Sometimes you have to ditch the yardstick

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Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from my husband saying that the principal at M’s school had called. Apparently, he had a conflict with another child during recess and was having trouble apologizing and moving on. However, before I could call him to discuss whether one of us should leave work early to pick him up, my husband sent me another email to say that the issue had been resolved and M had gone back to class.

For the rest of the day, I didn’t give this incident much thought. I may have mentioned in passing that I’d heard he had some difficulty during the day, but he handled it well. Quite frankly, the school has called us so many times in the last couple of years that unless one of us has to drop everything and rush to pick M up, it doesn’t even rate as a real incident.

This morning, I ran into the principal in the lobby of the school and she mentioned that M had handled himself really well. So well, that she was almost doing cartwheels (her words). The other child had thrown some ice at him and M had reacted. Since these sorts of conflicts are pretty common among middle school kids (boys in particular), the general approach used at the school is to bring the kids involved together to discuss it. The challenge with M is that he rarely agrees to sit in the same room with the other child, particularly if he is the “injured” party. Yesterday, M was reluctant to talk to the principal about what happened at first, so she let him read a new Myth Busters book, while sitting in her office. She checked in with him a couple of times, until finally he said he was ready – they talked and he went back to class for the rest of the day. She casually mentioned that it took him some time, an hour and a half, but he pulled himself together without trashing her office, kicking a teacher, swearing – his usual modus operandi when  he gets into a conflict at school.

For M this is big progress. He usually gets so wound up when something happens at school that he has to be scrapped off the ceiling. Most times, I arrive to get him after the storm has passed and he is a little puddle of tears. But the truly amazing thing is that the principal, who is incredibly busy and is in demand every minute of the school day, spent 90 minutes waiting for my kid to calm down enough so he could have a rational conversation about what happened.

At any time during that period, she could have pulled the plug and called us to come and get him. But she has taken the time to get to know M and knows he struggles with his temper. Once the beast is out, getting it back in the cage is almost impossible. And then M feels badly about himself, because even though he can’t stop himself, he knows getting angry and smacking another child isn’t right. So the principal gave him a book and let him wait until he was ready. She created the conditions for him to succeed and he did. So the next time he has a major blowout at school and doesn’t pull himself together, the principal will call me to come and get him. And as we are walking home, I can remind him about yesterday.


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