Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brain Freeze

I was working at the D Street house today when my cell phone rang. Every time my phone rings, I brace for the worst. Since Tyler has his own ring (Tom Petty...its catchy), any other call is usually a contractor, which is my least favorite of daily contacts. This afternoon, while attempting in vain to scrape out the ridiculous mess of caulk that is currently the crown molding in my kitchen (thank you very much, Crescent Cabinets), the generic ring cut the silence. I assumed it was the cabinet guy, and climbed down my ladder with a sigh. Instead of hearing a gruff man instantly complaining about how "particular" I am, I was greeted by a woman's voice on the other end. Jonah's kindergarten teacher.


A phone call from Ms. B can only mean one of three things: Jonah has split his head open, he's gotten sick all over another kid, or his actions have garnered him a dreaded RED STICK. The "stick system" is how discipline is administered in Jonah's class of 25 students. Green stick = good behavior, Yellow stick = major warning, Red stick = busted. Amazingly, Jonah hasn't spent much time in the red stick category, mostly because while common sense isn't enough to persuade him to good behavior, the consequences of that fateful stick are.

Jonah's teacher assured me he was fine, but that she wanted me to know that Jonah had received a red stick that afternoon for hitting another child. She said she had talked it through with Jonah and that it sounded like the hit was not at all malicious -- that they were playing a game and Jonah got carried away. BUT she wanted me to know that Jonah was extremely upset and would likely be so when he was picked up from school. She held him back while the other students went to art class to inquire about his response to the red stick. In the midst of the crying, she was able to make out that he "hated red sticks more than anyone" because he knew what the consequence would be and that it was bad. Really bad. Red sticks can only mean one thing: No Gameboy, no Playstation.

Oh, the HORROR!!!

I had a dentist appointment this afternoon, so Tyler picked up Jonah from school. When I returned home, I found a pitiful little 6-year old curled up on a chair underneath a blanket, quietly sobbing. (Mind you, this is hours after the offense occurred) I pulled Jonah onto my lap and asked him to tell me what happened. He described the incident with perfect clarity, pausing only to push away his little brother who was clearly trying to console his best friend. We rocked, and talked about why it was wrong to hit his classmate even if it was all in fun, and how that little boy may have felt.

And then, out of nowhere, he began to wail in agony: "I know what the consequence is, Mom! I know what it is!"

"You know what it is because we decided what the consequence would be beforehand, didn't we? What's the consequence for getting a red stick, buddy?"

"No [sob!] Game [sob!] Boy! NO [gasp!] PLAY [sob!] STATION!"

Holy cow. The agreement was, if he gets a red stick, no electronics for the rest of the day. And seeing as he's only allotted one hour's worth each day, its not like we're talking about a huge loss here. At least from my 30-year old perspective.

I'm a big believer in making the "punishment" fit the crime, but in some circumstances, I think you need to have the consequence laid out before the crime has been committed, simply to try to influence good behavior (or at least dissuade bad behavior). In this instance, I wasn't sure he was learning the lesson because he was so fixated on how horrible the consequence was at that moment. So now I'm rethinking that approach. But in the meantime, Jonah and I had a little discussion about why we have consequences and why there are good consequences, and bad consequences.

I said to him, "What if Ms. B called to tell me you hit that boy and instead of losing electronics I took you to go get ice cream? Would that help you to remember that hitting isn't good to do?"


"Nope. You'd probably think that hitting is okay since you got rewarded with ice cream, and then you wouldn't learn that your actions were inappropriate. That's one of the reasons we say 'When you do good things, good things happen, but when you do bad things, BAD things happen.' Does that make sense?"

"Yeah, it makes sense..."

"Good, I'm glad. Because you're a good kid and I know these consequences are hard for you."




"Ice cream sounds really good right now. Do we have any?"

***Note to self: Avoid ice cream analogies. The thought of ice cream will always trump the life lessons you're trying to teach.

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