Monday, December 20, 2010

Setting the rules

When I pick Elli up from daycare I get to see a real variety of different rulesets conflicting in strange ways.  When the children are there without their parents the teachers go by their rules and when the parents have the children in the hallway, outside the classroom, the parents go by their rules.  But when the parents are in the classroom with the teachers it isn't at all clear who is in charge and how exactly things should get done and it leads to some interesting situations.

For example, some parents use the technique of 'I will leave you here if you don't come right now!' to get their kids to get out to the area where their outside clothes are stored.  I think this technique is a complete disaster but yet it is used time and time again.  The parents open the classroom door, talk about how they are going to leave the kid there overnight and the kid ignores them and continues painting, building, or whatever else they are refusing to give up.  Sometimes the parents go out into the hallway and stand there hoping the threat of leaving the kid overnight at school will finally work.  I just don't see how this is a good plan.  The kids know they aren't getting left overnight and they just ignore that threat completely.  Once you make a threat that you won't follow through on and you get your bluff called you end up in a really awkward situation where your authority and credibility are both shot - how do you continue to lead from that spot?  I watch the teachers try to deal with this sort of thing and they are clearly conflicted between supporting the parents and trying to not be too involved.  They clearly aren't allowed to make ridiculous threats and not follow through when they are in charge but they are caught in the middle.  If they undermine the parent they are just making all kinds of trouble for themselves and if they support terrible strategies they undermine their own authority when the strategy fails.

It is also strange when we have to make decisions on what let Elli get away with at school.  If she had her way she would bring sticker books, stuffed animals, random things she finds on the ground and everything else to school.  Things would get broken, lost, and played with by other kids and it would be a disaster, particularly if every kid did it.  Initially we relied on 'The school rules are that you don't bring toys.' but eventually other kids brought toys and that didn't fly.  How do we deal with the fact that the school technically doesn't allow toys but other parents send their kids with toys?  This would be easy to resolve if we were comfortable just being autocratic but we really want Elli to know why decisions are being made and see that we are consistent.  I do sympathize with people who break the rules here and there; I get to see plenty of Elli standing at the door screaming that she wants to bring her kitty and I know how much easier it is to just shove the damn stuffed cat in the backpack than fight a wailing, screaming ball of hair, snot and tears to school.  That conflict point where nobody is really in charge and neither side knows exactly what the rules are makes things very strange, very challenging and very interesting.

I don't envy those who work in that situation and have a lot of training on how to deal with children in the best possible ways and who end up supporting all kinds of ridiculous parental mistakes.  I am not claiming any sort of perfection here, I think I do pretty well being disciplined about discipline but there is no denying how unsettling an upset child is and how hard it is to deny loved ones things they desperately want.

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