Saturday, October 6, 2007

Lessons learned from Middle School?

The other day Roscoe and I went to parent-teaching conferences at his middle school. All the teachers in the school sat at little tables around the walls of the gym. Parents and kids sat in rows of chairs radiating into the middle of the room to wait their turn to talk to each teacher. Sitting in line, I had the chance to eavesdrop on lots of teachers and students and think about that rare breed that chooses to work with middle schoolers. I heard things like,

"So you're failing the class."
"I'm going to move you because you talk too much to your neighbors."
"Your citizenship grade is unacceptable."
"Most kids do poorly on this test. Then they figure out they have to study."
"I have discussed this in class several times."
"Remember that assignment?"

I was struck by two things: First, the teachers had no trouble stating straightout what the kids were doing wrong. Second, when they did so, their tone was matter-of-fact and totally unaccusing.

One of the main paradigm-shifts they try to impart at all the foster care training classes I take, is that some misbehavior is normal. Even developmentally useful. Toddlers get into mischief. School-aged kids leave messes. Teenagers roll their eyes. Not that you should condone the above, but we need to remember it's normal and respond accordingly.

When my kids do something wrong, a part of me panics. I want them to feel the pain and consequences of their actions, and a lot of the time I think I lay it on too thick. So my new goal is to be more like middle school teachers (who'd a thunk?) and lay out choices and consequences more impartially.


"Sorry, you can't go to your friends' because you haven't done piano yet."
"Are you crazy? Have you even done your piano practice yet? Why didn't you do it earlier? Why do I have to keep telling you this...."

"That's backtalk, so I won't be driving you to Scouts tonight."
"What makes you think you can talk to me that way? It really hurts my feelings when I work all day long for our family and then you come home and treat me like that..."

Of course, doing the above presupposes that you've thought through an appropriate consequence to dole out. I find I panic and lecture when I really don't know what else to do. So we're back to systems.


  1. You are so insightful Ang. I do always admire parents who can remain calm while punishing. I am OK at it sometimes. But there are other things that are like parenting peet-peeves to me that I really just can't deal with rationally. And I explode at the THOUGHT of that misbehavior. Example: Naomi getting out of bed after I have put her there. I do not tolerate this well. Richard sometimes has to take care of it because I can't even form complete sentences I'm so annoyed/ exhausted /done for the day.

    Also, I think stating "misbehavior" without being accusing is also a very important spousal communication tool too.