave when emotions bubble over.

Throughout summer, I grew close with a large number of the kids. But the bad kids, who were constantly mentally and physically harming their peers, made me furious and impatient.

I often found myself saying, “I wasn’t like that when I was a kid.”

Then I realized that I didn’t know what it was like to only have one parent in my life, or be worried about where I would sleep on any given night of the week as a child.

With certain children’s sour situations at home, I began to understand why they acted out so viciously towards other children and towards me.

The bad kids at work are not actually bad human beings. They do things that are hurtful simply because they are hurting and acting out against the anger and lack of control they feel within the fragility of a childhood rapt in turmoil.

All of these children taught me that patience doesn’t only have a limit with those that show improvement or say they’re sorry when I ask them to.

Being patient and loving means being creative and careful when speaking to a child, and setting a positive example that will hopefully be imprinted upon them.

I wonder what would happen if we treated everyone in our day-to-day life with patience and forgiveness, acknowledging the unspoken struggles they go through.

Real love and attentiveness is strong guidance built on trust, which promises to remain in hopeful encouragement for that person, even while they remain unfaithful and chaotic.

Relationships would heal and communication would be restored in our world if everyone gave out grace, empathy and understanding as freely and lovingly as we do with children.