My third-grade son is a straight A, honor-roll, perfect attendance, responsibility-award recipient, student. He has never had a discipline referral and all his teachers have consistently told us he is a polite, respectful, responsible, smart kid.
My son has been harassed for months now by another boy who has been a consistent problem for several teachers and other students. The teacher, administration, and other parents have tried and failed to remedy the situation.
My son has a private journal that he draws in when he is finished with his schoolwork. He draws comic strips and likes to draw military style battle scenes, almost like playing “army men” on paper. This has never been a problem before.
Yesterday, he was very annoyed with the bully-child and wrote his name on a drawing he made in his private journal. He depicted the bully-boy as the bad guy in a battle scene and drew him as a “dead” stick figure with x’d out eyes. The other child, who is already supposed to stay in his seat away from my son, got up and came to my son’s desk and saw his name on the paper and told the teacher.
The school is now characterizing my son’s drawing as a threat and has mandated an automatic 3-day suspension. I have a meeting with the principle scheduled.
Although I do see how this picture is inappropriate, I do not view it as a “threat.” My belief is that a child expressing their frustrations privately through journaling or art is a healthy alternative to acting out verbally or physically in inappropriate ways that will disturb others.
Am I missing something?
It’s true that school administrators and teachers are on high alert for anything that hints at violence or aggression, even from a third-grader who has no history of aggression. I don’t think this is ever going to change, especially considering the handful of school shootings and threats that are now a part of our collective memory.
It’s unfortunate that your son doesn’t have any room to express his frustrations with what he feels is an impossible dead-end situation with this other child. It’s normal for children to use fantasy play as a way to deal with stressful situations. Children are our most powerless citizens and often resort to make-believe as a way to cope with situations.
I believe this is an opportunity for the schoolteacher and administrators to better understand your son’s dilemma. Clearly, he’s expressing how dire his situation is with this other child. I hope the principal is able to use this journal entry as a way to better understand how powerless your son feels in the classroom. If they automatically treat your son like a criminal, they will miss an opportunity to not only help your son, but this other boy, who needs some structure himself.
My guess is that if even one adult would validate your son’s irritation with this boy, it would help your son deal with his frustration. They might say, “you wish he would just disappear.” Or, “he’s so irritating to you, you don’t know how else to get him away from you.” Often, when we get to the heart of the matter with our kids’ frustrations, they move on to other things.
There has to be room for children to express themselves, even in ways that make us uncomfortable. They don’t have a mastery of words, so often they will use pictures and scenarios to express what they’re feeling. It’s our job as adults to take the time needed to make sense of what they are really saying. Look for patterns and see if it becomes a theme that he becomes obsessed with it. My belief is that he’s just venting and needs someone to listen to him.
I’ll end with this insight from Dr. Haim Ginott, a renowned educator and child psychologist. In his book, “Teacher and Child”, he wrote, “I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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