As a parent of two energetic boys, I’ve learned to anticipate the inevitable call about an incident at school or camp. I understand that it is impossible to see everything leading up to an altercation. But to teach my sons something useful, I need to be very concrete and specific – so I need facts.
It’s simply not okay for a camp or school to call and tell me Taylor (or Benjamin) misbehaved without context. I need information and I am going to ask questions until I get it. Too often, the caller expects me to defend my child or justify his behavior without listening. That’s not my goal. My goal is to teach my child how he can make a different choice next time – but that takes some understanding of the situation. Take my recent incident call:
“Taylor really misbehaved – over the top. He was very upset that things didn’t go his way in a game.”
“Really? That’s surprising. Can you tell me what happened?”
“No, I wasn’t there. But his reaction was over the top.”
“What did he do?”
“He kicked and hit and screamed.”
“Do you know why?” - No
“Can I talk with him?” – Yes.
I learned from him that a friend of his first pushed him over the foul line on the field causing his goal to not be counted – but there was no tantrum then. Taylor did complain about what his friend did. That’s as far as I got before the camp director resumed the conversation and told me that I couldn’t help him justify his behavior. So far, I didn’t know what his behavior was except that it was out of character. My job as a parent is to understand enough that I can teach my child and to advocate for him if he cannot. In that order.
Luckily, his friend is in the karmic carpool and I had the chance to talk to the friend and the friend’s mom. The rest of the story:
After the game, the friend shut a gym door in Taylor’s face and Taylor shoved the door open and pushed back. Both boys were sent to the office. The friend provoked Taylor verbally there and Taylor hit him. That’s when I got the call. Taylor did not make the right choice, but after two or three successive provocations, I’m not exactly surprised. So the lesson was “choices when someone is annoying you.”
I am still concerned that the camp director didn’t have the facts and assumed that it was a sportsmanship issue about losing a game. My definition of sportsmanship doesn’t extend to two boys sitting in an office. My experience is that when kids get under each other’s skin, it’s best to separate them and let them cool off. Any other ideas (I was thinking a water hose would work too!)?