Watching children

I deal with young children five days a week for nine hours a day. Most of the time, I’m fine. I’m too busy teaching or keeping order to think about my past.

But there are those times when watching the kids feels like a knife through my heart. Recess is one of them. I supervise recess four days a week. Twenty-five minutes of watching kids laugh and play and run around.

It reminds me so much of how different I was as a child. I never really ran around. I was afraid of getting dirty and the punishments that would follow if I did. I never really played with other children. I always felt different from them. I always felt like an outsider looking in.

Austin wrote in a recent comment

…It is very difficult for me to watch children laugh and play. I want to cry inside. It’s not that I don’t want them to be happy. It’s just that I feel little myself while watching them so then I’m scared because I feel young and vulnerable. Then of course I’m mad because I feel vulnerable. The cycle is vicious.

It’s often times hard for me to stay in teacher mode when I’m watching recess. I have a tendency to slip back into the past. And just as Austin described, I end up feeling like a child. But not in a good way. I feel like at any second my mother is going to come walking onto that playground and grab me by the arm. She’ll drag me to the car and tell me what a horrible, misbehaved child I am. I just wait to feel the sting of the wooden spoon against my bare skin.

Is it at all rational? Probably not. I have to work extremely hard to convince myself that things really are okay. I have to constantly remind myself of when and where I am.

And then there are those few times when I have the urge to get out there with the kids and run around with them. Those thoughts scare me too. I should be acting like a grownup. But I just want to experience some of the freedom and fun that goes with playing outside at recess.

And as the tears are bubbling to the surface, I’ll stop. I can’t deal with crying tonight.

9 thoughts on “Watching children

  1. I so often feel like that when i watch my mates kids playing. They are so carefree, happy, etc, all the things they should be, and all the thing I wasn’t. I try and think back and wonder if i was ever that happy, and I know I wasn’t, but i search our memories to find one time, and we can’t. Understanding a little of what you say.

  2. ae says:

    Hi katm,
    I’m in a counseling program and am taking a class right now on counseling children and their parents. My hardest class yet, emotionally. We do lots of experiential work, going back to our own childhoods or drawing out certain feelings and I feel so, so sad for myself and also embarrassed about it all that my drawings seem so different from my classmates’. That when my teacher talks about what “normal play” looks like vs. “traumatized play” that I can so identify with the traumatized version. I notice in that class and doing its reading, too, how drawn I am to using the techniques for myself, like the window to my hurt is best accessed through techniques for children sometimes, because a lot of me is still locked up in that time.

    I feel ashamed and different in that room because I didn’t have the same kind of childhood that many of my peers did. I don’t want them to know what happened to me because I am afraid of being judged for coming from a bad family, or now being damaged goods, etc (clearly I’m still working on these pieces in my own counseling).

    We just did an assignment where we had to play with three different children and show a video clip to class and it turned out that I was pretty good at “letting go” and entering the child’s world. And when we reflected on our strengths with children, I realized that unlike my peers I think I could be there with a child through pretty much anything. I don’t get scared away from a child that is hurting, I come closer to help.

    I thought of all this with your post. Both because I can relate to being zipped right back into childhood around kids and having that both feel really good and really hard, and also because I believe that it is one gift I’ve gotten through what I’ve survived. Not that that makes it worth it, but it does feel like something.

    Thanks again for sharing.


  3. Are you allowed to play? The kids at the Montessori school always loved it if I joined in a game of tag and so on… might be okay for you to have some fun too!

  4. Elvina…

    It’s helpful to know that others really do understand. Sometimes I just feel so alone in all of this. I know I’m not, but it feels that way.


    I don’t know if I could join in or not. There’s alway one other class and teacher outside, so I’d be kind of embarrassed to do so even if I could.

  5. borderlinecrazy says:

    I never had any reaction like this until I noticed my peers with their small children. The children are happy and when their mothers walk in to a room, the kids run up with their arms up, faces alight. One day I realized, “THEY ARE NOT AFRAID OF THEIR MOTHERS.” It was one of those plate-shifting realizations. Another day, I surmised that these kids probably don’t lie awake running through each ordeal they read about from concentration camps, planning mental strategies for coping with each, because if a person could handle that she could handle anything. I did that. My friends hug their kids and want to spend time with them. They see the children as separate people and respect them. And the kids look so helpless and vulnerable. Feelings such as you describe rise in me randomly. Yesterday my grandmother called when I was already having a bad flashback-y day (hate those! hate ’em!), and I started crying because I was thinking, “Why didn’t you stop her? Why didn’t anybody do anything? Why didn’t anyone see ME as vulnerable and worth loving and protecting?”

  6. Why didn’t anyone see ME as vulnerable and worth loving and protecting?

    You were worthy of love and protection. We all were.


    I’m tired.

  7. kprsjohn says:

    do you ever let your littles play once you are home where you would not be embarassed? maybe with a doll or a game or a movie they might like? Try to let them have some time if you can …it is not too late!

    peace and blessings


  8. At home I have different outlets for play. I would never do it with children but at home it feels safer. I go out and play with the dog. We wrestle in the yard and play football. It doesn’t look so strange because adults wrestle with dogs all the time. I have different ways to let the child inside play safely without worrying that mama’s going to come around the corner. Sometimes though they start to play but end up crying. I let them do that too. We go in the house or sit on the porch and let the tears stream. Release is the goal–through play or tears. It’s exhausting when its tears but it does at least give them release and validation.


  9. what you respond to Marcy

    “I don’t know if I could join in or not. There’s alway one other class and teacher outside, so I’d be kind of embarrassed to do so even if I could.”

    would it be possible that you see your mom in the other teachers ? you said that you would have to act like grow up do, I am 33 years old ans when I do playgroup, when I teach my scrapbooking class or replace a teacher in a school… what the kids remember me from is actually the fact that I will get down not only at the level but also play in the muds, roll in the grass, jump in puddles, play tag. I use to think that I was doing it cause I wanted to have a sense of what a real childhood was. I quickly discover that It was more into it. I may be an adult, but even adult have the right to play and have fun. Who said we can act like children once and a while. Life is to short.

    Austin have a great idea, to play with his dog. But there is nothing like playing with a kids.

    Give yourself permission to run wild and free. At recess as long as you still keep a eye on the kids you have the right to play and have fun. You don’t need anyone to approve what you feel the need to do. And just so you know your relationship with the kids with be greater, you will be more confident in yourself. You will also be proud cause you will take power of your life.

    Hope I’m not to up front with you. I’ve been trough hell maybe not as bad as you, but one lesson I’ve learn over the year is the child in me has to see the light, as to grow and all and the only way I have found to help her to do so is to let her have so moment to shine and feel free.

    Sorry for the long post. I just hope I can help you feel better about those feeling inside you

    Hang in there
    thinking of you

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.