|When Our Little Angels Go Bad|
|Written by Crystal Brewe -- BT Contributor|
A call from the principal’s office often brings out the worst -- and best -- in parents
Bbrrrriiiinnnggg….(This is your phone ringing.)
“Mrs. Smith, this is Washington Elementary School. It seems as though your son had a disagreement with another child and reacted with violence.”
“Um, are you sure it was little Johnny?”
“Quite sure, Mrs. Smith.”
If you haven’t had a similar call yet, brace yourself.
Matilda, our sweet, violence-free, Girl Scout, friend-to-all-children bookworm was “involved in a disagreement with another child” last week. She reacted by scratching the other child.
The most fascinating part, to me, was how textbook I reacted. There were literally seven stages, almost like the grief cycle.
Shock: Are you sure it was her? I mean, they all wear uniforms -- those kids all look alike!
Denial: Wait, Matilda bites her nails to the quick. There isn’t much nail with which to make a wound. Come on, there’s no way!
Anger: That kid is grounded! Wait…they had the office assistant call me? Where was the principal? My child is in the gifted program! I have questions! This warrants more of a discussion!
Justification: The child with whom she had a disagreement was the daughter of one of our closest family friends. They have been raised almost like siblings. Sisters fight, right?
Depression: Where did we go wrong as parents? We don’t condone violence; we don’t even spank.
Guilt: Poor thing, she got called into the principal’s office. We should not have reacted so strongly with her; she just needed to talk.
Acceptance: How can we be constructive about the fact that Matilda reacted without thinking first?
I was not a troublemaker when I was little. (My teen years were another story.) I did, however, get suspended when I was in the fourth grade.
Let me set the scene: My five-year-old brother and I were playing at the recreation center, next to the school. A couple of the rougher kids were telling secrets by the swings. Being that there were no other kids to hang with, we walked over and said, “Whatcha doin’?”
Their eyes lit up at the naive, fresh blood. They said, “Want some candy? Come with us!”
Next thing you know, my brother and I were holding a door open to a classroom at the school while the other kids were running out with armfuls of Fruit Roll-Ups.
We had no idea what was happening, but we walked home with sticky fingers -- literally.
The next day my mother was called. I was given the sentence of a two-day suspension. No trial, no jury.
My mom stuck with the “anger” stage for a while. I was just happy that my baby brother didn’t get suspended, too. A suspended kindergartener would have just been weird.
I learned guilt by association as a fourth grader. I also learned that aiding and abetting was a crime, even if you didn’t understand what you were aiding or abetting.
The thing that still resonates with me from this experience was that I was labeled a “bad girl” for the year. Parents refused to let their kids invite me to birthday parties; they called the school to have their kids’ seat moved away from mine in the classroom. The title didn’t follow me into fifth grade since I was truly a bookworm and involved in every school activity imaginable, but it was a lesson that lasted long after the suspension and the punishments.
I don’t want Matilda to have to learn like that. I don’t want her to be the kid who starts every year in a new classroom without a clean slate because the word in the teachers’ lounge is that she is a “handful” or a “troublemaker.”
When she told me her side of the story, it would have been easy to say, “Well, clearly you were being bullied!” Or “Well, that other girl shouldn’t have told your secrets to those other kids!”
When kids feel like victims, they act like victims. If something isn’t fair, do the rules not apply?
Soon it becomes: “I got a D because the algebra teacher is a beast!” or “I didn’t have the money for the bracelet, so I stole it.” We, as parents, unwittingly play into this idea, with our own dinner conversations often consisting of: “My boss isn’t fair!” or “My client is just an idiot!”
What complicates matters is that there are situations in life which are truly unfair. But not all of them. In this case, we found it important to cut through the clutter and remove the victim mentality.
We look forward to the plethora of other excuses the future holds: “But those aren’t my cigarettes; I was just holding them for Gretchen!” “That picture of me with the beer bong on Facebook isn’t me. It’s Gretchen. She was wearing my outfit!” (Yes, there was a Gretchen, but that’s an entirely different story.)
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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