Follow-up: I Couldn't Believe What My Son Said at School

I recently wrote about about my son shouting something that shocked me. Initially, I felt embarrassed about this experience, but it turns out that was not necessary! An overwhelming number of people wrote to me with words of support, wisdom, commiseration, and humor. These made me feel so good that I had to share them with a broader audience. Enjoy, and if you have more pearls of wisdom, please leave them in the comments here!

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We've had similar scenes with my 4 year old son. One of his preschool teachers has been really helpful in reminding me that he is trying a lot of stuff out at this age, and school and home are safe places to do that. So, we've tried not to freak out too much and talked about the power of words and the gravity/seriousness of using certain words like this. It's been helpful approach. - Helen

 

Regarding language/using the word kill, we've had many experiences with Henry. We use the book Words are not for Hurting. It comes in board book form for young friends and a longer version for older, school aged kids. Not a prize winner, but a great social story that gives parents some key phrases to use when reminding kids about their words. We also make our son replace the word kill. He's trying to communicate something in his play (usually a superhero getting a bad guy) so it's important to let him still have the imaginary play, but with appropriate words for our family. - Margaret

 

can't remember the exact circumstances but I think we talked about what "kill" means and that a person would "die" if they were killed and once my son understood the permanence of that state he realized that was not something he would ever want to say/wish upon anyone. - Aimee

What I had spent all night complicating and translating into the future, she quickly shattered and brought me to reality. She told me I needed see things from a 6 year old’s point of view not from an adult mom’s.

Two weeks into school last school year I got the same, “I need to talk to you” when I went to pick up [my daughter]. It turns out my angel had KICKED  a boy in the shin and knocked him over and the worst - TURNED AROUND AND WALKED AWAY. I was devastated. It felt like a total reflection on ME and MY morals and MY family. I couldn't believe it. She has never hit, or hurt anything. She was 6 for crying out loud! My mind raced thinking about all the facts they quote when they catch mass murderers (there were obvious signs, she kicked her school mate, then went on to burn cats and now ....)

I freaked. I cried. I drilled her. She kept saying she didn't know. She had no idea why, which made it even worse. No remorse? Clearly doomed to be mass murderer.

The next day after much soul searching I shared this story with a colleague who specializes in human behavior and the first words out of her mouth were "She is 6! How can you blame her? He probably deserved it." It was a slap in the face. What I had spent all night complicating and translating into the future, she quickly shattered and brought me to reality. She told me I needed see things from a  6 year old's point of view not from an adult mom's. She pointed out that at 6 her brain does not have the ability she can rationalize and control emotions and that her instinct was to kick. Yes, she should be told it is not good and don't do it again, and there should be repercussions but trying to look into this action for more than it was, a simple gesture of frustration, was bogus.   - Adriana


I read this with much interest, as this is the type of thing I always feel the need/desire to address with my students and with my grandkids. Number 3 rang the most true for me. I have always believed that focusing on the positive makes a lot more sense than focusing on the negative. Does this mean to ignore the negative in hopes that it will go away? Absolutely not. Negative behavior must be addressed and dealt with, but doing that doesn't mean that it needs to be punished harshly or over a period of time. The most important piece, in my opinion, is that children learn what it is/was about their behavior that was not okay and that there are logical consequences for their negative behavior. Your son's concept of what "kill" means may be way off base from what you and FB assume he means by it. More to the point, make sure that he understands why yelling "kill" isn't okay, but look for ways to tell him how proud you are of him or how much you like what he did or the way he did it. When you think there isn't something positive to comment on, then offer up praise for how hard he tried or for how long he say quietly, or whatever.  - Roslyn


Perception is really important and that is the beauty behind diversity and languages. Reading enhances this beauty because the word "kill" to him might have meant "get him" , but to also understand the other meaning also helps children decide what language is more worthy and holds more respectable, positive value than another. I've experienced a similar situation with my son and I always give my kid the benefit of the doubt because it is more important for me to learn where his thoughts and ideas come from and use it as a learning opportunity to inspire him while he is at an age where he takes in different forms of communication influencing his personality. In a similar situation I teamed up with my son's teacher when she approached me with concerns about my son being talkative and as a result we worked together on how being talkative in class can be even more beneficial when you're maybe talking the most with providing the answers or talking to your classmate to help them understand something. Now he feels like a winner and this personality trait excites him more because he is being recognized and rewarded for talking too much! - Rasheeda


Hillary Koning is an SLP and thinks a lot about how kids use words and language (you can read some on her blog here: http://kidscommunicate.net/about/). I have no expertise to add, but if it helps I would imagine your son is much too young to understand what killing and death actually mean. - Erin


Be thankful that the school thought it was important enough to bring it to your attention and not blow it off as many do because “they were just being boys.”

Be thankful that the school thought it was important enough to bring it to your attention and not blow it off as many do because "they were just being boys." It sounds like his school really cares and keeps you involved. Pray for the same as he grows up. I feel that after school care for my daughter is all over the place with teachers who have 30 students of varying ages to fend for themselves until mom and dad can pick them up. - Susan

 

This totally struck a chord with me and the challenges we had with our son at his former daycare. His challenges are much different (sensory input issues) but manifest in the 2-year-old equivalent of yelling "Kill!" at school. While he is in Early Intervention services and we're working on appropriate response and other strategies, I will say that the three strategies you outline are really smart in their simplicity. Especially the focus on the good. It's so easy to get stuck in our kids' shortcomings, and to see them as reflections of our own. - Jennifer