A few weeks ago, my phone rang in the middle of the day. To my surprise and horror, on the other end of the line was the familiar voice of my first-grade daughter’s principal. My initial reaction was to grab my car keys – my daughter must be injured. But no, the principal was calling to inform me of a “situation” that had occurred on the school bus.
Apparently my daughter had joined in on some behavior that hurt another child’s feelings. I won’t give specifics, out of respect for everyone’s privacy. Needless to say, I was disappointed and a little bit heartbroken.
I was impressed by how the school handled the situation. The principal called each parent individually immediately after the incident, and she then assembled the involved students into a group to visit her office in the mornings just after they hopped off of the school bus. They learned about each other, talked about kindness, and took turns petting the principal’s very friendly dog. In fact, our elementary school’s overarching theme is kindness, which has been lovely to experience, and I was heartened to see that theme be put into action after an actual event of unkindness.
What also impressed me was the principal’s taking the time to ask me what my daughter was like at home. I stated my honest answer: “She is sweet as pie, but has been having trouble resisting joining in when someone else, like her little brother, makes a poor choice.” She answered me honestly as well, telling me that my daughter had not initiated the situation (thankfully) but had joined in (not thankfully). The principal did assure me that my daughter had never been involved in anything remotely like this prior to that day, and that she was otherwise a delight at school (well that’s good, I guess…).
I called my husband to tell him what happened. We agreed to not talk to her immediately upon her getting off of the school bus, since she usually needs some time to gather herself after so many hours at school. Instead, we waited until her little brother went to bed and sat down with just her. We asked her to explain in her own words what had happened and why she had joined in. We then went over our house rules, two of which are “be kind” and “make good choices.” We talked about when silliness crosses a line, using your head and heart before acting or using words, and about being a leader and not a follower.
On her own accord, she asked to make the other student a card to apologize. We made sure to explain that while apologies are appreciated, she has to learn from what happened to make sure something similar does not happen again.
In a way, I am glad that this happened. We can preach kindness to our kids until the cows come home, but lessons in theory are much less useful than concrete ones. Understanding that she hurt her friend’s feelings seemed to be an eye-opening experience for my daughter. She has been making much better choices at home and at school since this experience. She comes home from school and proudly tells me how she was a “rebel girl” and did not copy poor choices being made by other students (the Rebel Girls books have been fabulous for my daughter in teaching her to be her own person). She gladly shares with me one kind thing she did for someone at school, like picking up a pencil that rolled off of someone’s desk.
While I can hope she will never be unkind again, I can’t be sure. We can all preach that our kids will never be mean because we’ve parented them to be kind. Here’s the thing: they’re kids. They make mistakes, just like we did (and still do). Good kids make poor choices. They are learning every day, which includes learning from their mistakes. We all need mistakes to grow.
A footnote: this was also a learning experience for me. I had to have my first awkward conversation with another parent about my child’s poor behavior. The child’s mother was lovely about it. We now know that we can go to each other should anything ever happen again. Every day brings a new experience and a new opportunity for growth.