For eleven years I taught third grade in a local private elementary school. I have specific recollections of countless incidents and of some very memorable students. One particular little boy stands out in my mind. His name was Cory (not his actual name) and he was an extremely bright little fellow, so bright in fact that he had his parents, his grandparents and even some former teachers completely snowed to put it bluntly. Whenever he did not want to do something that was required of him whether it be a homework assignment, or compliance with a rule at school, he would simply throw a fit, a tantrum and wreak general havoc in the classroom. This may have worked in past years but once he was in my classroom, this only lasted for about two days at which point I promptly called his parents to come in for a meeting. At the meeting, his parents informed me that Cory’s psychiatrist was working jointly with them to help Cory with how he chose to express himself in his behavior and to learn how to make “better choices”. Within the first two minutes of the meeting , I knew I had a set of parents on my hands who were hopelessly ignorant of how to control and train their son, had basically not disciplined him much at all in his first eight years of his life and if I did not do something drastic to reach Cory immediately that it was going to be a very long school year. We had that meeting with the parents on a Friday and the very next Monday at school, it was not long before Cory was up to his antics once more. I had asked all the students to turn in their math homework first thing in the morning. Cory raised his hand and told me that he had completed his math homework but had left it at home. Since it was only the second week of school and the kids were still settling into the routines of school work and the class room, I took the lenient approach and excused his late homework and told him to be sure to bring it in the following day. About a half hour later however, as I was walking around the classroom while the students were at bathroom break, I noticed the math homework paper, sort of crumpled up and halfway sticking out of the front corner of Cory’s desk.  It was blank, not one problem had been done and it became obvious to me that Cory had lied to me about doing the homework and leaving it at home. Once the students returned to class, I told Cory that I would like to see him out in the hallway. Once we were in the hall, I simply turned around and faced Cory, held up the blank homework paper and said “Busted” to him as I directly looked him in the eye. The immediate expression on his face was one of “uh oh “ as he was plainly guilty and he knew that he was. He swiftly kicked into psycho babble high gear however, and said “Oh, I was confused earlier about what you asked me. My talk doctor says that sometimes I get confused about things”  (talk doctor was his name for his psychiatrist). I then did something very unconventional….I leaned down in a very purposeful manner and got my face within an inch of his and I said in a very calm, very measured, but menacing tone “Don’t give me this baloney about your talk doctor, about you being confused, or you having a different way of expressing yourself because that is all garbage…you simply lied, pure and simple, just admit it.” He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders in surrender and resignation and nonchalantly sighed and said “Okay, game’s up, I lied” I am not kidding folks…..those were his exact words. Cory and I became friends that day and although he did not have a problem free or perfect school year, it was a breeze compared to prior years in which that single little boy was smart enough to play just about everyone in his life like a fiddle.

            It is so crucially important to strike a balance when parenting or teaching children. I am a strong advocate for listening, really listening to our children when they come home and want to tell us something or explain a situation that happened to them on that particular day. In both parenting and teaching, I have seen both ends of the spectrum…there is the parent who blindly defends their child with no questions asked, no investigation whatsoever and attempts as Cory’s parents did, to make the problem and the situation more complicated than it ever was. Usually parents who respond in this manner have sorely neglected to discipline their children in a consistent manner from their earliest days. On the other end of the spectrum is the parent who holds fast to the attitude that “ the teacher is always right, the coach is always right, the school is always right” and therefore will simply not listen to or provide an open ear to their child whatsoever. Both approaches are wrong and potentially very damaging to the child and his or her development. Kids who have parents who are blanket across the board defenders of them are kids who are out of control spoiled individuals who will have issues with authority figures for most of their lives. Yet kids who have such authoritative parents who rarely if ever listen to their views, their opinions or their explanations are kids who carry within them a ton of anger and resentment. To be honest, I have seen more children damaged and hurt by the latter incorrect approach than the more lenient one. Parents, I realize that our world is full of parents like Cory’s who invite shame and all kinds of heartache and hassle to themselves as they are willfully blind to their child’s behavior but the answer to that is not to run furiously to the flip side by turning a deaf ear to our kids and what they have to say to us. When we are guilty of doing that, we run the risk of frustrating  them inwardly  to a point of rebellion that they might never have gone to if only their home had provided a safe haven of rest and open listening for them. A truth that we should all remember is that all kids will color everything and anything to their advantage and that should be recognized. I am emphasizing that because I want to clarify that I am not promoting a lack of respect for established authority in their lives but I am saying that children, like us must have the knowledge and assurance that those that love them the most, which is us, their parents will sit down and listen to what they have to say. Then, after having listened, it is our responsibility to ask not just a few, but several questions. I have found over the years, that it is during this questioning period that thoughts or actions on the part of my children were off base and at that juncture, we as their parents were able to point out to them how their perspective was wrong or their thinking was skewed concerning the given circumstance or situation. We did, however, talk it out. What would have happened if our approach had been  to put up a stiff hand and say something like “ It sounds like you are complaining or saying something negative about what happened in school today…I don’t want to hear it” ?  If that had been our response, then instead of helping our children gain a new and right perspective though open discussion, we would have instead given birth to a seed of inner resentment that would have continued to fester and grow within their hearts and spirits. Also folks, it is important to remember that although not often, sometimes our children actually  do have a proper assessment or a valid complaint and at that point as their parents, it is our job, our responsibility to go the teacher, the coach, the neighbor or whoever the person may be, to inquire about and confront the situation. Simply put, there are times that our kids need to be put in their place and there are times that we need to go to bat for them. Where we get off course, is when we lean too far to one extreme or the other…this is one area where it is crucial for the sake of our kids to strike the right balance!