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Mothering › Child Articles › Difficult Child or Natural Leader? It’s All a Matter of Perspective

Difficult Child or Natural Leader? It’s All a Matter of Perspective

Thank you to Suzy Hayman DeYoung from Parenting with New Perspectives for this guest post.

While chaperoning a fourth grade “team building” field trip, the group of twelve students were given a complex challenge that involved devising a way to cross a pit by obtaining a rope swing positioned out of arm’s reach.

Interestingly, the four children who ultimately came up with the solution were the ones frequently labeled as disruptive, distracted and challenging in the classroom. Out here in the woods, however, they were resourceful, resilient, cooperative and focused.

One young boy took charge by assertively directing and motivating his team. He was very animated and verbal.  I commented that if I were ever lost in the wilderness I would want him with me.

His mother asked his teacher if he is often this chatty at recess. The teacher, rolling his eyes, appeared exasperated.  With a measure of irritation, he responded, “yes” then added, “often too much.” (Can one really talk too much at recess?)

A parent may take this information and reprimand her son for a behavior that another adult may see as positive. Imagine the same scenario but a different response. What if the mom was told that her son’s verbosity was a skill that would do him well in life?  What if she were told that such verbosity, despite needing to be occasionally reigned in during class time, was nevertheless indicative of a natural born motivator? Better yet, what if the child were told this?

How we see children is often how they are. If we expect them to be “difficult,” they will be. If we expect them to be successful and confident, they will be.

It would be wonderful if schools could offer more of these opportunities. Team building activities teach a plethora of skills both cognitive and social and they allow kids who are less adept in academics the opportunity to regularly utilize and demonstrate their other skills.

As long as worksheets, textbooks, rows of desks, lack of visual stimulation and little time spent in the natural world are used as measures of a child’s ability to “succeed,” many bright kids will continue to be perceived as troubled or unmotivated.

When told by the instructor on the field trip that he had broken one of the rules of the challenge, one student respectfully yet assertively challenged the technicality of the rule. Was this backtalk or self-assurance? Was it worthy of discipline or consideration?

The instructor pondered the boy’s assertion then ultimately recognized the validity of the opinion and allowed the boy to proceed. Visibly more self-assured the student went on to lead much of the activity.

Perception is everything. The introverted little girl is either painfully “shy” or a deep thinker. The boy who would rather play outside and climb trees than read or write is either doomed for failure or destined to make great discoveries in the natural world.

In the words of author, Wayne Dyer, “If you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.”


Born and raised in New York City, Suzy began her career in television production. She spent almost fifteen years working as a segment producer for a number of programs including Good Morning America and Live With Regis and Kathie Lee. After the birth of her first child she returned to school to pursue her interest in child development. Suzy graduated in 1996 from Bank Street College of Education in New York City with a Masters Degree in Parent/Child Development and taught pre-school in New York City and Connecticut before focusing on working with parents.  Through her business, Parenting With New Perspectives, she offers support, guidance and coaching both on-line and over the phone as well as in her CT office. Suzy is the parent of three children ages 17, 13 and 11.

Melanie Mayo-Laakso


Melanie Mayo-Laakso is the Content Manager for Mothering.com. Mothering is the birthplace of natural family living and attachment parenting. We celebrate the experience of parenthood as worthy of one's best efforts and are at once fierce advocates for children and gentle supporters of parents.

Comments (5)

As a mother of a son who is "destined to make great discoveries in the natural world," I thank you for this brilliant story.
My husband was one of those kids who was labeled disruptive and insubordinate in school. He says he spent half his schooldays in the hallway. The man's a natural leader, though, and I desperately hope our baby girl has inherited/will learn that from him. As a former teacher, I cringe to think of how easy it is for teachers to try to quash behavior that may be legitimately inquisitive and not intentionally disruptive or disrespectful. (But it can be really hard to tell the difference.) We intend to homeschool our daughter (and any other kids we may have), especially if she has a brain like her dad's.
sometimes its difficult to read stories such as these. As valid as I believe the point is, as a teacher I tend to cringe every time something so general is written about the backwards nature of schools and teachers. The truth is, there are some not very insightful teachers out there, just as there are some not very insightful parents. Things like textbooks and rows of desks are rapidly being thrown out the window in many public and private school systems due to ongoing learning and research. Many teachers (I believe I am one of them myself) would NEVER roll their eyes to a parent and tell them that their child is too talkative, but would work with the parent on how to make his personality a positive aspect of the classroom. Bringing nature and teamwork into the classroom is something I build the foundation of my kid's studies on. The building of a child's spirit in their learning has to be a team effort between the teacher and the parents. I don't want people to think that home schooling is their only option (although again, it is also a wonderful option). My best advice would be constant communication with your child's teachers, yourselves, and your children. We are not the enemy!
I agree. I also cringe when I read stories such as these. In my experience, though, half the time my children had teachers who considered how to bring out the best in each child, and the other half pretty much ignored individual strengths and hammered away at inadequacies without any guidance at all on how to remediate them. My attempts to discuss this were met with either defensiveness, or disbelief. When the grade seven teacher tells you your child can read just fine, when you have had to read aloud even easy assignments, what are you to think? When, years later, you discover that the same child just sat at his desk during silent reading time, turning the pages when everone else did so he wouldn't get into trouble, the thoughts you think are not happy ones. In grade two, he was renowned for his ablility to think of things to play with his friends, during the 15 minute recess. It's not surprising that in his professional life, he shows great leadership abilities and is a valued for making projects go more smoothly. Too bad he couldn't have enjoyed those talents more, during school.
Great post! Now and again my son has a teacher who actually wants to teach him and help him grow, and invariably he thrives in such classes. But most teachers value order and conformity above all else, in part because they have too many students in their classes, in part because we all like to impose our will on others, in part because they confuse themselves with their students ("I didn't act this way when I was a child"). Such teachers most often see parents as fools and enemies who are "at fault" for their children's nonconformity, and this just makes everything worse. It alienates the child and the parents, and prompts the teachers to be even more forceful and judgmental. It blinds all parties, leading them to inappropriate judgments and actions that exacerbate everyone's weaknesses, instead of finding common ground and strategies for cultivating the child's strengths, helping him or her learn how to be a round peg in a square world.
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