Tyler is the youngest child in his class. He is also one of the brightest children in his class. This contrast has been the source of mucho frustration at our house since he started school in August. From the beginning, his teacher has told me that he’s so very smart that he can “get by” without really paying attention, and instead fidgets, wiggles, and tries to entertain the other kids.
But his “getting by” includes perfect (or near-perfect) scores on every test he takes.
His teacher uses a green-yellow-red system for behavior. Tyler usually has a mix of greens and yellow, with an occasional red day. Since he enjoys attention, it’s common for him to get on yellow for entertaining his buddies. But two weeks ago he had a string of three red days in a row.
I didn’t know what to do. Wednesday night I yelled, I threatened, I took away privileges, I promised him steak dinner if he could behave on Thursday. We went to the bookstore and got a copy of “It’s Hard To Be Five” and read it twice. And when he got into the car Thursday afternoon? ANOTHER RED.
I gave him oatmeal for dinner at 5:30 and put him in the bathtub. After he got out and I was drying him off, I really looked at him. He looked so small, so vulnerable, and so sad. I started crying. He started crying. We hugged, I wrapped him up in a towel and pulled him on my lap, and we wept together. I put him in bed at 7:00 (his usual bedtime is 8:00) and, for the first night in his life, I didn’t lay down with him and snuggle. I think that was the worst punishment I could have concocted. He pulled the covers over his face as tears leaked from his eyes. It broke my heart. I wanted so very badly to take it all back.
Since that night, he has been on green every single day.
Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. But it appears to have been effective. I didn’t spank Tyler. I didn’t throw things. I took a lot of deep breaths. I don’t know that I should have let him see me crying over this, but I don’t know that it was a terrible thing, either. Maybe that made him realize how important this is to me.
On Wednesday, Tyler’s father and I sat down with the teacher and the guidance counselor to discuss Tyler’s behavior problems. At that point, he’d been on green three days, after being on red three days. We all agreed to test Tyler for the gifted program. Both the teacher and the guidance counselor were impressed with my choice to get the “It’s Hard to be Five” book. They were not impressed with Tyler’s father’s approach to discipline, which apparently involves a stern lecture in the car on the way to school.
I recommend the book – especially for boys. The pictures on the front and back inside covers are worth the cover price. On Friday Tyler’s teacher invited me to come read the book to the whole class.