Monday, June 24, 2013

Disciplining the Wrangler by Jennifer Strecker

My husband, Steve, received a call from the 6th grade science teacher, Ms Dunn. “This can’t be good,” he said aloud to himself when he heard her sweet voice.  “Well, Mr. Strecker”, she proceeded. “Ben was supposed to turn in a family tree project last week. Everyone in the class turned one in except Ben.  He told me about your situation.”  “Situation?” Steve asked. “Well,” she laughed “at first I thought it was a situation but now I’m thinking it’s a little more creative. Ben told me he could not do the family tree project because he had been adopted.”  “Oh no,” Steve sighed.  “Well, I decided to send him home with a note because I needed to verify that information so I could give him an alternate project. When he returned to school, I could tell the signature on the note was not that of a parent’s.” “This is getting good,” Steve thought.  “I confronted Ben and I said, ‘This is not your parent’s signature.’ He immediately responded without hesitation. “Ms. Dunn. I thought the note would be too painful for my dad to read since I am adopted and all.”
When my husband told me the story I was humiliated!  Were we raising a heathen child? Worse yet, were we rearing a pathological liar? “Are you sure she said ‘he responded without hesitation?’” I asked.
I remember what my husband said to my son that day when he came home from school. “Ben, I want you to tell me what you love about home, or…would that be too painful since you were adopted?” The look on Ben’s face after he processed the question was priceless.  Needless to say the resultant punishment was swift and effective. Ben had to do an additional project and take a lesser grade for his hard work. 
Donald Winnicott in his book, “The Child, The Family, and The Outside World” writes, “What is the normal child like? Does he just eat and grow and smile sweetly? No, that is not what he is like. The normal child, if he has confidence in mother and father, pulls out all the stops. In the course of time he tries out his power to disrupt, to destroy, to frighten, to wear down, to waste, to wrangle, and to appropriate….”
Ben is now 21 and we received many more calls over the years from various teachers.  Ben has always been a “Wrangler.” But through discipline, love, struggle, and much prayer Ben’s character and conscience have been developed. He is a joy and a fine young man. He will continue to test and push limits. We will continue to struggle with the appropriate discipline. But, the goal is for Ben to know we support and love him. We cannot rescue him.
In the New York Times Bestseller, “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys,” Kindlon and Thompson state, “sooner or later, every boy gets into trouble, whether as a result of his impulsivity, his activity level, or just because he’s human: it is a normal part of growing up….The best discipline is built on the child’s love for adults and his wish to please. “ They further explain that all boys “can find inspiration in discipline that consists of genuine guidance and empathy.”
Kind but firm discipline is daunting, but necessary to mold our little boys into kind but firm men.

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