NORMAN — Q: My son’s kindergarten teacher emailed my ex-husband (who lives in another city) and me today telling us that our son is pushing and hitting other kids. She doesn’t think he’s necessarily doing it to be mean but to get other kids’ attention.
My ex-husband thinks I really need to punish our son. It is our son’s first time in any school/kid environment. I think just sitting him down and talking to him would be good for now, and if it happens again, then I could punish him.
I don’t think I have had any talk with him about the right behavior at school, and I don’t know what to tell him about how to make friends. I would love any advice you could give me.
— Nicki, Oklahoma City
A: First of all, kids react differently to being in trouble. Some kids are affected by a stern look and firm conversation. Other kids require more hands-on explanations of what it feels like to be treated in this manner.
By now, you know what type of punishment works with your kindergartener. The most important thing is that you and your ex-husband communicate about your son.
Second, just because you have not had a talk with him about the right behavior at school, by this time, you should have had many conversations with him about the difference in right and wrong.
He should know not to push or hit. We also are fairly sure his teacher has had probably more than one conversation with him about it. She would not have emailed you all on the very first incident.
Third, our extensive training in bullying has taught us that the very last thing we want is for students to ever be known as a bully (statistics are staggering as to what bullies end up like in adult life). We also do not ever want them to be bullied.
We believe that if kids get in trouble at school, they should be in twice as much trouble at home. They should be told this often. Start from Day 1. It is a huge deterrent to bad behavior, because all kids want to please.
We also believe in never punishing a child until you have explained to them why they are being punished and they can explain it back to you in their own words.
Ask your son: Why are you hitting and kicking?
Him: I was just playing around.
You: That is inappropriate play, and those kids think you are mean. How do you feel about mean people? Do you want to be friends with mean people?
You: We got a note from your teacher today about you being mean by pushing and hitting. You are going to be punished. Can you tell me why you are being punished?
Him: I shouldn’t have hit John and pushed Susie.
Points to remember when deciding on appropriate punishment, and remember, parents who are married don’t always agree on the punishment. You first have to figure out what an appropriate punishment is and the length of time the punishment will last.
You know what pushes your own child’s buttons. Is he affected more by time out, no “screen” time, etc.? Try not to use daily activities — if you assign chores, they grow up despising doing anything around the house. If you send them to their rooms, they don’t want to go to bed. Make sure the punishment fits the crime.
The second point to remember is the length of time for the punishment needs to be realistic. As an example, you can tell your son that in two days, you will email his teacher to see how he is doing, and you will re-evaluate at that time if he has learned his lesson.
Some parents react out of anger and say stupid amounts of time, and then they don’t follow through. This teaches the child that the parents didn’t really mean what they said, so they continue to test the limits.
An important rule kindergarteners need to learn is keep your hands to yourselves. It will keep them out of a ton of trouble for the rest of their lives.
When thinking about teaching him how to make friends (and you have to teach him proper behavior to replace this wrong behavior), ask him questions about what makes him like certain kids and not others.
He has to be able to make the connection between good and bad friends, and his little world is all he can relate to. He might like that they are nice, they don’t push him, they share their lunch, they are funny, etc. These are the qualities you want to instill in him.
We hope you and your ex-husband continue to work together for the benefit of your son. Remember, you are not his friends, you are his parents. Sometimes we have to love our kids so much that we are OK with them not liking us.
Please send questions to questions.classact@gmail.
com. Sally and Jeannie are certified school counselors with more than 50 years combined experience. The responses presented don’t necessarily reflect the views of any certain school district.