The Discipline Problem

Every parent dreads having a teacher or rec program staff member ask them “Can I speak to you for a minute?’  It is the signal of your parenting sins coming back to haunt you.


Let me preface this story by saying The Fiend has been in day care from eighteen months and has never presented a serious problem to any of her teachers.  She is bossy and stubborn but in the preschool world they work with that.  They gently guide a child to react more positively to situations.


Kindergarten is a whole different experience.  And more specifically the after school rec program.  This program puts The Fiend in contact with a significant number of kiddos, far more than she is used to interacting with.  And she is no longer the biggest.  The staffers are certainly underpaid.  And they are horribly outnumbered.


So we are at the beginning of week three of this.  It is a huge transition for The Fiend.  I am under the impression that she is handling it very well.  Or at least I was until pick up today.


I walked in to find The Fiend playing with another young girl.  As I was trying to gather her up a young woman came up beside me and smiled a bit shyly.  “Hi, I’m Amy.”


I stuck out my hand introducing myself.  She continued to smile, “Yeah, I think we’ve already met. Umm, we’re having a problem with listening during rec.”


For a moment I was thrown by her use of the word “we”.  After a moment it dawned on me that by “we” she did not mean “the collective”.  Instead she was using “we” to mean “your evil spawn”.


“What’s the problem?”


“Well, we have meetings and the kids need to sit still during the meetings.  Otherwise it’s really difficult to get things done.  And she,” indicating The Fiend, “doesn’t want to sit still.  She got up to throw away her trash.  I had told her no and she still got up.  And when I asked her to sit aside for five minutes afterward she didn’t want to stay in one place.  I mean I was the same way when I was a kid.”


I had no idea what this girl was talking about.  I gathered The Fiend was not being cooperative, but the rest was gibberish.  I carefully studied Amy.  She was barely twenty years old.  I couldn’t tell if she was nervous or just inarticulate.


All that aside, I was far from pleased to hear The Fiend was being less than cooperative.  “She did have a long weekend, or is this something that is more consistent?


“Oh this is more a consistent thing.”


I nodded.  “We will be discussing this then.”


The Fiend and I gathered up her belongings, signed her out and went to the car to chat.


“Why are you angry?”


“I’m angry because your teacher told me you aren’t listening well in rec.  You do understand that you need to listen, right?”


“Yes mama.”


We talked about it a bit more.  I explained that because there are so many more kids than adults it becomes even more important to listen well so the teachers can keep everyone safe.  It took awhile to reach an understanding.  Eventually The Fiend seemed appropriately apologetic.  “I think we should go back in so you can apologize to Amy.”


So we went back inside to look for Amy.  She was busy trying to stop another kindergartener from spinning in circles in the middle of the gym far away from all the other children.  It seemed a bit bizarre to be so focused on a child who was minding her own business and not harming anyone when I had walked by a fourth grader punching a first grader in the gut as we approached her.  Far be it for me to dictate appropriate priorities.


Once The Fiend was able to get Amy’s attention she told her she was sorry for not listening.  Amy’s response? “Well you can show me you’re sorry tomorrow by listening, ok?”


My jaw dropped.  As far as I am concerned this was a completely inappropriate response to a five year olds apology.  Especially considering the fact the crime committed, while serious, was not egregious.  The Fiend was essentially guilty of being five.


The Fiend and I continued to talk about why it is so important to listen well.  Babydaddy stopped by to talk to her about it as well.  We ended the night well with a lot of reading and a big ol’ lovefest.


This is the part that I struggle with.  Being a mom alone means that I have to leave The Fiend in the care of others for a good chunk of the day.  This is something that has always bothered me.  It becomes even more troublesome now.  The rec program is huge.  The adults are stretched pretty thin.  And as evidenced by Amy’s interactions, not all of them have the patience required to deal with children.


Babydaddy said last night that The Fiend needs to know her place.  I would agree that she needs to listen better.  I expect her to be cooperative and respectful.  She can be super sassy.  It is something we have been working with and trying to improve. 


The thing is, I admire her tenacity.  I don’t want to “break her spirit”.  The thing that frustrates me so much about her sometimes will serve her well in the future.  And the thought of sometime twenty year old rec worker with no training in how to deal with children scolding The Fiend at every turn scares me.  Based on Amy’s response to The Fiend’s apology, I think it should.


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