We have heard the line, “This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.” Let me say neither my mother nor my grandmother ever preceded the occasional whuppin’ with a warning of pain. They told us it was coming, and they did it. But lives and social conditions have changed. (By the way, I’m using ”whuppin’” instead of ”spanking” — it’s a cultural thing.) Discussions about why, how, and when to discipline a child are complicated; there is very little margin for error in the eyes of the court as well as ethical, cultural and legal issues and concerns. Child protection service professionals cannot pick and choose when it comes to the safety and protection of the child. That being said, I think about Tyler Perry’s character Madea, a woman who uses old-school ways to handle the unruly child. Aside from her gun-toting, cigarette-smoking, no-nonsense exterior, she appears to be someone who empathizes with the child as she corrects the behavior. In one movie scene, Madea is dealing with a foster child in her care. The child has been suspended from school for skipping classes.
Madea’s over-the-top delivery of problem-solving carries the story line; however, I separated entertainment value from reality and wondered how, in real life situations, grandparents might feel and react when responding to a similar circumstance. Further, what happens when they are required to take the child home? The first reaction — like Madea — might be over-the-top: anger mixed with frustration and protectiveness! (Similar to mine.) I was angry at having to stop what I was doing to go to school and frustrated at having to deal with problems I assumed were resolved from earlier counseling sessions and one-to-one discussions. Why did it happen? Was I to blame in some way? Was the school responsible? How would I feel if I later learned he was not at fault?
The bigger question: Would this be the beginning of a long road ahead? I really concerned about that last one. When the school principal called me and said my grandson David was in trouble and that I should come to the school, my heart started racing! When I got to the front office and saw him sitting there, I tried to be as calm as possible (it wasn’t easy). My storming into the school and acting up would have been worse than my grandson’s offense. So, I just stood there in front of him for a few minutes. He stared at me, I glared at him. I then leaned down real close to him and said: “Have you lost your mind?!
You’re acting up in class. Seriously. Have you lost your mind?!” The principal waited a few minutes, then invited un into her office where we discussed all sides of the matter and how to resolve the problem. Some teachers might believe children raised by grandparents are more susceptible to behavior problems: “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” I was concerned I would be seen as that “tree.” But, according to research by D. Sue Miles, Ph.D. of West Virginia University, a child’s negative behavior is often the outcome of traumatic living conditions, which lead led to grandparents becoming primary caregivers.
I have a dear friend with whom I often share my thoughts and concerns about raising David. I am passing along questions she had about today’s education system and our children: “As we struggle to understand the differences in expectations held by schools, grandparents, parents, and children, all of whom are raised in very different social and cultural circumstances, how do we learn to come to accommodation and agreement? Teachers, administrators, and caregivers all come from a variety of generations. How can we all understand each other and learn to talk within a common frame of reference?” My education includes counseling psychology and I counseled at-risk teens, so I was prepared mentally to deal with David’s behavior at school; but no amount of field research or empirical data could resolve my gut reaction when I got that call.
So, I wonder, as grandparents/caregivers deal with children’s behavior problems, should they also have to second guess how teachers’ and administrators’ beliefs might impact a child’s education? Take-aways: “There is a brilliant child locked inside every student.” — Marva Collins, educator If you get that phone call… • Request a face-to-face meeting with the school administrator at a time that is convenient for you. • Go into the meeting with an open mind and a firm commitment not to argue or raise your voice. • If your child admits wrongdoing, consider or ask what can be done to ”make things right.” • Be sure your child knows that school suspension is not a holiday. Ask the school for assignments and ask to have your child make up any tests missed. A helpful read: OnlineParentingCoach.com — help for parents with strong-willed, out-of-control children and adolescents. You can do it! Judith Hence welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.