Thursday, July 26, 2007

Because I Said So

When I first started teaching, my biggest challenge was classroom control/discipline. It's the bane of every new teacher's existence. My first year or so was disastrous- the kids ran all over me, and I did a lot of yelling. I got into the groove pretty quickly, though, and soon had control of my classroom. I learned the key lesson, which is that you are trying to gain respect from, rather than make friends with, the students. I made sure the rules were fair and the consequences were consistent.

I knew that having kids of my own would present a similar discipline challenge. Chip and I took long walks while I was pregnant, discussing all the details of how we were raised and assuming that the answers would lie there. My mom has always told me that she spanked me until I was around six, then gave it up in favor of less stressful discipline tactics. She's never really told me if she felt I was a good child or not- I know I was a crappy teenager, just like every other, but before that I'm not sure. I know that I was really well-behaved at school, a teacher's pet who always did her homework and never got conduct checks. I was scared of disappointing my teachers or my mom. In my mind, whatever she did to teach me right from wrong worked.

Chip remembers his childhood as one full of logical discussions about ethics, cause and effect, and accepting consequences. He doesn't remember getting in trouble much, and I believe it. He is a good person in a very rare way. And for better or for worse, he believes the best about other people as well. Which is why I had such a hard time convincing him that no other child in the history of children has ever used logic as a basis for their actions. But he'll be my child, so he'll be like me, Chip would patiently explain. But he'll also be MY child, I would counter, and you know I'm not usually bound by the principals of logic. Chip would nod his head indulgently, but I could see in his eyes that he couldn't wait to raise a little mini-Chip.

Turns out neither of us has any idea what we're doing, and drawing on our own experiences hasn't helped. Connor doesn't worry about disappointing me- he's too busy letting me know the ways I've disappointed him. He also refuses to let rational thought get in the way of what he wants to do. And in a surprise twist, Chip has found that not only does Connor not respond to reason, but that he himself doesn't have the patience with Connor that his parents had with him. (All those years I've spent trying Chip's patience, and it took a four-year-old to finally break him. Well done, Connor. Well done.)

An example of our failures: We were cooking together the other day (worthy of its own post, the cooking thing) and Connor reached his hand toward the hot eye of the stove. "CONNOR NO!" I instinctively yelled. Cue the waterworks. "You yelled at me!" he whined accusingly. I explained that I was sorry to startle him, but the stove was hot and I didn't want him to burn himself. I told him about how his flesh would melt into the stove, and we'd have to take him to the hospital, and how my heart would break if he were in that much pain, so I had to react quickly. Connor wimpered softly while I was explaining this to him, and when I finished he said, "But you yelled at me!" No sense of why he shouldn't touch the stove, or why I'm the parent and have the right to raise my voice occasionally, just a sense of indignation that I would dare yell at him. Another example, from just this morning: Connor was kicking a door, and Chip said, "Connor stop." Another kick, another "Stop!" More kicking followed by me yelling "Connor!" as Chip grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the door with the, "Connor, that is called 'not following directions.' When an adult tells you to stop, they should only have to tell you once," speech. This was not followed by an apology, or even a look of remorse. This was followed by much bawling with a round of "You grabbed me! You yelled at me!" (And as always when her brother is upset, Chloe joins in the wailing. Fun.)

So we've clearly done something wrong, something that has led Connor to believe that he is in charge and we are just there to do his bidding. I've made sure he sees me as a parent rather than as a friend, yet I have failed to gain his respect. The parenting books, our parents, friends who are parents- none of their advice could adequately arm us for the battles we have waged. I always thought that the sense of entitlement today's youth possessed came from attitudes they learned at home. Now I wonder if it comes from the hormones in milk or is a result of the chicken pox vaccine, like some kind of kin to the autism outbreak. Because despite my best efforts, Connor has caught the entitlement bug. I'm finally starting to think it's time to pull out the old conduct chart and start threatening Connor with a trip to the principal's office. At this point, it's the only trick I've got left.


Cathy said...

When you figure out the best recipe for respect, let me know because I'm scared to death of that phase with Charlie!

Anonymous said...

I use a conduct chart on a daily basis. it works so well with the kids. not that you asked, but im going to tell you about it anyway. just in case....

i have a posterboard on the fridge. i have three faces that i cut out and glued to it. the first is a happy face, second is a "straight face" and the last is a sad face. i have a cut out for both of the kids with their names on it. i use a paper clip to place their name on which ever face best represents their behavior. we start every morning on "happy face." i have rules, rewards and consequences displayed on the same poster board. when they dont follow rules or what not, i simply move their name and clip it to the straight or sad face, depending on what they did or didnt do. i dont go directly to sad face. i give them gentle reminders, one on one talks and other things that i try before moving their name. if they are behaving nicely, i will reward them with nice comments, stickers, a game of their choice, etc... at the end of the week, if you have at least 5 days of happy faces, you get a prize from the "treasure box." (a shoe box i decorated and filled with toys from the dollar tree) if you have more than 2 days of sad faces, you get nothing. it works really well for us.

Stan said...

I just finished my post about disciplining Grace and what a failure I am, and I checked your blog to find the same post! At least we are in good company. I expect you to know how to do everything, you have TWO after all, I guess it doesn't get any easier!