Note: This is part II. For the beginning of the story go to How to Handle Serious Issues at School or a Very Rough School.
Barely a day goes by that I am not thankful I have my husband to help me on this journey. By the time I got home from work, Scott had already spoken to Daniel. He had also pieced together more of the story. Scott is very good at helping Daniel clarify his thoughts and get the story in its entirety.
Daniel had taken the leatherman to the bus stop with the intention of carving his name into a tree. The Leatherman had been a Christmas gift from Daniel’s father. Recently, Daniel had found a lot of pleasure and relaxation in carving pieces of wood.
When the bus arrived, it dawned on Daniel that he really wasn’t supposed to take the leatherman with him to school. He thought of throwing it into the bushes but didn’t want to permanently loose it. He stuffed it into the bottom of his backpack, hoping no one would notice. However, children at the stop had already noticed. Two reported to the bus stop that Daniel had a knife. The bus driver confiscated the tool and reported it to the Behavioral Specialist, John P****** when they arrived at the middle school.
We were in a difficult situation. While the school must respond to all of these sorts of actions as potentially serious threats, I knew that my son had not intended to hurt anyone. I also knew that as Daniel gets older his lack of forethought could potentially land him in more and more serious situations. This was an opportunity to impress upon him the importance of problem solving and planning.
The first thing we had to deal with immediately was the suspension. Now, while I don’t think he was “bad”, I also was not going to have Daniel home for three days
watching tv and playing on his computer. I wanted him to remember this as a serious lapse in judgment. My husband and I decided that while home, Daniel would work around the house. There was plenty of cleaning to do and quickly a list of household work was assembled. Before I even got home from work, Daniel had cleaned all the blinds in the house and was working on the ceiling fans.
When I got home, I went in and sat down with Daniel. My first instinct is usually to lecture. I pushed myself to quietly ask questions.
“Daniel, what happened today?’
“Mom!” Daniel began. I could tell he was exasperated at my semi-redundant question, “You know!”
“I need to hear you tell me the story so I am clear. I am going to be required to interact with the school regarding this and I need to know what you say happened,” I explained.
Daniel began to tell me the story. I could tell the areas where he was hedging a little, not wanting to admit to his mistakes. I pushed him a little to be very honest with himself. “Being completely honest with yourself is the only way you will ever truly learn from this and make progress,” I reminded him.
I asked him what he thought he could have done different. Of course the first response was, “I don’t know!”
I reminded Daniel that the first step to taking his power was taking responsibility. The place where our responsibility lies is the same place our power lies.
Daniel then tried to say he should have just thrown away the tool.
“That is one way to handle it,” I agreed, “however, is there any other way you can think of to handle the situation that would also allow you to keep the present? When did the problem start?”
“When I brought the knife down to the stop,” was his downcast response.
“Why was that a problem?” I pressed.
“Because I can’t take it on the bus.”
“True. Now let’s say you have already made the mistake of not planning ahead, because that is really what happened, you didn’t plan ahead,” I continue, “What could you have done next?”
“I could have thrown it away!” Daniel insisted.
“Well, could you have come home and missed your bus?” I pressed.
The light started to show in Daniel’s face. Slowly, we worked towards the realization that this situation wasn’t just about the knife. Instead it was about how Daniel responds when he realizes he has made a mistake. Instead of trying to hide the evidence of his mistake, we worked out how to address the mistake head on. We ran through scenarios of Daniel walking up to the bus driver and volunteering that he had the tool with him and asking how to handle the situation. I reminded Daniel that if you are humble and honest, people will feel less defensive and will usually try to help.
In the end, we concluded that when faced with a mistake that we do not know how to remedy it is best to go to a trusted person in charge, admit the mistake and ask for help with the solution. We discussed that even if we have a plan to remedy the mistake, it is still important to go to the trusted person in charge, admit the mistake and lay out our plan for their input.
The next three days were rough for Daniel. Daniel doesn’t like to prolong consequences. He likes to get done and move on. Having the possibility of expulsion hanging over his head as he worked was difficult. However, I saw Daniel mature. He started reigning in his emotions more and more. He was surprisingly calm. He pushed himself to work quickly and efficiently. Instead of dragging his feet about homework, Daniel was thankful for the “breaks” he was allowed to take to work on school-work my husband had picked up for him.
An added side benefit from this situation was the further development of my husband and Daniel’s relationship. Since Daniel was home with my husband during the day, Scott supervised the house work. When Daniel started moving slow, Scott would set a timer of how long the job should take. When Daniel finished early, Scott would add the “saved” time onto Daniel’s periodic breaks. When he went over, Scott would subtract from any saved time. Daniel saw Scott as fair and considerate.
Instead of the time home from school being stagnant in feelings of distress, we found a ways to focus on other areas of development.
What would/do you do if your special needs child is suspended for something related to their disability? Is it fair that I had Daniel spend the time working at home?
Next: How to Handle Serious Issues at School: Dealing with the School.