by: Lorraine Fuller
My son told me once that the reason he lies and breaks rules is because he is testing the person. He will do things that seem to make no sense, tell lies that get him into trouble, or steal inconsequential things. If a teacher tells him to write his name on the top left side of his paper, he will put it on the right side or the middle. He might also leave out his last name, or decide not to put anything at all. He sometimes puts the wrong date, on purpose, or gets the easiest question wrong, again, you guessed it, on purpose. He constantly drops things in class then pretends it was an accident. He bumps into things and people. He will sharpen his pencil repeatedly or make multiple bathroom trips.
Most of the teachers, unfortunately, err on the side of what I can only call an excess of compassion. Not that I can blame them. After all, he’s had a hard life and he has multiple special needs. Who wouldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt? What the teachers don’t know, sadly, is they’re being tested, and they’ve failed. My son explains:
“You have to test adults, because some adults are not strong and some are not smart. If I can trick them, then they are not very smart because they can be tricked by a kid. They are supposed to be adults and even went to college so they should be smart. They know I am smart because I only get one question wrong but I do that on purpose and they don’t figure it out. I can tell them I saw a bird on the way to school and they believe me. If I steal something and they catch me, I say I was just borrowing it. If I get caught stealing food, I say my mom woke me up late and I didn’t get breakfast and she forgot to give me a lunch and last night I got sent to bed without dinner. The teachers believe it and sometimes other kids do too, but they are harder to trick, kind of like Mom. I think it’s because I get new teachers every year but it’s the same kids and the same mom. Even if I get a consequence, I can talk the teacher out of it and then I know she is not strong. Mr. XXX was strong and smart though. I am glad I am not in his school anymore. He gave me lunch detentions and Saturday School. I don’t know why he’s a vice principal because he would be a good teacher. I would listen to every word he says. I don’t listen to stupid or weak teachers. They can’t keep me safe. So I have to do it myself.”
Did you get all that? My son has had a lot of sweet, compassionate teachers, and yes, the world definitely needs more like them. For my son, though, compassion includes firm boundaries. Not huge consequences, necessarily, but someone to call him out, tell him he’s been caught, pretty much every single time. It all comes down to this: when the boundaries are firm, he feels safe. And when he feels safe, he can learn.