Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Expectations

So a few weeks ago we enrolled ChatterBug and Bear in a beginner's boys' gymnastics class. I love this for them. Watching them have fun while working on their coordination, balance, and strength training makes me smile. I even like how the class works on discipline, making the kids walk in straight lines in between apparatus, wait their turns for activities, etc.

Before every class I remind the boys that they need to listen to the coach and be safe (i.e. not running around through other kids or classes). I have even set up small rewards for good behavior. Tonight was no different. On the way to class I reminded the boys of my expectations for class behavior and set a reward for playing a game on Grandma's iPad this evening since she is visiting and that is a special treat.

But class tonight did not go well for Bear.

Apparently he was not listening and after 45 minutes the coach asked Bear to come get me to talk to him. He then told me Bear was kicked out of class for the rest of the night (15 minutes). This was a complete shock to my Bear (and to me). He had an absolute meltdown right there, a puddle of tears and hysteria of missing the rest of class AND knowing he lost his iPad game time with Grandma. It broke my heart because I believe he believed he was being really good.

Now do not get me wrong, I am a stickler for the rules. I always tell the boys that they are allowed to have fun, but they have to have fun within the rules. I make a point to back up the teachers in preschool, the coaches on the sports teams, and the teenagers who babysit in the playroom at the gym. I understand that showing my children that I support and respect authority figures is how they learn to respect and listen to authority figures. But between you, me and the entire Internet, I know that sometimes we have to question authority.

Here's where I am struggling: Neither Grandma nor I witnessed Bear acting up during class tonight. Granted, we can not see every detail going on across the gymnasium floor, and parents are not allowed on the floor during class times. Plus I can not tell you that I paid attention to every second of their activities as I had to nurse BuddhaBaby, and I enjoyed a few moments of conversation with some other mothers. But I kept an eye on things and I am generally keenly aware of when my kids are misbehaving. Bear was happy coming out for his water breaks. He asked if we were watching him. I even asked him if he was listening, and he said yes. Plus, ChatterBug is very quick to tattle on his little brother and he made no mention of  Bear misbehaving.

I honestly believe Bear had no idea he was in trouble; in trouble to a degree to where he'd be kicked out of class for the night. The coach told me he asked Bear to sit down twice because was disrupting the class with another boy (who was also booted from the class). Bear says that didn't happen and he got no warnings and he did listen when he was told to sit. I am not sure who to believe. The coach told me that Bear DID listen well when it was his turn but just didn't sit STILL otherwise. My confusion here is that on some apparatus they appear to be allowed to play and swing on bars while the coach works with others individually. I guess on other rotations they can not play. Was this communicated effectively to a group of little boys? It certainly was/is not clear to me.

When Bear knows he is in trouble and is deliberately being bad he acts like Sr. McGrumpyPants with a slice of Defiant Attitude while he's in time out. He also gives the worst. apology. ever. When he doesn't understand that he did something wrong and/or is truly remorseful, we get the puddle of hysteria. And tonight Bear was so fast to sincerely apologize to his Coach, but so beside himself with confusion. Afterwards his Coach did not explain to him on his level what he did wrong. I had to get down and try to piece it together so he understood. (I kind of feel like the person who inflicts the punishment should be the partially responsible for explaining the infraction.)

So now I am walking a line of advocating for my child and teaching respect for authority. Was Bear told "If I have to speak to you again you will have to be removed from class?" I don't think so. He is an energetic almost 5 year old who is a really good kid. He is completely capable of following the rules when they are clearly explained to him. To date he has participated pee-wee basketball, T-ball, swimming lessons, general sports classes at preschool, and is now enrolled in soccer also. He has never been booted from practice before. He has had maybe 4 or 5 time outs in 3 years of preschool, and after an appropriate amount of time out he re-entered the group without further incident. His teachers tell me he is a good, normal boy. Was being booted out of class an appropriate punishment for him? I don't know. I am of the opinion he should have been given 5 minutes out and then had a chance to re-enter the class. The Coach told me tonight he was setting an example with Bear.

I believe in setting clear expectations for his age level with appropriate consequences for poor behavior. I have even had some people tell me I am too harsh with consequences - there are many, many days when I have to remind myself "he is only 4. This is normal 4 year old energy." He tests my patience, which lately is quick to crack. I just don't believe in my heart of hearts that he was bad tonight.

So do I call and talk to someone? I want to know what is expected of my children now so that I can explain it to them in language they will understand. Are they allowed to have fun (!) or is it all discipline all the time? Plus, I am worried Bear will be labeled a "problem child" after the Coach knowing him for the sum total of 3 hours of his life. Bear is not perfect, no one is, but he is not a problem child. I also don't want to be "that parent" who complains. But I do want to understand, and I do want to set my kids up for the possibility of success. This coach is an older teenager/young 20s-ish "kid." Does he know how to deal with a group of little boys? Does he know how to keep them engaged while providing a lane with bumpers on it to learn in? Are his expectations of a 5 year old the same as an older child? They shouldn't be. Is he teaching because he wants to or because he has to? Should he have a helper to supervise the kids who are waiting for a turn? I don't know these things. I feel like I need to know these things.

Help me interweb-circle-of-moms-teachers-who've-gone-before-me. I need advice and perspective. It broke my heart tonight. I just don't believe the punishment fit the crime, on top of believing my kid didn't even understand there was a crime inflicted.

And for the record - I did make Bear sit in one place in the waiting area until class was over to talk to the Coach. And he did not get to play on Grandma's iPad tonight. I keep my word when I lay out rewards and consequences.