Claiming that getting my 3-year-old daughter to take her medicine is difficult would be a major understatement. Since she’s been home sick for the past two days, we have had to give her both flu medication every twelve hours and pain and fever relievers to bring down her temperature. In the course of administering all of this, we have learned some interesting new tricks for getting her to take it.
And she has learned even more new tricks for avoiding it.
This morning as I approached her with a syringe of medicine, she immediately went into fight mode: curled up in a ball, hands clamped tightly over her mouth, head turned as far away from me as possible.
I launched my usual counterattack: bribery. Promises of marshmallows and popsicles and watching the Trolls movie and whatever else I could think of to convince her to open her mouth. No success.
I picked her up and sat down at the kitchen table with her squirming in my arms and tried to find just the right angle to squirt the medicine into her mouth. At the very last second, just as I thought I had it, she lunged forward and grabbed a pretzel out of an open pouch on the table, quickly shoving one in her mouth. “Sorry, Mommy,” she said sweetly. “I can’t take any medicine. I already have something in my mouth!”
Sighing, I sat and watched her chew. Slowly. Deliberately. Like someone who knew they were winning the battle.
As she swallowed the last bite of pretzel, I acted fast and got the syringe into position again. Now she tried negotiation. “But Mommy, I feel good! My heart,” she tapped her chest, “feels great! I don’t need any medicine!”
I still don’t know what exactly happened next, but I moved fast and caught her by surprise and–just like that!–the medicine was gone. She took a drink, accepted a treat, and acted like the whole ordeal was nothing at all.
This made me think, though, about how hard we fight against things we really don’t want to do. How relentless we can be in avoiding tasks that we consider undesirable.
Yesterday, my friend Colin wrote a Slice of Life post called “Are We Too Academic?” He reflected upon the joy that sometimes seems to be missing in our classrooms and the things we have to let go of to make learning seem so “academic.” He addressed how we often plan lessons based on the things we think we have to do, not the things we value.
What does this have to do with my daughter refusing to take her medicine? A realization of just how many things we ask our students to do that they don’t want to do in a day. While they might not hide or fight or try to negotiate, they still react. They fail to complete their work. Some disengage. Many simply become compliant, doing what they’re asked to do because that’s the way the system works.(For a great discussion of engagement vs. compliance, check out this article on the work of Daniel Pink.)
As I reflect upon this tonight, I just keep asking How can we make things different? I don’t believe that every activity all day long is going to appeal to every child–and it shouldn’t. It is an important life skill for kids to learn to do things that sometimes they would not otherwise prioritize. Responsibility isn’t always fun.
But I do believe that we can shift our thinking a bit. I think we need to make sure we look at our lessons through multiple lenses, the most important one being how the students will perceive what we are doing. Are we making it meaningful? Are we allowing them to do the work, especially the creative thinking? Are we setting them up for circumstances that can be engaging and joyful?
Or are we simply spending too much time trying to give them another dose of medicine?
I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday and daily during the month of March in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.