Years ago, as a twenty something, when I taught first grade alongside other childless twenty somethings, we used to joke that it would be so ironic if when we did have children, they were the troublemakers…”It’s always the teachers kids who are the worst behaved,” we would joke.
It’s not so funny now.
I’m the parent the teacher is talking to after school, with a thumbs up for a good day, or a “come in and talk to me for a moment,” if it’s a bad day.
I was driving home from school with him this afternoon when the lightbulb went off for me. When I was teaching and I brought a parent in to speak with me, it was because I felt the child’s actions were very serious and needed to be brought to the parents attention. I also, had by this point, exhausted my set of behavioral techniques and needed some back up support or new ideas from the parents. I used to go home on those days thinking that now that the parent found out, the child’s behavior would quickly change.
And then, the next school day would roll around. The child would usually be good for a few days, but then just revert back to his original behavior. And as a childless teacher, I would wonder, why isn’t the parent doing anything? I felt that surely, their child’s behavior in school was the number one priority in their life, because it was something I spent hours pondering. And I wondered why the parent hadn’t done whatever magical thing they needed to do to stop or change their child’s behavior.
Now, that I’m on the other side of that interaction, I’ve learned a few things.
1. My son’s behavior at school is actually not number one on my list.
Of course, if he does something horrendous, I’m going to be all over it and I will make sure it doesn’t happen again. However, if it’s not that big of a deal, I’m not going to spend hours pining over it. I will speak to my son. My husband will speak to my son. He will have a consequence. We will explain the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. But I have five thousand other things going on in my life, as do all parents. So if something happens that’s what I consider minor, I’m not going to spend that much time on it.
2. Contrary to what I used to think, parents can’t actually control how their kids act at school.
I can talk to him all day long about not using the word “butt” in school, but I am not there, and he knows it. And he’s at the age that if he can get away with it, he will try. I’m hoping that our super vigilant process we implemented at home will work at school, but who really knows.
3. Other kids are huge influences.
This is a lesson that is very difficult to learn, and takes a long time. School doesn’t happen in a bubble. Kids influence each other, and it’s not always in a good way. My son will eventually learn not to do everything his friends do. But I expect this lesson to take years. For now, if he gets a laugh, he’s going to do it again, and again. And even if I tell him it’s against the rules, in the moment, he’s going with his peers’ reactions, not the reminder I explained that morning.
4. Punishment really doesn’t help.
I give him a consequence when he gets in trouble at school, but I really don’t think it changes his behavior. I know this because I’ve altered the consequences to see which, if any, would take effect. None did. Just as when I was teaching, he would be good for a few days, and then start with the silliness again a few days later. I think the issue is impulsiveness. And a punishment that occurs hours later, at home, is not going to help in the impulsive decisions of the moment.
Would I like my son to behave well in school, all the time? Of course. But he’s silly. And that personality will serve him well in life. We could all use more laughter in life. And recently, he’s having a hard time figuring out when to be silly and when to be serious. He’ll get there. And until then, I’ll keep reminding him about appropriate and inappropriate choices to make while at school.
After all, I want him to know I’m paying attention.