Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who Would You Believe?

If you know a child in elementary school, chances are you are familiar with the color system as it relates to behavior. Most classes use some variation.

This year my daughter's class starts out with their cards on green. Green is good. Green means the teacher only has to remind them to stay in their seat once or to raise their hand. Green is what is expected from first-graders. If your behavior is less than green, then you flip your card to yellow which is a warning and small consequence and then blue which means a consequence and parents are called. Any worse is red which means a trip to the principal's office, a parent call and major consequences. Every day the students color the square on their calendar with what color then ended on. A parent has to sign the paper each night.

Last night as we drove home, I asked Munchkin if it was a green day. She said, "yes" (she's always been on green, or purple which is for extraordinary behavior) but then asked me what would happen if she ever came home with yellow, blue or red. I explained that those were not acceptable behaviors and that Daddy and I would have to discuss consequences. Munchkin became very quiet and said that she had been on yellow one time but by the end of day had earned back green. She further explained that the rule was no talking in the halls, but that day they had been told not to use a specific water fountain because it was broken. Her friend started to use that fountain and Munchkin told her not to use that one. The teacher caught her talking and put her on yellow.

I explained to Munchkin that I was glad she had earned back a green card. We all make mistakes or have accidents happen, but what is most important is learning from them. The fact that she re-gained green shows she learned from the incident. I asked her what she might do differently next time and she said tell the teacher the student was using the wrong fountain. Munchkin asked me if she would have gotten in trouble at home and I told her, "no." I explained that I thought she had been trying to help her friend and that her intentions were good. I praised her for thinking of her friend and then told her I thought it was a good idea next time to tell the teacher instead. I told her in that situation having to flip her card to yellow was consequence enough.

Munchkin got quiet and asked me who I would believe. I didn't understand and she said, "what if my teacher said something different. Who would you believe?"

-------- silence ------my thoughts ran wild ---------

Do I tell her I'd always believe her? I know kids stretch the truth sometimes. I know kids lie. I know kids try to cover up when they get in trouble. But I want to let her know I trust her and I believe her. But what if there is a time she tells a ridiculous lie? Remember that time in preschool when she was obviously lying and I knew the teacher's version was correct.

------- deep breath --------

I told Munchkin that I trusted her. I made sure she understood what trust meant. I told her that trust was a very important thing. I promised her that I would always want to find out from her what happened before I made a decision and that I would talk to her about what the teacher said. I told her it was important for her to always tell me the truth. I explained that just because a teacher flips her card to yellow doesn't mean the teacher didn't believe her. I ended by saying, "I love you and I believe in you. You can always tell me anything and I hope that you will always tell me the truth. I will love you no matter what you do and I trust that you will always try to do your best."

We pulled into the driveway then and we stopped talking. But I replayed the conversation over and over in my head. Did I say the right thing? Does she understand? What should I have said.

This parenting thing is not easy. Not at all. And not having had good role models makes it even harder. I'm thankful for good friends and moms of similar aged children (like Kim) who help me navigate through this journey.

What about you? Have any of you been in a similar situation? How have you handled it when you know your child isn't being fully honest about something but your child wants you to believe them over another adult?


mssc54 said...

You may recall from reading some of my previous posts under "Adoption" on my Blog that our little guy has (in the past) had severe behavior issues. He was eventually diagnosed with some sort of behaviorial disorder.

He is six years old and in first grade now. But in K4 he was actually suspended FOUR TIMES! You know like, come and get him and don't bring him back for three days kind of suspension. HE WAS FOUR YEARS OLD! Then last year in K5 his behavior was not quite as bad. Heck he didn't even get suspended a single time. As the year progressed and we finalized the adoption things began to settle down a bit. He had many more good days than bad days.

This year has just been remarkably/dramatically different. Their "good all day" color is blue and the next step "down" is green. I meet him and our third grade daughter at school each day and we usually ride our bikes home (we live less than 300 yards from the school). Each day when he comes out the door he smiles real big and says, "Another Blue Day dad!" then gives me a high five. One particular day he came through the door and when he saw me he immediately lowered his head. "I had a green day dad. Are you unhappy?" Poor guy. I immediately assured him that I was not unhappy and told him that I don't expect him to be perfect, that part of growing up is when we make mistakes we learn how we can do things differently the next time. I asked him what happened and he said he was in a group in class working on something and they got a little noisy and didn't quiet down when the teacher told them too. So I explained that when you are in a group it's important to keep an eye out for when group behavior starts to out of control and may cause "bad consequences." (Some time ago I developed an approach of helping him to recognise good/bad behavior, good/bad consequences.) He can quote it to you now and readily recognises, "Good behavior, good consequences - bad behavior, bad consequences."

He understands the "Boss" thing too. I don't know where he got that (maybe from the parents). But I use it when it's necessary. When he is at school his teacher is the "Boss." She makes the rules and he has to follow them. I will never contradict their teachers' rules in front of either of them. However, I just don't blanketly accept everything they say as fact either. They are human (and young too) they are as capable of making mistakes and not handling things properly as the next person. I have each of their teacher's email addresses and I am not affraid to use them... as I have already a couple of times.

It is a rather complex juggling act, reassuring them that no matter what they do, regardless of what behavior they display you will always love them (I don't have to like your ugly behavior but I do love you very much) but then I support what your teacher is doing in the classroom too.

lawyerchik said...

I think you did a great job explaining it. My dad always told me that if I got in trouble at school and I was right, he would back me all the way to the wall. If I was wrong, not only would he back the teacher, but I would get in trouble when I got home, too. I learned from that to always make sure I was right - which isn't the same thing at all as being believed.

My take-away from that was that my parents would give me the initial benefit of the doubt, but that they would verify what I told them. In my case, my 3rd grade teacher told my parents that I was not very smart and that I didn't belong in her class.

My parents didn't "believe" her - but, they took me to the pediatrician for evaluation (he said the teacher was nuts), and my dad sat in on my class for a while. In other words, they demonstrated that she was wrong!! :) Of course, that meant that I didn't go back to that school the following year.

In 5th grade, my teacher was just mean. She was black, and she was teaching in a Detroit school in the mid-1970s. She gave the black children free rein, the benefit of every doubt, and special attention. Me, she called out as uncoordinated and dull, etc. My mom pulled me out of the school, and when the principal reminded her that she had another child in that school and that she'd better watch out, my mom pulled my sister out, too, and got right in their faces and told them that she would take the matter as far as she needed to if they EVER made any difficulty for us.

When we got back from our summer camp to go to New York, my mom found out that the school had sent the truant officer out looking for us. :)

I was so proud of my parents for those things - they believed in me, as much as anything, and they trusted me.