Parents have a specific from of selective bias after all. When we walk onto the schoolyard, we hone in on the kids and parents who have it all figured out. There’s the kid who did his homework right when he came home from school. And they had a calm breakfast at the table with the whole family. That kid wears creased clothes every day. On and on it goes.
The parents who struggle like we do don’t seem to appear on our radar screen. It’s part of being isolated as a parent. We’re not real with each other because we fear that being real about parenting will ostracize us. And we don’t need further isolation.
So here you are. The teacher called you. Again. Your boy was disruptive in the classroom.
You pick him up. He’s mad, doesn’t want to talk and you’re dying to ask the question.
Your kid’s story
But you know you’re not going to get a straight answer. Not yet! You have to wait till he’s ready, when he takes a bath, or, the parent’s favorite time, when he down to go to sleep.
It’s also possible he busts out right as you pick him up from school. That might happen. Either way, at some point he’ll tell you the story of what happened.
You tell me if I’m wrong or not, but I bet that his story will contain a lot of …
It wasn’t my fault.
The other kid was doing the same thing. He started it.
My teacher wouldn’t listen to me.
Am I close?
I also imagine that you have some lessons for him to learn. Good lessons. Life lessons.
- Just because the others do it, doesn’t mean you should.
- Hitting back is never the answer.
- You should listen to your teacher.
Nothing about these lessons is wrong. And your son will learn them all; just not by you reciting them at this moment.
What he needs from you at this moment is that you show up for him first.
When he wasn’t listened to, that was wrong.
When the other kid started it, why are they not in trouble also?
And when he says he couldn’t help it, he’s right. He’s what, seven? Hardly the age at which he can be expected to keep it together at all times. His brain is simply no yet fully wired for that. It’ll take another, oh, 18 years or so for that process to complete. (I’m talking about the maturation of the pre-frontal cortex, where executive function resides. That process takes a good 25 years.)
The first message he needs to hear from you?
I believe you!
That must have been hard.
Because it was a setup. He wasn’t heard. He didn’t pick a fight for the heck of it. And when his story doesn’t matter in the classroom, he need not be cooperative?
No, I’m not ranting against schools and teachers here. I assume an honest misunderstanding, miscommunication, and the presence of 25 other kids.
But for your boy, today, his experience was discounted. And that’s just not fair.
What you do after this depends on the situation of course. But first you express your complete solidarity with him. Then, and only then, can you make any inroads with whatever comes next.
There’s no hurry either. Linger while listening. Assume that your boy has a finely honed sense of fairness. Show, demonstratively, that you believe him and are on his side.
You will reach a moment when he relaxes into the feeling of your solidarity. You know him and you will know when that happens.
And when you feel that relaxation, you have laid the groundwork on which to build his resilience. After all, school is stressful and he will need to show he can bounce back from upsets without collateral damage in the process.
As he builds this resilience, he deserves your support. In fact, without your support, your unconditional support, he’s far less likely to become that ready to move on resilient boy you’re hoping for.
He’s looking for your support. And if he can’t feel the support from his teacher, have a talk. Some simple communication might make all the difference. (Most teachers are eager to hear how they can support your kids.)
All this is secondary though. First order of business is to feel him and to make sure he feels you feeling him. All that needs to happen next will likely be obvious.
And if you have taught him the feeling of solidarity, he’ll be able to express that later in life. That’s how you grow an activist, but at this moment that’s beside the point.