Rebellion for being Punished

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I am having problems with my 2nd grade son. Recently, he was suspended from riding the bus after hitting another child back after this kid hit him. My son was suspended for 7 days, while the other child received no discipline at all.
For the last week of my son's suspension from the bus, he's been a pain in the tush! He came home Tuesday of this week and in school he was bored and cut his sweater sleeve! Yesterday he came home with purple marker all over his palms. He says he was bored [again].
Today I received an email from his teacher that she wasn't clear about my signature on a time out notice he received yesterday in class for not paying attention, and I never even saw the notice...I think my son signed my name to it.
He doesn't act like this regularly, only the past week that he has not been able to ride the bus... HELP...please I have no idea where to go from here. I want to yell & scream at him and then I want to hug him and cry... I don't what to do. Sheila


Hi Sheila,

What you are experiencing is what I call the long-term results of punishment. When punished, most children choose one of three responses:

  1. Rebellion
  2. Revenge
  3. Retreat:
    a. Sneakiness: "I just won't get caught next time."
    b. Low self-esteem: "I'm a bad person."

It sounds to me as though your son is vacillating between rebellion: "You can't make me", and "I'll hurt you back."
I'm not sure how much you know about Positive Discipline, but we advocate never using punishment. Most people think this means permissiveness, but we know that is not healthy for children. Following are the Five Criteria for Effective Discipline:

  1. Does it help children feel a sense of connection? (Belonging and Significance)
  2. Is it respectful and encouraging? (Kind and firm at the same time)
  3. Is it effective long-term? (Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results.)
  4. Does it teach valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, cooperation)
  5.  Does it help them discover and believe in their capability?

So, what could this look like for the challenges you are having.

Your experience with your son is one reason why we suggest "treating children the same" when they are involved in a fight. Adults usually don't know who really started the fight. They just see the end and take a side. I don't blame your son for being upset when he was singled out for punishment. It would have been so much more effective to get them both involved in one of the following ways:

  1. Send them to a peace table where they could.
    1. each take responsibility for their part in the altercation.
    2. brainstorm together for a solution.
    3. choose a solution that would work for both of them.
  1. Separate them and allow them time to write answers to the following "Curiosity Questions" 
    What were you trying to accomplish?
    What happened?
    What do you think caused it to happen?
    How did you feel about what happened?
    How do you think others feel about what happened?
    What did you learn from this experience?
    What ideas do you have for a solution?

This is a great way to help children explore the consequences of their choices. The focus in on thinking through what happened, how people feel about it, and how they can find a solution. This is much different from "imposing" a consequence on a child, which is really trying to disguise a punishment by calling it a consequence. Punishment focuses on making children "pay" for what they did. Focusing on solutions helps children learn from what they did and to find a respectful solution.

  1. Ask the kids to put the problem on a class meeting agenda so the whole class can help them brainstorm for a solution. The kids can then choose a solution from the list that will help them.

I'm sure you can see how much more respectful any of these would be–and how they help children "learn" instead of "pay." However, this describes an ideal world. This is not what your child experienced, and it is unlikely that you can change the school system. What you can do is help your child deal with a less than ideal situation.

First, you can express empathy for what he had to experience. You can then allow him to share his side of the story by using some Curiosity Questions. You can let him know that since it is unlikely that the system will change, you will support him in figuring out some ways to survive and thrive in the system as it is. In other words, invite him to think of some ways he can avoid problems as much as possible and use the system to help him with his long-term goals. He is more likely to do this after he has felt listened to and validated by you.

Hopefully you will consider having family meetings so your son can practice the skills of brainstorming and focusing on respectful solutions. Meanwhile, I hope you'll squelch your desires to scream and follow your desires to give lots of hugs (without the crying). Best wishes, Jane Nelsen


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