Last Friday, my son got in trouble at school. He's in first grade, and he was the first kid in his class to get a call home from his teacher about his behavior. This was not a distinction I was hoping my son would have. He's bright, outspoken, outgoing, and adorable (if I do say so myself), and any parent of such a child would hope that he would stand out to his teacher. On the other hand, standing out for talking too much in class is not exactly what I had in mind.
The teacher has a discipline system whereby students move their "clips" up or down on a five-tiered color chart. Everyone starts the day in the middle, at "green." When they are showing good behavior, following directions, and acting positively, the teacher will tell them to go "move your clip up" to yellow and then maybe to purple if they continue to behave well. If they are on purple at the end of the day, they get a "ticket," and if they get 10 tickets, they get a prize from the "treasure box." (The first time my son came home and told me he got a ticket, I had to ask if this was good or bad! He assured me it was good.)
On the other hand, a student who is misbehaving, talking out of turn, or being disruptive might be instructed to "move your clip down" to orange. If the child's behavior does not improve with that warning, he is in danger of moving down to "red," which means a call home about his behavior as well as consequences such as missing recess and possibly "Friday fun."
And, lucky me, I was the first parent to have a child move to red!
His teacher is very good, experienced, and friendly, and when she called me, we were able to have an honest conversation about what my son needs. It's not a matter of his being a "bad" kid or a "good" kid. He's definitely a good kid, in the sense that he's enthusiastic, academically advanced, and has a positive attitude. The trouble is, he's also a bit younger than the other kids in his class (he turns six next Monday, and there are some kids in his class who will be seven soon). He's impulsive and has a lot to say, which means there's not much of a filter between his brain and his mouth. When he has a thought, he wants to share it, and, as we adults well know, you can't always blurt out every comment that pops into your head!
The minute I hung up with his teacher, I went into problem-solving mode. How, I asked Google, among other places, do I help my son learn to control his motor mouth? How, I asked my husband, my mom, and Google again, do we help him acquire the skills to increase his patience, learn the appropriate time to talk, and, most importantly, stop a behavior as soon as it is pointed out to him. He has the same issue at home, that he will continue an annoying noise, chattering, kicking the couch, etc., even after being asked to stop several times.
The episode made me realize that we have been very focused on punishing negative behaviors without the collateral of helping him learn what he should be doing. We are quick to point out when he is misbehaving, but we haven't been good about pointing out when he is doing the right thing.
In short, my son's getting punished made me, his mom, shape up. If we want our son to succeed, it will take more than simply punishing him by taking away TV privileges. He also needs to know what he should do, what he can do, and how to do it. He needs practice in staying quiet when he's supposed to, in stopping his mouth as soon as he's asked, and in keeping his words inside or saving them for later.
His teacher is not overly concerned. She understands that what he needs most is a few months more of maturity, which will come. But, during those months, we can work with him on thinking without talking. We can acknowledge when he is doing the right thing. We can praise him for staying quiet when he shouldn't be talking. We can let him know we've noticed when he listens well.
I recognize that it's not necessarily a failing on our part as parents that our son got in trouble. I also recognize that it's not entirely his fault. It is his fault, in the sense that he needs to be able to take responsibility for his actions, but it is not entirely his fault, in the sense that we have not yet done our full jobs, of teaching him the self-awareness and self control he will need to succeed in the classroom and in life.
In a way, I'm glad he got in trouble so soon. This means it's not too late for him to learn those skills, and it's not too late for me to step up for him and for younger brothers in teaching those positive lessons.
Photo Credit: andrewbain.
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