So last week, John called me to let me know that there had been an incident in school. Vince's regular teacher was out for a week, so he was in a substitute's class. He'd been with her for about three days, and all three days, he'd come home with notes like "Not doing work" or "Being defiant."
Now I know Vince has trouble when his routine is messed up, but that's no excuse to not do work or be defiant. So I spoke to Vince and punished him accordingly, but it didn't help. Day four rolled around and the substitute pulled John aside to explain that not only had Vincent been defiant, he'd kicked her chair and called her "fat."
*Shame-induced heart attack*
My son was aggressive with both his words and actions?! NOOOOOO... it has been so long since he's acted out in this way. I felt awful for the sub who was obviously having a tough time controlling him, and I felt doubly awful that my son was responsible for saying something that was potentially hurtful to her.
I was angry with Vince - angrier than I think I've ever been. John was upset, too, and neither of us knew what to do to punish him properly. We'd never had him do something so offensive. So the entire way home, I was trying to come up with a punishment that fit the crime. I settled on a good old-fashioned written apology letter.
Not an easy task for a 5 year old who barely spells colors let alone full sentences expressing remorse.
Anyway, when I got home, I had a conversation with him about how disappointed I was and how hurtful what he did was to his teacher. I kept having him respond to me so I knew he understood just how serious the situation was. John had already spoken to him and punished him by taking away two of his favorite toys, but he knew I was going to go a step further so he left the rest to me.
After I felt he understood why he was in trouble, I explained how he could help fix things. I sat him down and had him tell me - in his own words - why he was sorry and how he felt about his substitute teacher. I wrote out his words on a separate piece of paper. When he was finished, I had him copy my transcription, himself, into a card he'd decorate for her as an apology.
Yeah. Believe it or not, it took him what seemed to be forever to write five sentences. This was mostly because he tried to rush through his words and I'd erase them until he was neater. If he was going to write her a letter, he was going to write her one she could actually read.
I then put his letter and my transcription (and a note explaining it) together into a packet for the substitute so she understood where the words came from and what John and I had done to punish him for how he acted. I wanted her to know that we took his actions seriously and appreciated her efforts with him.
Days like this are not fun. They make you feel like the worst failure of a parent ever. But ya know what? After he'd finished the letter, his babysitter (God bless her, she witnessed the whole experience in patient silence) came over and said, "I'm really proud of BOTH of you!"
I laughed, because I thought it was ridiculous to be proud of me given the circumstances, but Meaghan (the sitter) said, "No, I'm serious. That took a really long time, but you got him to do it and I really think he understands why it was wrong. His teacher will appreciate that. I wish more of my students' parents would be so serious."
That comment made me feel so much better. Yes, I'd obviously failed somewhere along the line to produce a child who would ever utter such a thing to someone, but I am a good enough parent that I worked hard - immediately - to make sure the situation was a learning experience for him.
Thank God, too, because I can't even tell you how terrible I felt until she said that. Ugh!
And I'm happy to report that not only has Vince been a stellar student since, both his sub and his regular teacher (who is back) said he's been BEYOND stellar. He's gone out of his way to be helpful, is super courteous, and "listens the first time a lot better" (which is like me hearing he won a Nobel Prize because I've gotta tell him things a dozen or more before it registers).
Even in our failure there is hope for success. I'm really proud of how the three of us handled this situation. I just sincerely hope nothing like this ever happens again. God forbid!
Have you guys ever had times like this where you just had no idea how to punish your kids? What'd YOU do?
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