When the call is coming from inside the school
The hopes and dreams of sticker charts
We have a call scheduled later today with my son’s first-grade teacher about his behavior plan. I am glad I found the term “spirited” because I’d say that describes him. I think he’s a little bit ahead of the curve academically but also gets bored easily and craves attention so there is a lot of not sitting in his seat, or making Nelson Muntz-like “Haw haw” noises for attention during reading time or simply proclaiming “I’m bored!” during class. Apparently my father was like this when he was a kid which is helpful information because my husband and I don’t possess these personality traits. It has confounded us that someone so charming, so cuddly, such a mama’s boy, could also be so noncompliant at the same time.
Every year we get better at knowing how he ticks, meeting him halfway and being realistic about what works. Coming down on him too hard just gives him a victim complex (“I’m just a bad boy.” OK.) Bitching at him right after school does nothing because the schoolday is so far behind him that it’s meaningless, and it just starts the evening on a rotten note.
What’s been hardest about it for me is not internalizing it and absolutely mortified about it on behalf of the teachers, like what he does makes it seem like I endorse or look past that type of behavior. I have an idea of how hard a teacher’s job is and I hate thinking that my kid made their job harder.
I have just had to start believing it though when teachers tell me that this is truly part of their job. Some teachers are better at speaking “spirited” than others. His current teacher and principal are really great at drawing him out, unlike some past teachers. My least favorite was the preschool teacher who called me from school one day to tell me that he wasn’t behaving. We had never discussed this as some sort of protocol so I was just like “So…am I supposed to yell at him over the phone? Bring him home?” And when she tried to talk to us back then about a behavior plan, she had no ideas for us—just asked for our ideas. (We didn’t know because we weren’t preschool teachers???) When this teacher later tried to add me as a friend on Facebook, that was the fastest “Ignore” I ever hit.
What also has not helped? Posting about my questions to a large FB group full of people that that don’t know me or my kid and promptly diagnosed him with ADHD without meeting him, or suggested a sticker chart like I am BRAND NEW.
What has helped me is talking to teachers about how I feel to be reassured that handling kids like mine is their superpower. But also, talking to other witchy parents about that helpless feeling when their kid causes trouble at school or childcare and they can’t do anything about it in the moment. Somehow things that stress you out become funny, and remind you that wild kids can happen to nice parents. I have a friend who has two boys exactly my boys’ age and her younger son has also been the inspiration behind some phone calls from school/camp about behavior. We still talk about the email we got from camp one year with the subject line “Bathroom incident.” When we get together we laugh about the Bad Boys Club we’re running, and let me tell you, those are big, cathartic laughs.
If you need company, below are some anecdotes from witches whose kids also incurred some notes and phone calls home from school about behavior—followed by some early childhood education expert input on their side of things:
“My youngest kid threw their shoe at their childcare provider. The teacher asked me to speak to my kid. The next day, I got a call that my kid locked the same teacher in the closet.”
“After a several day visit with my family when my kid was three, she started calling me exclusively by my first name. The preschool teacher found this unnerving and asked if she could try to break her of this habit. I said no, but suspect she tried anyway.”
“The thing that upset me most was when the school called me in because our son had started regressing on potty training, I think because he was having some anxiety. They didn’t want to be cleaning him up. Like, lady, if you don’t think I’m pulling out my hair already over this, or that if I could control his bowels with my mind I would, you’re bananas. And you’re not helping.”
“I was in a rough patch during my son’s infancy and he had one ragged toenail, and his childcare provider cut it herself then scolded me about it.”
“I had a preschool teacher tell me that I gave my kid ‘too much love and comfort’ and that was why he was quick to tears and tantrums when things didn’t go his way. Turns out he had sensory issues that were diagnosed about a year later. I wasn’t too mad about it because 1) she hadn’t spent much time with him yet to see that he responded better to comfort tactics than discipline tactics and 2) what the fuck kind of advice is ‘don’t love your kid so much or comfort him when he’s upset?’ She was totally off on that advice. (Weeks later she came around and was like, ‘He likes to get pats on the head and his back rubbed during nap time... such a funny sweet kid.’)”
“Around the time my kid was one, we were advised to cut back on bottles to encourage more solid food. We advised childcare to give one fewer bottle per day. A few days later they told us it was not working because when other babies put down their bottles, my kid would crawl over and steal them. That was the end of that. We let the kid eat what he wanted.”
“I remember in nursery school, the teacher pulled me aside at pickup and said, ‘We did have an incident today. Your son... ate some Play-Doh.’ Then she just looked at me. I was like, ‘… Okay but literally every kid does that at least once???’ Obviously we weren’t encouraging him at home to eat Play-Doh! I was waiting for her to tell me how they had handled it and what language we could reinforce at home — and I eventually asked her — but it was such a weird approach, you’d think she had an actual bombshell to drop.”
Now for a bit of teacher/provider perspective. I interviewed Missy Sanchez, Director of Open Door Preschool in Austin and Emily Webb Price, an Evanston-based mom of two boys who owns and operates a home child care provider. I wanted some professional reassurance that kid behavior shit is just part of the game, and to learn what most teachers expect parents can do about it from home.
On how much teachers expect parents to harp on kids at home after a bad day at school/childcare:
Sanchez: Unless it’s something serious or we’ve been having conversations with the parent about and working toward a change in behavior, we say “Leave it at school,” about a lot of stuff. We’ve dealt with it, the consequences have happened; please don’t reinforce the punishment at home or discipline at home. We don’t want to put too much attention on negative behavior.
Price: I don’t think harping on kids later after something has happened is helpful. They’re not going to recall it. As the provider, you need to go into things with a positive attitude and know that parents can’t control what their kids are doing. But, they can be the best at home enforcing the good habits, like with a behavior chart, which works for some kids—and others for whom it’s a complete waste of time.
Some teachers are better at differentiating than others:
Sanchez: Not all teachers are good at being teachers. Not all early childhood educators are good at it. You can see a teacher in the classroom who’s gotten no formal education in training or child development but they know kids. They’re little child whisperers. They can do circle time with a bunch of 3-year kids and they’ve got these kids mesmerized. And then you can see a teacher who has a master’s in child development and you watch them in a classroom and they have no idea what to do. It’s like any field you have to know your subject. You have to understand kids.
At the same time, I also think it’s important for parents to understand that in most instances, teachers know their kids really well. We spend a lot of time with the kids all day. We know the different personalities, the different temperaments, everybody's special needs — because all kids have them, whether they’re actual diagnosed disabilities. All kids have special needs. All humans! You teach to the individual child so a lot of it is parents just remembering, “This is a partnership.” They’re not telling them how to parent; they’re asking them to be partners in raising social emotional capability human beings.
How bad to feel when your kid is having accidents at school/childcare:
Sanchez: Kids are going to have accidents. We know as educators if you have a kid who’s potty training in your classroom chances are you’ll have to deal with a couple of accidents per day. You have to understand that kids are going to have accidents and you can’t get upset with your kid if they got home and had two accidents and you can’t get upset at the teacher. They’re potty training. When are they learning to walk, they fall down all the time. There isn’t really a word for the in-between phase of potty training.
What a parent can do when their kid stinks at resting quietly at naptime:
Price: I’ve been in situations where parents have different expectations, such as, “My kid doesn’t take naps anymore,” or “They don’t take naps because they don’t go to bed for me.” But a short period of that nap time is my time to eat my lunch. But I’ve also had kids that can’t do the quiet time because they are actually more aggressive when they’re tired so if you’re taking that sleep away from them too early it isn’t good for anybody. If they don’t do quiet time they just do quiet rest time. My boys weren’t big nappers. I’d ask, “Is there a story they can listen to? Is there a workbook can they work on that? Can they quietly read?” I’d ask if my son could go to the school office or hang out with the assistant teacher. I know some of the kids used to go to extra tasks with her during naptime. If the parent could talk to the school and say, “Hey is there anybody in the center who he might be able to sit with or stay with during quiet time?” that can help.
What you can actually do to help an educator work with your kid:
Sanchez: It’s communication. A parent sending a teacher a quick email or text that says “I know you had a rough day: I’m here to support you. If there’s anything I need to work on at home I want to partner with you.” Figure out what their love language is. Some teachers are like “I need coffee,” others need chocolate. Some teachers are like, “I just liked to hear once in a while that I’m appreciated.”
Parents expect a lot of communication from the school’s side of things, and that is important, but I think parents forget to communicate with teachers. Everything can change a child’s daily routine at the drop of a hat. Say a parent lets a 4-year-old watch something on the phone on the way to school and the child doesn’t want to stop watching so it becomes a battle and the parents are like, “Bye!” It’s like “Whoah, the kid is not themselves. What happened?” Or a grandparent passes away or the parents get into a big argument. It’s really important to communicate what’s going on on the home front. As adults, we forgot how even the smallest nuances affect a child’s behavior. The only thing teachers really get mad about is not communicating over something that could affect their child’s behavior, or bringing the kids in when they’re sick.
Parents need to have more faith in their kids’ teachers. It’s our job; everybody has crappy days. It doesn’t matter what your job is. Teachers are allowed to have bad days. It can be really stressful. It’s not just one kid at the end of the day. It's about not having enough support.
Price: A lot of times when I tell parents it’s been a rough day, I usually am like, “I think the kid was tired,” or “This happened and this is what caused the behavior: I just want you to know.” A lot of times parents are like, “OK thanks. Is there anything I can do?” That reinforces that they are listening and hearing you out as the provider. At the same time, I do understand that there’s nothing they can do about what happened during the day. If they ask, “Is there something you think I can do?” and the provider has ideas, be open to hearing that as long as they also provide positive reinforcement other than “Your kid kid stole all these markers.” Your provider might have feedback, like, “Maybe early bedtime tonight if you can. Maybe the kids will eat cereal for dinner tonight and go to bed at 7.”
Sometimes you gotta say “It was a rough day. We all have ‘em. Kids have ‘em.” Even before COVID I used to give my kids their own PT days and occasionally parents and teachers judge me. I have the luxury that they can stay home, but if I can and they need that, they have gone to school late because they needed to sleep in. Just give your kids a break because they are going to have bad days sometimes. We’re just trying to have a good day tomorrow.”
Take control: Start a Giving Circle
While I have you:
After last year it’s very, very tempting to turn away from political news — there is a certain sense of unclenching as the 2020 election and the pandemic both recede. But, not to get you all anxious again, things are not fine. Just look to the Texas abortion law, the voting rights bill, the frightening number of people in denial about the election results, and the folks walking away from school boards because they (understandably) don’t care to need a police escort to their cars as thanks for their volunteer work.
Election fatigue is real. Mental health is incredibly important. But don’t discount the political power that regular people like us can either still wield or surrender. There was a recent editorial about Virginia and the enthusiasm gap:
Almost half of women in four crucial swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are paying less attention to politics since Mr. Trump left office... This includes 46 percent of Biden voters — particularly those who are younger, are college educated or are urban dwellers.
I am reading political news less, on Twitter less because I can’t deal with the loudmouths, bullies and conspiracy theorists who see an inch and take a mile, the if-it-bleeds-it-leads news. But I haven’t checked out. Something I’ve been doing since last year is leading a Giving Circle for the States Project (formerly the Future Now Fund.) While it’s hard to make a dent in federal elections, it doesn’t take much to help state elections—and state elections are incredibly influential.
The States Project is looking for additional leaders to start their own circles—I hope you consider starting your own. Don’t be scared. You don’t need to aim to raise a ton of money, possess some A-list network, show up for things you don’t want to or learn anything complicated. You can go all in and learn all the details about your election if you’re a wonky type, or you can do what I did and spend an hour or less each week doing little more than sending emails and posting to social media—stuff you probably do anyway. I bet the emails you write to your friends will be a lot simpler and less hysterical than those “I’m worried, Claire” emails we all get bombarded with after donating to larger elections.
You can learn more and easily start your own circle here, or contact Melissa Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Melissa is a working mom and a witch and never made me feel like I had to commit to anything I didn’t want to and double-checked my work for me when I didn’t feel confident (in fact, I am happy to share my email templates with you so you can simply further and just cut and paste.) I never felt like any question was dumb. Trust me, if I can do this, so can you.
Thanks for reading this far. We have more power than we know. I will leave you alone now (temporarily, anyway.)
I hope you enjoyed today’s guest issue of Evil Witches, a newsletter for evil witches. Please pass it along if you know someone whose kid is living la vida sticker chart. And I’d love it if you became a paying subscriber. Doing so gets you access to extra content and chatty threads. I am going to kick off a Thanksgiving hotline chat early Thursday morning if you think that’s something you could benefit from:
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Want more witches? Here’s a lovely post Claire Lovell wrote last year about talking to your kids about death. Or check out the archives here.