I never thought it would happen so soon into parenthood. You know, the official recognition that my son was not the most perfect child in the universe. But there it was. I was at work when I received the phone call from the school.

Post introduction, I believe the words went something like—“you are not going to like this, but…”. At that second, my mind had already run through every possible scenario of what had happened to him. Being used to the medical field, most of my thoughts were immediately distressing, even though I admit to never actually having seen a decapitation. So, trying to listen carefully through the sound of my pounding chest, I found out that my little Prince rascal had got himself into a fight … with a girl, at that. Gasp.

Whilst super pleased to hear that both bodies were still intact, I was just mortified that at the ripe old age of five, he had temporarily forgotten his moral values, impeccably virtuous family heritage, and apparently every yoga breathing class he had ever attended. Worst of all, however, “he didn’t seem to care!!” proclaimed the Deputy Head. This was getting serious now. My mind flashed to him being imprisoned at the age of 18.

I imagined my psychiatrist friends diagnosing him as a psychopath; the harsh rejection and stern faces of the other mothers—they’d be whisking away their children as we entered the school and they’d probably be lobbying for his expulsion. Sadly, we were no longer A Perfect Family. It cut deep. I was humiliated, and I had failed as a mother, as a psychologist, and as a human being. I knew his father most certainly needed blaming at some point, but I didn’t have the headspace.

I dialled a friend on the way to the school for emergency emotion regulation. She was unnervingly calm, which was so confusing. However, the conversation that ensued lightened the self-imposed cognitive load… and it might help you in the future, when you also find out that your child isn’t entirely perfect either.

  1.  Obligation. Schools have an obligation to tell parents about behaviour that is outside the norm. This is for the safety of everyone involved. Rather get you involved right at the beginning to nip it in the bud.
  2. Don’t go in there guns blazing. You need to be calm and composed, ready to listen, and to set an example to your child in front of the staff. You can then more effectively decide how well the situation is being handled.
  3.  It’s not your fault. I was asked if we had problems at home. Whilst I understand the reasoning behind the question, don’t be coerced into revealing unnecessary details when you are already vulnerable. Especially when they don’t have a couch for you to lie on, nor time to listen to your answer. Every family has issues. And if you do have issues that might be affecting the children, seek guidance.
  4.  Empower yourself and share ownership of the problem. Ask the school what they recommend for behaviour modification and what they will do in school time to make sure this type of incident doesn’t happen again.  
  5.  Strategies. If your child hasn’t quite shown the full range of appropriate emotions, it does not mean he / she will end up a psychopath (one’s mind escalates scenarios under acute stress). Focus on reminding your child about what good behaviour entails and how to prevent it happening again. My son wrote a letter of apology to his teacher and the children apologised to each other and are best friends once again. Moreover, he enjoyed role-playing the incident and choosing a safer outcome. We also have a ‘Happiness Meter’ which he can point to, when he doesn’t have the words.
  6. Bake cakes for all involved and become an enthusiastic Parent-Teacher Rep. Okay, so that’s going too far. But, do keep in touch with your child’s teacher; get progress reports; and keep your child involved with everyone as normal. Punishing them harshly or for too long after the incident will only create more problems.
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Written by Dr. Melanie Schlatter

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