by Melissa Face
Evan didn’t mention the incident when I picked him up from aftercare. Though that would have been more convenient, I have grown accustomed to addressing school concerns after dinner and into the late evening hours.
My kids are rarely able to tell me the things I need to know when I first pick them up in the afternoons. Instead, the details of their days trickle out like drips from a leaky faucet. A random splash here and there until they have finally expelled all they were storing.
“Oh, and someone ate my snack at aftercare today,” Evan told me, around 7:30 one night.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “The snack we packed?”
“Yes. A girl ate my cookies.”
“How did she get them?”
“She went into my backpack and took them.”
“So what did you do?”
“I told the teacher,” Evan said.
“That’s good,” I told him.
A few minutes later, I emailed the aftercare director and explained Evan’s story. I received a prompt reply with reassurance that the situation would be handled.
The next day at pick-up, the aftercare teacher told me she had spoken with the child and her parent about the snack incident.
“I explained to the mom that kids have to be careful about eating other people’s food because of allergies and that her daughter could have had a reaction from eating Evan’s cookie,” the teacher relayed.
She told me she would monitor the situation more carefully in the future. I thanked her and walked the kids to our car.
When I was driving home, it occurred to me what the teacher had actually done: perpetuated the common belief that we should be concerned about how others are impacted when they wrong us.
In an already litigious, victim-blaming society, this teacher’s response is more part of the problem than the solution.
How does this scenario differ from a burglar’s family suing a homeowner because he fell into their pool and drowned while he was robbing the house?
Or what about someone’s auto insurance rates going up because a thief steals the person’s car, crashes it, and suffers life-threatening injuries?
What if the girl at aftercare HAD been allergic to something in Evan’s cookies? Would I have been at fault if she had reacted, even though she stole them from my son’s backpack?
It wouldn’t surprise me.
And most importantly, why didn’t the aftercare teacher simply tell the girl that stealing is wrong and she needs to respect the property of others?
My best response to my own questions is that she was afraid.
Adults have become increasingly fearful of telling people, even kids, when they have done something wrong. We don’t want to hurt feelings, step on toes, or God forbid, make someone not like us. (I shudder at the very thought of it.)
We need to get over that right now. It’s ridiculous, and we aren’t doing anyone any favors when we are trying to see how nice we can be.
Kids want to be told right from wrong; they want boundaries.
Take the example of a well-managed classroom versus a chaotic one. Initially, students may prefer the latter. They will be able to talk loudly with their friends, run around the room, and do basically whatever they want. But after a while, they will grow tired of it and ask (in their way) for structure and guidelines. I’ve witnessed this firsthand when I had substitutes for my own classes.
“We missed you,” a student expressed, after I had been out sick for a couple of days.
“Yeah! We missed you a lot,” another student echoed. “The sub let us do whatever we wanted.”
They didn’t like the freedom and absence of boundaries. They wanted rules and structure. They wanted to learn in an environment that valued expectations and consequences.
If we are unnecessarily nice and worried about offending kids by telling them they are wrong, we are forfeiting a valuable opportunity to improve morality and teach life lessons. We are also creating a generation of adults who won’t respect the boundaries of others. Plus, avoiding calling people out when they are wrong because we are afraid of hurting feelings IS still hurting someone: the victim.
Adults need to step up their game and provide children with appropriate boundaries. That means we sometimes have to tell them things they don’t want to hear, like “No”, “That’s not okay”, and “Stealing is wrong.”
It seems we have become so concerned with being nice that we have lost sight of the real objective: doing what is right.
Perhaps a blend of kindness and assertiveness might be more beneficial. And if we are calling this concoction a cocktail, let kindness be your garnish. Not your main spirit.