Over the past couple of weeks both Bears have suffered an injustice and I have been coming over all Mama Bear in their defence.
The first to experience a problem was Little Bear. I have mentioned before that there have been some incidents at lunch times at school. I have had several chats with his teacher about it and she has spoken with the dinner ladies about better management strategies and I thought things were sorted. That was until last week, when Big Bear came home from school absolutely furious about what he had witnessed at lunch time.
He told me that he had seen a boy, let’s call him Billy, come over and hit Little Bear. Little Bear had naturally retaliated and hit him back. Billy had started crying and evidently told the dinner lady that Little Bear had hit him. The dinner lady shouted at Little Bear that he was naughty and made him stand by the wall. Big Bear said he had to stand there for the whole of the break time which to him seemed a long time.
Initially it seemed like fairly standard lunchtime stuff but the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became. Here’s why:
- The dinner lady clearly hadn’t made any attempts to find out the full circumstances and had just assumed that Little Bear would have done it. I suspect she already has him branded as a “naughty child”.
- Billy, despite having started the whole incident, didn’t get into any trouble. I’m not quite sure what sort of message that gives but there isn’t much point in trying to behave yourself if you are just going to get blamed anyway.
- Even if the dinner lady had attempted to find out what happened, I suspect Little Bear wouldn’t have been able to defend himself verbally anyway. I don’t think he could have said that he was hitting it in self-defence. He hasn’t got the language skills and I felt as though he was being scapegoated for that reason.
- Irrespective of his obvious communication difficulties, I also suspect that if a grownup shouts at him that he’s naughty, he will probably assume that they are right. His self-esteem is still too fragile to question that. She was just feeding into his feelings of shame and worthlessness.
- Finally, because of the last two points, had Big Bear not witnessed the whole thing, I’m sure that Little Bear would not have been able to come home and tell me about it. How many times had this happened before I wondered? And very sceptically, did the children know that Little Bear can’t argue his corner but will always react? Could they have purposefully targeted him?
I will give the children the benefit of the doubt, because they are only 4 and 5 and probably wouldn’t be that calculating. However, I did very much need to speak with school about it because if this was happening every day it could be very damaging.
I met with the Head the next morning and thankfully he was as outraged as I was. He said the shouting and standing by the wall was not in-keeping with the school’s behaviour policy and could see why it wouldn’t be the right approach for Little Bear. To give him his due he met with the lunchtime staff the next day and discussed my concerns at their management meeting.
He has also introduced an orange card system for lunchtimes. The first step is to give a child who is misbehaving a verbal warning then if they do something else, they get an orange card. It is a consequence in itself and is passed to their class teacher so they are aware of any incidents that have taken place and can deal with them (hopefully more appropriately) in class if needs be. I have to say I’m still not sure that is the right system for Little Bear but I have to give them credit for trying. It is surely better than standing at a wall.
I also raised concerns about the level of supervision. I know staff can’t have eyes everywhere but perhaps they could focus their attentions on the children who do require more support, especially at unstructured times like breaks. The teacher and TA are now taking turns to go out and observe proceedings for a couple of weeks. Hopefully by the end of it we will have a clearer idea of what is happening outside. I am under no illusion that Little Bear is an angel. I am very aware that he isn’t! However, I do want him to be treated fairly and as he cannot speak up for himself, then I have to.
I sometimes get a bit concerned that I’m e-mailing school every 5 minutes and they will start to dread the sight of me. However, I always try to be friendly and polite and so far, have found that approach to be effective.
However, in the case of the second injustice, the one against Big Bear, I have to admit to uncharacteristically losing my temper and raising my voice a little.
The said incident took place last night.
The boys and I were eating our tea. I had been up and down every 2 minutes for various reasons, including letting the electrician in, so when the doorbell rang again, I asked Big Bear to answer it. It was strange of me to do that because if we don’t know who it is, I usually answer it. However, the door was in my line of sight and I thought it was probably a delivery or someone we knew. I heard Big Bear say “Mum, it’s for you” and in the seconds it took me to reach the door, a lady I had never seen before had come in and shut the door behind her!
As I reached her, she began shouting and pointing at Big Bear. She said “I’m sick of you playing knock and run on my door! You’re scaring my dog. I’ve had ENOUGH”. As he tried to protest, she kept it up, saying that 3 separate people had told her it was him. I began trying to deal with the incident in a calm fashion, assuring her that it certainly wasn’t him. However, she continued to speak to him aggressively.
I think I was a little taken aback to start with and Big Bear looked absolutely terrified. I then realised that actually I was pretty annoyed for the following reasons:
- I knew she thought he was lying but I was 100% certain it wasn’t him as I don’t let him play out unsupervised. At 7 years old I think he’s too young. If he ever plays on the street, it is outside of our house and Grizzly or I are always there.
- Secondly, he had not left the house since returning from school and had been within my vision the whole time.
- Thirdly, of all the children to pick on, I couldn’t believe she had picked Big Bear. He is so well-mannered and kind and would never purposefully do anything to upset anybody. How anyone could have told her it was him I had no idea. She must have somehow got crossed wires.
At that point I thought, why on earth have I let a stranger come into the house and shout at my child?! Big Bear, trying to placate as always, then tried to say that he would find out who had done it and would knock on her door to tell her. She began again, saying “I don’t want you knocking on my door ever again!”I did then become a little angry and told her that I did not appreciate her coming in and shouting at him in the way she was and that I could categorically tell her he had not done anything. As I became a little shouty and pointy, I think she may have realised she had over stepped the mark and started saying how nice our extension is.
It was a very strange experience and whilst it was taking place I was dimly aware that Little Bear had taken full advantage of my diverted attention by sneaking upstairs and rifling through the electrician’s toolboxes. As I said to Grizzly later, holding the fort at our house is a very varied and challenging role! You never quite know what might happen next.
Grizzly was absolutely furious about the whole event and when he came home from work was all for going round to have a word with said lady. I was a little fearful of how that might turn out but he reassured me that he wouldn’t shout or swear, he would just tell her that her behaviour was unacceptable and that she owes us both an apology. I guess she’s lucky we are calm and reasonable people because I have no doubt that some people would have physically removed her from their home.
Just as I couldn’t allow an injustice to happen against either Bear, Grizzly couldn’t allow one against me or Big Bear either. He had said word and although she denied shouting or coming in I think his chat (and all 6 feet 4 of him) probably had some impact.
I read a blog post recently (I’m really sorry, I can’t remember who to credit with it) about belonging and how to help a child feel that they belong in your family. I agreed with what it said but I think I would also add “knowing that your family have your back”. We are a very solid team of 4 and none of us are able to stand by and allow any injustice against any of the others. There is more than one occasion when Little Bear has fought Big Bear’s corner too but we are still working on a verbal, rather than physical solution!
I am also looking forward to a (hopefully) peaceful weekend.