Thursday, October 4, 2007

Nathaniel and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad....

...five weeks.

Yep, you read that correctly. My six year old has had just about 5 weeks worth of bad days. If you do the math, his run of bad luck began just about the time that 1st grade started. Hmmmm.....could there be a connection?

Every day, Nathan brings home a purple folder with his homework, papers to be signed, permission slips and a conduct report. If he doesn't pull any marks all day, he gets a little smiley face for that day. If he does pull marks, he gets a letter grade based on frequency and severity.

The first week of school, all was forgiven with the words his teacher wrote across the blank spaces for that week: "Learning the new rules."

The second week of school, he received 3 smiley faces and 2 letter grades. Enough to make Trevor and I sit down with him and discuss behavior and what we expect of him.

From week 3 to week 5, he has had more bad days than good. We began taking privileges away (computer, Gameboy, time with his best friend, new Harry Potter costume for Halloween), hoping that he would modify his behavior and walk the straight and narrow.


Then came this past Sunday afternoon. We were at our annual church picnic, and Nathan was waiting in line to ride the horses. I went to check on him since he had been in line for quite some time, and as I was walking up I saw him hit a slightly older boy as hard as he could with an open hand on the back. Imagine the look of surprise and horror when I gripped the back of his neck with steel fingers and led him away from the line. That incident ended all hopes of riding a horse, and we left the picnic immediately. His behavior had finally disintegrated into physical violence.

When we got home, we sent him to his room so we could discuss appropriate punishment. We had (seemingly) tried everything, and nothing seemed to be working. We decided to follow through with a previous threat, and removed everything except for his bed and his clothes from his bedroom. He just laid there on the bed with emotionless eyes as we made trip after trip in and out of his room. It wasn't until we had retrieved the last of his things and firmly shut the door behind us that we heard him begin to cry. This just broke my heart, and I leaned on the kitchen counter trying to compose myself.

Retrospectively, this punishment was a little harsh, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. We told him that he would only get his things back by proving to us that he could make good choices and behave himself at school. I thought we had gotten through to him, and Monday morning we went over his behavior one more time to encourage him to be good at school.

At 3:45 pm, I received a phone call from his teacher to inform me that Nathan had hit a child in the face with his closed fist. I sounded like a cartoon character as I stuttered and tried to formulate words. I was literally speechless. Horrified and speechless. She told me that he would be sent to the vice-Principal's office in the morning to be written up and punished. We discussed his behavior and she was at a loss as well. He was doing an exceptional job academically, he was challenged in class and finished his work. She mentioned that he seemed angry about something, and I agreed.

As I drove home, I tried to figure out what could be making him so angry. I called my mom (who has a doctorate in education) to get some advice. After I spilled my guts for about 10 minutes straight, I finally stopped long enough for her to give me her opinion. What she said to me stopped me dead in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes.

She asked me what I had been doing differently in the past several weeks, then answered the question for me. I had been on a diligent campaign to pray for my children every day, and Satan was attacking me. He was trying to find a foothold on which to latch on and fill me with doubt about my parenting and about the character of my child.

It was working.

What she said was so obvious that I felt a little ridiculous for not recognizing it for myself. Before we hung up, she gave me a few practical tips and some advice for dealing with the situation. I prayed and thanked God for the situation and for helping me to grow as a mother and as a Christian. Although the battle was far from won, I felt a real peace about how I needed to deal with Nathan.

Without going into all of the details, I had a really good talk with Nathan that evening and I think that we made progress in communication. He saw the vice-principal the next morning (he received an hour and a half of in school suspension), and then later in the morning saw the school counselor (who taught my husband math in high school). I spoke with her and she gave me some good advice and we discussed the importance of Christian principles in rearing children. I told her that she was always welcome to bring everything back to God with regard to disciplining and talking to Nathan. We try our best to raise our children in a biblical manner, and it was good to know that I have an ally at school.

The point of this post is that this experience has made Trevor and I re-evaluate how we raise our children. We have instituted a "no computer, no TV until the kids go to bed" rule (which explains the dismal number of entries on my blog this past week) and we have family night every night. We help Nathan with his homework while we are cooking supper, and then after he is finished we do something together. Monday night it was a board game and Tuesday it was building a fort in the playroom. The point is that we are spending more time with our kids, and we've noticed a difference in their behavior.

Nathan has earned his room and Gameboy back with good behavior at school, and when he gets home in the evening he can't wait for family time. We still have issues to work through, and he's still going to have bad days at school, but we'll get through it together. I think one of our mistakes was that we were not adequately balancing our expectations for good behavior with reassurances that we loved him no matter what. I think that in his little 6 year old brain he thought he had to be perfect, and that was a goal that was completely unattainable (duh). It was such a huge mountain to climb that he didn't even try, hence the declining behavior.

Anyway, Nathan has had a dramatic change in behavior this week and I praise God that He has surrounded me with people who are willing and able to give me godly advice and counsel. And just so you know, my prayer time about my children has only increased because of this attack.

I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

My God is stronger than any attack that Satan can mount against me. My God is the great I AM. My God gives me strength and grace for every situation. My God is good.


Melissa @ Breath of Life said...

I absolutely HATE our enemy! He tries to find ways to slither into our lives, and knows that questioning our parenting is a weak spot for most of us. I struggle with the same.

I've found that designated family times are wonderful. Our daughter knows that there is no tv until homework & her reading are done (during the week, she really only gets to watch tv in the mornings because nights are so busy). She's getting a DS for her birthday this weekend, and we've already told her that she will not be allowed to play it during the week. I think letting them know what's acceptable/expected beforehand is always the easiest (in any situation).

Hoping things continue in an upward motion for you guys!

Heather C said...

Praying with you for Nathan. What a blessing your mom is, huh? I'm blessed to have one of those too... a godly woman who sees things that are staring me right in the face (although I don't see them) and isn't afraid to tell it like it is. If I become half the mother she is, I'll consider myself blessed. Thank you for being so real, my sweet friend!

TammieFay said...

Oh yeah He's good! Oh, sweet sister, how my heart just ached with you as I read your post and how it has also rejoiced! You are "wising up" to the enemy and that's always a good thing. Our God is making a warrior out of you! If there is anything that will cause us to go to battle over, it's our babies! Keep swinging that Sword!