About Your Kid’s Behavior . . .
You just got a call from the school office. Here are 7 things to not do.
I’ve worked in middle school education for a good chunk of my professional life. And I’ve raised two sons, neither of whom were exactly choirboys during their adolescent years.
So I know what it’s like to get that call from a teacher or a school administrator who wants to inform you that your precious progeny has just gotten into some hot water. And I also know what it’s like to have to make that call to a parent.
It’s no fun from either end of the equation.
But it’s quite likely that at some point you will be receiving such a call. Especially if this is your first child, it’s helpful to have a few pointers in advance.
1. Don’t freak out.
After I’ve identified myself, the first thing I say over the phone to any parent is that their kid is fine (assuming that’s true). As I mentioned, I’m a mom and I know full well the pulse-pumping, stomach-sinking sensation prompted by a call from the school office.
Take a breath. Your kid is still in one piece, they’re just in some trouble. Whatever else you’re about to learn is entirely survivable. And the calmer you can remain, the better for everybody.
2. Don’t demand to speak to your kid right away.
Whoever has placed the call has information for you beyond the initial incident. You’ll do yourself, your kid, and everyone else involved a big favor if you listen carefully and get the whole story before you react.
Trust me on this — and I know, it’s hard to take in — you’ll get a much clearer picture of events if you hear the adult’s version first.
At this stage of their development, in the tween or teen years, it’s very common for kids to have trouble taking full responsibility for their less than acceptable actions.
This is not because your kid is a liar or criminal. It’s because he’s a kid. Or she is a kid. Or they is a kid. They are a kid?
Pronouns drive me nuts. But that’s not my point.
3. Don’t view your kid’s behavior as a reflection on you.
This is much more difficult than it sounds. We invest more love, time, effort and money in our children than in just about anything else in our lives, and we are eager to take pride in their accomplishments.
So when they screw up it’s easy to feel like we have as well. But when your kid has hit a bump on the road to solid citizenship, the most effective thing you can do is to support them in owning their behavior.
You’re sorry they did whatever they did, but it’s on them, not you.
4. As a matter of fact, don’t make this about you at all.
The school is not calling to issue a referendum on your parenting. This is not the judgment at Nuremberg; you don’t have to rush to your own defense. We’re parents too, remember?
We’ve worked with thousands of kids this age. You might be shocked at your little dumpling’s misbehavior. We’re not. We are very well aware that your kid’s unfortunate choice does not make them a bad person, any more than it makes you a negligent parent.
So save the speeches about how you’ve raised your child to always blah blah blah and never ever blah blah blah. We assume so already. Let’s move on and deal with what’s happened.
5. Don’t leap to your kid’s defense.
There is a big difference between being your child’s advocate and enabler. Despite what your kid may tell you, we are not interested in targeting them.
Nor do we expect you to ditch all empathy for your kid. Of course, you should listen to their version of whatever it was that landed them in the office. But do so with the understanding that they’re in a tight spot, and may wriggle away from full responsibility if allowed to.
Hear them out with compassion, but be alert for deflections, statements which on careful examination don’t make much sense:
That teacher hates me. Why would someone undergo all the training and challenges of teaching students this age if they didn’t like them?
Everybody else was doing it and they didn’t get in trouble. This is another classic. Cut through the smokescreen: your interest here is in your child’s behavior, not anyone else’s.
There are other common deflections, but if you’re alert to those two, you’re well equipped to deal with the majority of situations.
6. Don’t ask who the other kid is.
If your youngster got into a fight or into some substance or into the clinch with another student, don’t ask us who it was. We can’t tell you.
Ask your kid when you get home. Just keep in mind the main objective: helping your kid take responsibility.
7. Don’t despair.
The call you just got from the school office may be a real low point in your day, or your week, or your year, depending on the severity of the issue. You may be feeling bloody awful about yourself, or your child, or the future in general.
But remember, you’re playing the long game here. You may be faced with an exquisitely uncomfortable period of holding your child to account, or setting firmer boundaries, or whatever else is required to guide them toward the straight and narrow path.
It may mean a disruption in your household routine, or it may mean a considerable sacrifice of what little free time you have. And whatever you do, it’s highly unlikely your kid will thank you for it.
At least, not for a long time. But someday, maybe. Meanwhile, they’re worth the trouble.