I was chatting to a friend earlier when she recounted a story that shocked me. She told me of her son (about the same age as S), getting into trouble at school. The headmaster went up to her a couple of days ago and said I just want to let you know your son was sent to my office because he wasn’t listening and he was splashing water in the bathroom. His clothes got wet and he had to be changed.
“Listen, there’s nothing to worry about, he’s a gorgeous, lovely boy but we just wanted to let you know. I’ve told him that we have good boys and girls at this school and that next time if he was sent to my office, I’d call mummy or daddy and he didn’t want that.” said the headmaster.
This mum accepted it and picked her son up from school as usual. At first he didn’t say anything to her but later on in the afternoon he mentioned he’d been sent to the headmasters office and that he had to face the wall. *This is the part that shocked me* The kid isn’t even 4 yet.
The mum chose not to make a big deal out of it in front of her child but the next morning she went up to the headmaster and the conversation went something like this:
Mum: My son told me he got sent to your office. But he also mentioned that he had to face the wall?
Headmaster: Yes, he had to sit on the floor and face the wall because (and he said this quite dramatically), I was too angry to look at him.
Mum: *shocked face* Okay
Headmaster: He has to learn that he needs to be compliant.
Mum: But I don’t think shaming him is going to achieve that.
Headmaster: He is a strong willed child, you know that! We have to try different methods.
Mum: Yes but it’s also the kind of thing you heard done in the 60s.
Headmaster: I promise you, we’re not doing anything harmful here. He needed to face the wall so that he had no distractions, nothing to see, nothing to think about, except what he’d done. It’s tough love and sometimes it needs to be done but the key word here is love.
Now, is it just me that’s fuming or is this appropriate “punishment” for a top private school in North London. In some circles this child is still deemed a toddler. He’s at nursery, he’s not even four. He got pulled in to the headmaster’s office for essentially being playful.
As a parent, am I over reacting? Should schools be allowed to deal with children’s “bad” behaviour in a manner they see fit? Should the headmaster have been upfront with the mother about what happened rather than wait for the child to tell the mother?
As most people know, I’m an advocate for gentle parenting. That’s not to say I don’t raise my voice or get angry/snappy at S from time to time. But I try my best to approach his tantrums from a space of understanding, using my words to explain what I deem appropriate/inappropriate.
I went to boarding school in India and was punished in a variety of manners. I had to kneel, I had to kneel holding a stack of books up in the air and I once got smacked on my palm with a metal ruler because I was sticking up for my friends. I was a good kid in school and that happened to me so you can only imagine what happened to the kids who weren’t so compliant.
And that takes me to my next point. Compliant!? How boring would the world be if all children were compliant? We’re in 2016, surely school’s should be finding new ways to challenge “strong willed” kids rather than shame them into believing they are not good because they’re not doing as they are told. What ever happened to thinking outside the box?!
This is a subject that I’m quite passionate about (in case you couldn’t tell). I was having a conversation with another mum 2 weeks ago who referred to the English system as “Victorian”. She was comparing it to the more laid back casual American approach. She couldn’t understand why children as young as 4-5 were given home work everyday and pushed to write in a certain manner and be reading at that age as well. That’s not to say all English schools are bad but having seen 3 children go through school and excel, she did feel a lot of pressure was being put on her 4th child by this school.
Look, it takes all sorts and I’m sure there are many parents who would be happy to have the school deal with their children as they see fit. But I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t. I’d love your opinion. Am I being too soft about this?