I’ve always told my children, “If you get in trouble at school, you’ll be in more trouble at home.” I’ve heard experts say that I should let the school handle any problems there and that I’d be disciplining my kids twice for one infraction. Is once enough?
There’s a legal concept called double jeopardy. It means you can’t try someone twice for the same crime if he has been acquitted the first time around. This makes for good law but not necessarily good parenting. Sometimes two or more consequences may be warranted for one infraction. Further, what someone may consider innocent behavior, you may not. A personal example may clarify some of this legalese.
Some years ago, my son Andrew threw some cornmeal at another boy in preschool. The teacher said it was nothing malicious, took care of the problem, and sent a letter home to us about it.
Figuring that Andrew not only misbehaved but also cost me some business — I mean, who would want to bring their child to a shrink whose own kids act up? — I asked him to explain.
“Well, Dad, I know some things are good to do and some things are bad to do, but how can I know which is which until I try them all?”
A fast-on-his-feet answer, I thought, and as I hid my smile, I told him that, nevertheless, he’d face some discipline at home for his behavior at school. My wife and I agreed: 10 minutes in the corner, followed by a “forced nap” in bed. Also no “Mr. Rogers,” no dessert after supper, no bedtime story, an early bedtime, and copying a brief letter of apology to his teacher.
Was this overdone? No doubt, many might think so, including Andrew’s teacher. But my wife and I had this rationale: Andrew broke his teacher’s rule of “No throwing.” In addition, he also broke our rule of “Respecting your teacher’s authority,” thus deserving a more serious response.
Andrew’s teacher’s discipline — removing him from the scene of the cornmeal melee — was a beginning. The ending was left to us. We wanted to show Andrew that we would back his teacher not only in words but in action. Our purpose was to send him a stronger message than his teacher could, given the constraints of her classroom. In essence, our consequences had more meat than hers.
If you believe strongly that your children must respect their school — its teachers and its rules — you have a responsibility to hold them answerable to you, even if the school has addressed the trouble. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have no right to discipline according to your values and morals. If you are not being abusive or neglectful, you have a wide parental latitude in how you decide to deal with your youngster’s misbehavior and growing pains. No one can take away that from you in the name of psychological correctness.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, speaker and author of
You’re a Better Parent Than You Think! and Back to the Family.