A couple weeks ago I got an email from Number 6’s teacher.
It wasn’t one of those I just wanted to tell you this story about how awesome your kid is emails.
It was one of those Your kid is being a pain in the ass and I’m starting to lose my shit emails.
Number 6 has been giving me a run for my money at home as well.
He’s been defiant and intentionally bothering people and just doing a whole lot of button pushing in general. So I wasn’t surprised when I got the teacher’s email.
I love Number 6’s teacher. I’ll call her Miss X. She’s young and enthusiastic and not jaded (yet). Number 6 went from hating school last year to genuinely enjoying it this year, and that’s all because of her.
So Miss X sent me an exasperated email looking for support from my end. I had explained to her in September how Number 6 felt about school last year, and how he was a different kid with respect to school this year.
She didn’t want to have to do something (like take away privileges) that would cause him to dread school again. But she was gonna have to do something.
I assured her I could relate to her frustrations and I would do everything I could to change the situation.
But I also had to make sure she knew something.
It’s no secret that I don’t think punishments (or rewards) work in the long run.
They can definitely help to stop a frustrating behavior immediately. But they don’t help your kid to develop any internal locus of control.
And I 100% see this especially with Number 6. You can threaten him with taking stuff away, and he’ll look right at you and say, GO AHEAD.
So I let the teacher know that instead of trying to punish Number 6 into submission, I thought a couple other approaches might be more successful. I thought finding a solution to the problem rather than dangling a carrot in front of him (or completely removing it) would be much more effective in both the short and long term.
Miss X was willing to try anything (another reason I love her) and she was thankful for my feedback regarding how Number 6 responds to punishment.
So what did we do?
First, I tried to pinpoint the reason for the behavior. I thought quite a bit about it. And I contacted my Positive Discipline mentor for her input.
It wasn’t that Number 6 was just being a jerk. It wasn’t that he was spoiled or overtired or that I was a doormat and let him get away with too much and now he was a monster.
Number 6 was looking for attention. Constantly.
And he was looking for attention because he wasn’t getting a whole lot of it at home. From me.
So his teacher could have taken away special iPad time at school. She could have kept him in for recess. I could have told him that if I got another email from his teacher that he’d be banned from technology for a day or a week or a month or forever.
But that wouldn’t have gotten to the root of the problem which was that Number 6 was looking for attention.
Keeping that in mind, when Number 6 came home from school, I talked to him.
I didn’t threaten him. I didn’t yell at him. I didn’t belittle or shame him.
I simply asked him what was going on at school.
He told me he was being silly and talking when he shouldn’t be. Mostly when he was on the carpet and when he was reading with his reading partner (who also happened to be his best buddy).
We talked about how his behavior might be affecting not only his teacher, but everyone else in the class.
And then I asked Number 6 what he thought might help him to be more in control of himself at school.
His first response was, “I don’t know.”
So I offered some suggestions without just telling him what to do. “Do you think moving away from your buddy when you sit on the carpet might help?”
“Yes,” he said.
“What else do you think might help?” I asked him.
“Have a different reading partner?” he said.
“That might be a big help,” I told him.
We agreed that he would talk to his teacher about this the next day.
Then we talked about what times and places are okay for him to talk and be silly with his buddy.
“At lunch time?” he said. “And at recess?”
So we had come up with two solutions.
Then I thought about something a therapist told me a long time ago. At the time we were trying to come up with strategies for stopping stupid/unhealthy/self-sabotaging thoughts in my head. She told me to literally envision a stop sign every time my brain went that direction.
And then I thought about the Kissing Hand and how drawing a heart on the palm of Number 6’s hand helped him in the beginning of the school year.
I asked him if he’d like me to put a stop sign on his palm. Every time he felt himself getting silly, he could look at it as a reminder.
He liked that idea. So the next morning, I drew a stop sign on his hand before he got on the bus.
So now we had come up with some self-regulating strategies. And we had done it without any threatening, without any meltdowns, and without any power struggles.
But there was still that other issue. The issue of the attention.
My mentor had asked me if I’d be able to schedule in some special time with Number 6.
I had thought of that before she even suggested it. The problem is finding a time to squeeze that in.
As soon as everyone gets home from school, I head to the pool to coach swim practice, and I don’t get home until 8:30. So after school is tough.
So are the weekends between soccer and t-ball and travel baseball and swim team.
But there was a time I didn’t think of.
Number 6 is the earliest riser of everyone. He is usually up by 6:15.
And I have until about 6:40 before I have to wake up the other kids for school.
So Number 6 and I have been having special time just about every morning for about twenty minutes before anyone else wakes up.
Most mornings we play a game. Last week we played Candy Land. This morning we played Chutes and Ladders.
And this morning, the first thing Number 6 said to me was, “Mommy, you know what?”
“What?” I asked him.
“I love having time with you. AND I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!” he said.
So often our kids behavior isn’t a reflection of them.
It’s a reflection of us.
A couple days later, I got an email from Miss X.
I just wanted to follow up about Number 6’s behavior. He has been doing a lot better in class, especially on the carpet. Moving him away from his buddy and having him select a new reading partner definitely helped him a lot, and he looks at your stop sign all the time 🙂
He’s doing better at school, and he’s doing better at home.
I know he’s still gonna push buttons. That’s what kids do.
When he does, we’ll go right back to the solution drawing board.
Because we came up with a solution that solved the problem for more than 15 minutes.
And we did it without threatening, without bribing, without shaming or humiliation, and without either of us losing our shit.
And that feels pretty good.
For both of us.