don’t know what you got (’til it’s gone)

jack?! don’t say that. that’s not ok.

those were the words i heard my wife say to my son (almost a year ago)…as we were getting ready to leave my wife’s sister’s house…

we had been over at their place celebrating several cousins’ birthdays (including our own kids) and spending some time together as families, when those words floated up from the basement stairs…

when i approached my wife at the top of the stairs, with an eyebrow raised and a look of like–what did he say?  

she said, i’ll tell you in a minute, let’s just get moving.

well, “a minute” turned into a half-hour and eventually we said “our goodbyes” and packed the kids and all their stuff into the van.  in the driveway, while the kids were tucked securely away in the vehicle, i asked my wife–what did he say?

she turned to me and said, he said that ‘he didn’t want to leave and that he wished he lived here–because their house was so much better than our house.’

there was a moment of silence.

then, i said–really? ok, i’ve got this.

[i said that because i could see that she was at her wit’s end and done with the challenging behaviors that had ‘run her ragged’–i said that, because it was time for me to “tag in”]

then, my wife got into the van and i got into my own car and we both headed home (i had come from work, so we had driven separately)…but, i left first and flew home.  en route, i thought about all the possible ways to respond/talk to my five-year-old son about what he had said and how to communicate just how important it is to be ‘thankful for where we live’ and all that we have (i mean, i had just loaded up a shit-ton of birthday gifts for him and his twin sister, people! come on?!) – but everything i came up with, initially anyways, was either inappropriate or illegal–and could’ve potentially resulted in some sort of serious negative outcome…like losing parental rights.

then, just before i got to our house, it hit me…i knew what i was going to do.

upon arriving home, i went inside and got down to business…i knew i had to move fast because my wife and kids weren’t too far behind me.

so, i went into jack and grace’s bedroom and over to jack’s side of the room — and got to work — completely stripping his bed.  i took off the pillows, the stuffed animals, the bed sheets, the mattress–everything!  as quick as i could, i jammed all of that stuff (including the mattress) into our bedroom and shut the door.  after that, i walked to the kitchen, poured myself a jack and coke, sat down at the table and waited.

well, they came home a few minutes later and were bustling about…

i said nothing.

after a few minutes, grace went down the hall to their bedroom and immediately i heard her call for jack…

jack, come here.

so, jack walked down the hall.

i heard their murmurs–as they were talking about ‘what was going on with jack’s bed?!’ and ‘what had happened?!’

my wife walked down there too, and walked back out to me and said, uh-oh.

i gave her wink and said, yep, why don’t we go down to their room and have a little talk with our children.

when we got to their bedroom, i told them that we wanted to have a little talk with them, but especially with jack (and that grace could listen, because she needed to hear this, too)…they looked up at us, wondering what we were going to say and what all the “fuss was about”…

this is what happened next…

me: hey, bud, can i talk to you for a minute?

jack: yeah.

me: hey, mom told me what you said at your cousin’s house-do you remember?

jack: (silence)

me: did you say something like, ‘you wished you lived in their house because their house was so much better than ours?’

jack: yeah.

me: any particular reason why you said that?

[he shrugs]

me: jack, i just want to say that, while they do have a beautiful house, it’s good to know that we have one, too, you know.  we live in a great house.  one that your grandma and grandpa lived in and loved.  one that is full of a lot of good memories.  i don’t want to hear you say things like that about where we live again, ok?  because we are thankful to have this place–and, we like where we live.

[he nods]

me: could you do me a favor? could you climb up on your bed?

jack: but, my bed is gone.

[the bed-frame was there and so were the wooden slats that held up the mattress]

me: i know, but hop up there anyway, ok?

[he climbs up on the bed-frame]

me: now, it’s going to feel a little weird, but i want you to lean back, lie down on the bed.

jack: huh?

me: yeah, just lean back.

[so he leans back on the hard, wooden slats]

me: (gently) hey, jack, how does your bed feel now?  does it feel good? like something you’d like to sleep on?

jack: (right away) no, it’s not good, it’s hard.

me: (after about 5 seconds or so) i know, why don’t you sit up now.

[he sits up right away]

me: jack, i know it didn’t feel good, but i want you to remember that feeling.  i want you to remember that feeling because that is the feeling of not having anything, the feeling of not having all the good stuff you have–here in this house–ok?  don’t forget about all the good things you have and the great house you live in, ok?

my wife: do you understand, jack?

[he nods]

me: ok, good, go ahead and get washed up for bed.

[while my wife gets him and his sister get ready for bed, i put his bed back together–reset the mattress, the sheets, the pillows the stuffed animals, etc. — after a while, they come back all ready for bed]

me: hey, jack, come back up here on your bed.  i want to ask you one more thing, ok?

[he hops up on his bed]

me: why don’t you lay down and get under the covers, ok?

[he crawls under the covers]

me: now, how does that feel?

jack: good.

me: remember the feeling without this stuff? and now, it feels good, right?

[he nods]

me: don’t ever forget this feeling either–right now–the warmth, the comfort.  it feels pretty good.  that’s the feeling of having what you have.

jack: ok.

me:  good night, son.

jack: good night, daddy.

[i give grace a good night hug & kiss and turn out their lights and leave–two steps out of their room, my wife and i “high five” in the hallway and enjoy some time together (on our own) while our children fall asleep-yay!]

now, what he said wasn’t the worst thing in the world…not even close (take it from me, i’ve heard the worst things in the world:)…and along with that, they (our relatives) do have a truly amazing house, no lie–and, he could’ve been saying that for any number of reasons–maybe because they have a foosball table, new carpet and basement, or any number of other things–and we don’t–who knows?!

but, nevertheless, it was important to us, it was the principle of it all…to help him see that he has a lot to be thankful for, we all do–and sometimes we miss the very things that are right in front of us!

the things that you only see when they’re gone.

so, with that in mind…won’t you, please, have a blessed and happy thanksgiving!

name game

early in the semester…i was digging in…trying to guide my students and get ’em all moving in the right direction…you know, this is when they want to go their own way (press play on the fleetwood mac song of the “almost-same” name)…this is when they want to “buck you”…test you…see what you’re made of…

well, it was the last class of the day…and i had move three kids to new seats within 20 minutes because their behavior “told me to”:)

i was getting impatient and just wanting them to listen…and i didn’t think that was too much to ask?!

but it was…because when you’re at this point…it’s on, baby, it’s on…and, one student is always going to push it further…take it to the limit…and you’re always going to push back, even harder…

so, he started acting up…a young man in the back row (yep, back row crew)

so, i looked over the room (there wasn’t a lot of extra space with 40 kids in my classroom) and identified a spot for him to be moved to and said…

brandon, i want you to move up here.

he didn’t move…so, i said it again…with a little more edge…

brandon, i want you to move up here–to this seat. 

he didn’t move.

i couldn’t believe it!

so, i went again…

brandon, i want you to move up here, now.

he didn’t move…and after an uncomfortable silence…another kid piped in…

his name is bradley.

i cursed myself.

then, i said…

bradley, please move up here.

[which he did]

later that day, i thought about how i messed it up and about the importance of knowing kids’ names…and it made me think of someone i know…

it made me think of one of my wife’s best friends…

her name is nikki and she knows just how powerful it is to name someone…and she’s got it down to a science…she always makes a point of calling a person by their name…not only at the “meeting point” in an interaction, but throughout an entire conversation…i’ve never seen someone do that before–never, ever…but, it is an authentic, genuine, intentional thing…it’s something that captures your attention right away…it’s something that makes you want to listen…

it’s the kind of thing that you want to replicate, to mimic in your own life once you experience it…but, no one does it quite like nikki…

anyways, knowing kids’ names is really important, for a lot of reasons…not just during times of discipline…but, more often, when you want to start building that rapport, that trust…things that you need to have to do the job…calling a kid by their “right name” makes all the difference in the world…

somebody’s son

as a teacher, you have a lot of power…

and, depending on how you use it…it, and you, can either be a force for good or for evil, you know…

a couple of weeks ago, i was in a position to use my power for good…to stand up for a student…something that’s always been important for me…it’s always been important for me because i’ve always had a strong sense of justice and fairness (some might call it an overdeveloped one;)…i can trace the origins of this kind of mindset and posture back to my youth, back to elementary school…back to one week in elementary school to be exact–the week when we watched the movie ‘roots’ in class…that movie blew my mind…sitting there, watching it, i couldn’t believe that one human being could treat another human being so harshly just because they were a different color, just because they were a different race and culture, just because they had power and the other person was powerless…it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right…that movie had a great impact on my life, then and now…

anyways, here’s what happened in class…

we were watching a video in class and i had called a student up to the front of the room to help me with something…so, he got up and came towards the front of the room…right away, when he got up, a few other students started snickering…that got my attention…so, i looked over…my eye caught an object, a thin strip of paper peeking out from behind the student who had stood up…so, i told him…young man, you’ve got a piece of paper on your back…

[one thing, there are 43 kids in this particular class…which makes it a bit difficult to see what the kids are doing all the time, especially those that are a few rows deep…i wish i could say i was the only teacher in the u.s. that had this problem, but i’m not…and it’s an issue for learning and classroom management–and for student safety…anyways, had i not had him come up to my desk i probably wouldn’t have even have seen it, maybe he wouldn’t have seen it until later]

when i told him that he had a piece of paper stuck to his back, he spun around and awkwardly pulled it off his back…he looked down, read it, then looked up and walked straight towards a group of guys a few rows back…i got up from my desk and followed him…a heated verbal exchange ensued between several young men (the guy who had the note stuck to his back was standing in front of two students who were sitting at their desks)…one of the guys who was sitting at his desk grabbed the piece of notebook paper and started to crumple it up…

when i got to his desk, i said, hey let me see that… 

reluctantly, he gave me the piece of paper…i un-crumpled it and read it…immediately, i looked up (and at the two students who were sitting in front of me) and said (in a low growl), who wrote this?!

one of the boys spoke up…i did…

i looked at him and said, plain as you like, pick up your stuff and head to the clas program…

[clas program = iss]

we resumed class…

when i got back to my desk, i sat down and re-read the words on the piece of paper…

it read: he likes it in the ass

at the end of the class period i addressed the entire class, with a quiet intensity (it’s a register i hit when i really want something to stick), saying…

a student, a person…should be able to go through daily life, walk down the street, and most of all–come to class without being bothered, without being harassed…when something like this happens, there’s usually more than one student involved, i got one of the offenders today, and he’ll be out of here for tomorrow’s class as well…so, if you were in on it, i’m talking to you right now…don’t do it again.

when the class was dismissed, the student, the one who made the mistake of putting that note on his peer’s back came back to my room from the clas program…as i requested…

i asked him, why did you do it?

he said, i don’t know, it was stupid…

i told him, i can tell you regret it…but, just to remind you–that kind of behavior doesn’t fly in here, got it?! it’s serious enough that i’m going to keep you out of class for another day…please don’t do that again.

he said, yes, i’m sorry…

i said, we’ll see…

[and i didn’t say “we’ll see” to provoke him further or to belittle him…i told him that because i’ve told all my students that–on occasion–saying “i’m sorry” is important and does mean something…but, a lot people say it and it doesn’t mean a damn thing…teenagers and adults…so, i’ve told them i don’t want to hear i’m sorry, i want to see it–so, do it different next time!!!]

after he left, i emailed my principal and ‘the other powers that be’ to document the situation and allow them to follow-up if they wanted to…

we’ll see how the next few weeks go…

if i had a heightened sense of justice before i had kids, it has only magnified (x1000) since my own kids came along…i guess i’m like parents everywhere–when i send jack and grace out to daycare in the morning, i want to know that they will be safe and secure…and believe me, it’s a risky proposition, a high stakes game…sending your children out into the world…i want to know that their daycare provider, teachers, coaches and other trusted adults will be looking out for them when i’m not there…i want to know that they’ll be alright, you know…

it’s what i try to do for my students…it’s what i was able to do for the kid who was ridiculed with the sign on his back…

it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right…what happened…he deserves to be treated with respect and with dignity…

because he’s a person, because he’s a human being…

because he’s somebody’s son…

tradecraft…boundaries (part II)

definition, purpose & implementation

  • what do we mean we talk about “boundaries”???

“boundaries” is a euphemism for rules…so, a good working definition is: boundaries = rules for appropriate behavior

  • why do we set boundaries???

to keep an individual and others safe; to teach and instill character and pro-social skills…

  • how do “boundaries” work??? how do we implement them???

in the most basic sense, boundaries work best when you give kids expectations (what you expect from them, what their behavior should look like according to the rules of  a specific setting or situation) and consequences (disciplinary actions for violating a boundary or don’t meet an expectation)…this approach works best in structured settings when you are working with kids and you want to be “clear and upfront with them from the get-go” (about what you expect) and provide consistent follow through with consequences when it doesn’t happen…

it can be a bit different ‘at home’ or in parenting…where boundaries may be (especially in early childhood) more nuanced, organic, on the spot, in the moment, etc–that’s not to say they are any less important in this setting…in fact, i would argue that boundary setting at home is one of the most important things parents can do for their children…anyways…when we move from early childhood to elementary-age to teenage years…imposing specific ‘expectation-consequence ground rules’–with regard to certain behaviors–will need to happen more often…

  • what are some examples of boundaries (from real-life)???

this blog is loaded with examples of boundaries, boundary violations/challenging behaviors, appropriate responses and consequences…in the next few posts, we’ll take a look at some more examples of boundaries–from both the “work-job” and the “home front”…

but, before we do…it’s important to note that, like the other posts on tradecraft, setting and enforcing boundaries is a skill…you don’t just wake up one day and know how to navigate this kind of thing…along with that, this is not something that should be done in a ‘fly by night’ kind of manner–good boundary setting (and enforcing) is something that requires thought, practice, reflection and adaptation…additionally, this skill is one that is very much connected to the tradecraft we’ve covered already…in fact, it is closely tied to the skills voice and non-verbals–which included, ‘how to talk to kids’, ‘deflectors’, tone, word choice, volume, body language, body positioning, gestures and facial experessions…all of these things matter–big time–when we’re giving expectations and (especially) when we’re giving consequences to kids…what kind of verbal and non-verbal messages are we transmitting?! are we saying what we want to say?!

the big question is: when we are setting boundariesare we doing so with basic human dignity and respect?!

like the other skills we’ve acquired for herding cats, boundary setting skills can develop and sharpen over time…with practice…luckily, there’s no shortage of opportunities to fine-tune these skills 🙂

 

 

tradecraft…boundaries (part I)

boundaries: preface

one of the best things that an adult…who is working with kids (and especially, an adult who is raising kids)…can do–to bring up responsible young people–is to give their toddlers, children, and teens boundaries…even their ‘tweens’ in a lot cases–especially, when you consider that the pre-frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until people are on their way past ‘legal adulthood’ as defined by state laws…you know the part of the brain i’m talking about…the part that controls impulsive behavior and the ability to make good decisions 🙂

in my opinon, all kids need boundaries…expecting a kid to function positively and responsibly in the world without good boundaries is like expecting a house to stand without a solid foundation…it’s just not gonna happen, folks…

one of my favorite gems on this topic comes from child and family expert, dr. david walsh:

“it’s a kid’s job to test limits, it’s our job (responsible parents and other adults) to set limits–in saying ‘no’ to our kids…we are (hopefully) teaching them to say ‘no’ to themselves (some day)” (walsh, 2014)…

importantly, one of the single most important ‘trade skills’ in working effectively with young people is establishing good and reasonable boundaries for kids to know and follow…i mean, how can any teacher, counselor, para, social worker, coach, youth leader, juvenile justice worker, or parent instruct a young person if that young person is doing what they want to do when they want to do it…with no regard for anyone else around them?!

this is a part of instructing our youth that we need to return to wholeheartedly and fearlessly in our society, in america…i would argue that there’s never been a more important time for us to get back to the ‘world of boundaries’ than right now…because it’s something we’ve strayed away from…and we can see the results reflected in how young people see themselves and act in the world today…it’s not a pretty sight

so, with that…we begin a new series on boundaries…

stay tuned…

[i would like give a special ‘shout out’ to family friend and proud parent of two, rachel s.–who called for some special attention to this subject back when i wrote the post titled, ‘know your role’–so, while it’s a bit late in coming…this series is for you, sister! cheers!]

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