“Mom, my friends think my punishment was too strict for what I did,” my 9-year-old son told me today after picking him up from martial arts. His statement wasn’t a complaint or words of persuasion. He sounded like he disagreed with his friends.
“It doesn’t matter what they think,” I responded.
Before I could say anything else, he agreed, “Yeah, I just ignored them.”
Last Wednesday afternoon, I listened to a shocking voicemail from my son’s teacher. She explained that he had acted out of character twice that day, once during lunchtime and again during physical education. He used offensive language in a song and said something disturbing to another student.
This news boggled me. My son doesn’t listen to or watch programs with obscene language. And Lord knows I don’t swear around the house (at least not while the kids are in ear shot). I don’t allow them to call each other names either.
“Where could this have come from,” I thought.
Thinking he picked up some bad habits from an older child at martial arts, I called the studio and spoke to one of the black belt instructors. I asked him to monitor him after explaining what went on in school.
When I picked him up that day, Master came over to speak with me. She had a long talk with my son and was able to hear the honest truth. He tried to say that a friend made him sing the song during lunch, but she explained to him that nobody can make him do anything. She said that she’ll continue to work with him on taking responsibility for his actions.
I greatly appreciated her help. Since my husband isn’t around for things like this, it’s nice to have a second adult to back me up about such issues. It also helped me understand more about what happened so that I was prepared for what he’d tell me later.
After dinner, he told me that a girl during gym was calling him names. Like his teacher’s voicemail stated, instead of telling a teacher, he said something mean to her. But my son claimed that all he shouted was that she was being mean and that he never actually called her anything mean.
I believed him and wrote a note to his teacher letting her know that the second incident was a misunderstanding. I gave the note to my son and told him to give it to her in the morning. I tucked his sisters into bed, then slipped away to take a shower.
Forty-five minutes later, I emerged from my humid bathroom rocking my weekly face mask that needed to be washed off in 15 minutes. Just as I sat down on the couch to relax as the mask did its thing, my son stood in front of me, wrapped in a blanket, and partially covered his mouth with his hand.
“I lied,” he manages to stutter before bursting into tears.
I’m shocked by what just happened. But I’m also secretly happy this moment has happened. I try my hardest not to smile.
Between gasps of breath and tears, he told me what he said to the girl and I’m hit with a wave of disappointment. I won’t repeat what he said, but it could have been considered a racial slur. He didn’t use any “bad” words, but what he said was absolutely unacceptable.
I just watched him cry. I knew he felt bad or else he wouldn’t have had such an explosive confession. What I did next was acknowledge his feelings instead of attacking his actions.
“You feel bad because you lied to me, don’t you?”
“You do realize that if you would have been honest the first time, you wouldn’t have gotten in that much trouble,” I explained. “But now you’ll need to be punished twice: once for what you said to that girl and once for lying about it.”
I paused our conversation to call my husband and update him on what happened. I let him give me his input on what to do. And he came up with a great idea, something I wouldn’t have.
- No tablet for a week.
- No television for a week.
- Write an apology letter to the girl.
I expected to have to take away some sort of electronic device as punishment, but I totally didn’t think about the last part. And it was the last part that was the best for my son.
While he initially didn’t want to write a letter, he wrote one before bed. He also had a difficult time falling asleep that evening. He felt anxious about giving her the letter. He desperately wanted her to forgive him. He knew that what he said was terrible and that he didn’t mean it.
His spirits were lifted when I picked him up the following day. The first thing he told me was that she accepted his apology. He went on to explain that he was worried that the whole school knew what he said to her and he was worried that they would hate him for it. He was embarrassed so much by his actions that he asked me not to tell anybody in our family what happened.
I held true to my word. I didn’t splash it on Facebook and I initially didn’t want to talk about it here. But after his friends felt his punishment was a bit dramatic, I felt the need to explain what happened and ask my fellow mommy friends what they would have done if they were me.
Would you have dished out the same punishment?
By making him write a letter, it allowed him to experience closure. He had to own up to what he did, tackle it head on. While he was afraid to do it, he said he felt so much better afterward.
I cannot teach my children the value of an apology. They have to experience that for themselves.
While I’m upset by what he said, I’m not upset about what happened and how it all unfolded. He learned a very valuable lesson about life that day. And I look forward to continuing to help him learn more.