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  • Sue Hawley

Parents: When do you stand up for your 'bad kid'?

Most parents have built in radar when it comes to their kids- a gut instinct. When it comes to our offspring we seem to just know when something isn’t quite right. The problem arises when we either ignore or talk ourselves out of the signals our gut is screaming at us concerning a situation with a child. I’ve been guilty of this numerous times and each time it’s been costly in the long run.

Our oldest son was, and is, extremely bright. When he was little I was still working in the corporate world. I choose a daycare that specialized in the Montessori method, which is child centered, based on their own interests. He thrived in the environment provided and loved his teachers. Expecting our next child by the time he was ready for kindergarten, I made the decision to leave the corporate life and become a stay-at-home mom. We live in a well-respected school district and I felt confident he would do well. I was wrong.

It became obvious very soon that he was bored to tears in kindergarten. He had taught himself to multiply by the age of 5—telling me it was just a quicker way to add numbers! Needless to say, kindergarten wasn't exactly absorbing his attention. Boredom leads to mischief in a five-year-old boy. His teacher was frustrated with him, the principal was little to no help with our problem, and we had no idea how to change the circumstances. First grade was no better and again his teacher was irritated by his boredom. Since my husband had graduated from this school system he trusted their experience and we followed their advice- be tougher on our son.

My inner radar had been trying to get my attention for two years but I had no idea what it was trying to tell me. By second grade the situation had become worse. At a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told us “He should be in 3rd grade math, but frankly he doesn’t deserve it.” Doesn’t deserve it? At this point my radar was literally throwing grenades at me but again, I ignored my gut and followed the lead and advice of his school. Wrong decision.

At no point in these years did anyone advise us to have him tested. As first time parents we had no idea this was even an option. For years we blindly followed advice from teachers to be tougher on him at home, instill more discipline- advice that implied we were the problem when it came to our son. Now in middle school he was so bored in class he basically checked out during the day. But he had to fill his time somehow and discovered numerous ways to drive teachers crazy. They had no love for him and he had no respect for them. It wasn’t a good situation.

Eventually we pulled him from public school, swallowed the high cost of private school, and enrolled him in a demanding program. He did well but years of having to hardly use his brain had developed bad habits. He was usually the first to find ways to drive teachers to the brink, barely paying attention in class but able to keep his grades high, and always the first one to be blamed in any negative circumstance- sometimes justified, but not always.

He graduated and moved on in life but there are lingering consequences to the patterns established during his school years. Now I look back and can pinpoint the day I realized the school system was failing him- the day his second grade teacher declared that my son "Didn't deserve" to be put into more challenging classes. My son was no angel as a young boy but he wasn't a downright devil. Had that teacher looked past her own prejudices and done what was the right thing for a child, even though she didn't personally like him, I think his school years would have been a pleasurable challenge. Instead they were a dull plod through a system that, as my son aged into a young man, labeled and defined him as a trouble maker and undeserving of their time and energy. I wish I had known then what I know now.

First borns are often the guinea pigs of the family and that was true for our family. We learned a hard lesson with him- You are the only people who will advocate for your kids. There may be teachers and other adults who care about them but you may very well be their only line of defense, especially if they don't fit neatly into a pigeonhole. Step up. Think outside the box. It doesn’t matter what other people think, don’t hesitate to color outside the lines if it fits the situation. I learned many lessons raising our son and used the experience to make wiser decisions with our other children.

If we don’t become advocates for our kids, who will? Pull back the emotions surrounding the situation so you have a clear view of the scene you’re facing. This is difficult for most of us, especially when your child is younger, but necessary to make sound decisions. It’s been my experience that decisions made while in the middle of emotionally charged circumstances are almost always wrong. Don’t let your own embarrassment of a child’s behavior rule your decisions. No matter what you are facing, good or bad, jumping to conclusions is never sound. Be honest with yourself about your kid, yourself, and the situation- the toughest and most ignored aspect of parenting.

It's rare for anyone to be 100% right or wrong in any situation- that goes for teachers, administration, parents, and your kids. If you have the time step back and look at as many angles of the situation as you can before making decisions or accepting outside judgments and labels. There will be many times when you will need to do this and each decision slowly builds a foundation that will be very difficult to change once your child is older. Go slow and go wisely into those choices.

Parenting is a marathon and not a sprint. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is decisions made today most likely have long-term consequences. Being your son or daughter's advocate is vital for their well being academically, socially, and in future relationships they cultivate. I’m not a professional counselor, merely a mom who made mistakes and hopes others can learn from them. Why learn the hard way when you can read one mom's life lessons instead?

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