I got a phone call from my 13 year old son’s school telling me he had left the building.
That’s right, just up and left school and now they didn’t know where he was. He had never done this before so I honestly didn’t know what to say. After moments of silence, the Vice Principal said to me, “Would you be willing to come to the school?”
I snapped out of my shock. “Yes, of course! I’ll be right there.” All the way to the school I went from worry, to being furious, back to worry. I got a call on the way to the school that they had found him at the mall close by. My worry quickly left replaced with momma rage. The first place my mind went to was what consequence he was going to get when he got home… and what heated words I had for him.
I walked into the Principal’s office to my son sitting there looking bug eyed with the reality of what he had done. The fact that the police could have been called was sinking in for him. Regardless of how scared he looked, I was still furious. I kept my cool while the Principal talked to me thinking in the back of my head how my son was going to get an earful all the way home and he would probably never see his video games ever in this life again.
As we left the school towards the car I heard a voice in my head, “Bring him closer.”
Bring him closer?? That was for when he was depressed and angry, feeling lost and alone, not for when he deliberately leaves school!
I looked over at my son at his face and there it was. His face said it all. All the anger in my heart subsided in that one moment of looking him in the eye and I could see the last thing he needed was a yelling mother with lectures. But I couldn’t let him just get away with this, right?
Instead of yelling I asked, “Son can you tell me what’s going on inside of you that would cause you to just leave school?” (my much nicer version of “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING??!!! that I wanted to say)
His eyes welled with tears and started telling me how much pain he has been feeling inside lately. He couldn’t take school anymore, so he just left. He didn’t know how to deal with everything. He also promised me he was never going to do that again and kept asking what his punishment was going to be.
Here are four things I was reminded of when it comes to the mindset of “punishment” I have:
You never punish pain
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of working with youth at risk is this: you never punish pain. If you punish pain, the person only sinks further into that pain and a ton of shame on top of it. You also lose the most important thing with them: trust. When you punish when someone is in pain, the wall around their hearts grows and they stop being honest with you. Pain revealed is an opportunity for healing and growth! Heal the pain, behaviour changes. Focus on punishment to change behaviour, you will only have 2 outcomes: you will either have an extremely compliant child on the outside who resents having to please you on the inside, or a rebellious child who refuses to listen to you.
Instead, build the kind of trust with your child that allows you to ask questions where they know they can be honest about how they feel.
Behaviour is communication
I teach this, I know this, yet in the heat of the moment of driving to school I forgot about it. I am so conditioned to the way we grew up in the 80’s. Behaviour must be punished so the child will learn. It’s been conditioned into my thinking.
Behaviour tells a story. Wise parents look past a child’s outward behaviour and digs underneath to find where the true issue lies. My son was feeling emotional pain. For other children its shame, or worry, or fear. Find out what’s underneath your child’s behaviour because that’s where the real transformation lies.
We become when we BELONG
When you’ve done something you know you deserve punishment for and you don’t get it that’s called grace – and for the one on the receiving end it is the most refreshing thing ever. However this only counts when there is a soft heart that truly sorry and wants to change. Unfortunately some abuse this and continue to take for granted the love and belonging their family provide. What they need at this point is grace in the form of firm boundaries. You can learn more about this in my upcoming online course being released this spring. Stay tuned!
The next time your child acts out in a way that isn’t desirable, remember these three things. If you’re like me, this takes some reprogramming. It’s not about getting it perfect, but being willing to lean into what’s unfamiliar to connect with our kids and bring them close when they need us most.
Let them own their decision
Whatever your child has done, let the natural consequence follow its course. DO NOT RESCUE THEM. Every time we swoop in as parents and rescue our kids from whatever natural consequence occurs we ROB THEM of learning what it means to become responsible and accountable. We can walk with them through it, but not rescue them from it. It’s good for our children to learn this. And when they know their parents are standing with them, they can be more brave to face it.
Don’t miss my upcoming Brave Parents Conference in Calgary, Alberta.
Our children are facing incredible roadblocks today: bullying, mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicide contemplation, and a complex world.
If we ever needed brave parents who know how to navigate it all it’s TODAY!
The conference features: Dr Paul Day who specializes in trauma, Dr Wayne Hammond who specializes in resilience.
Other speakers include Agnes Chen on adverse childhood experiences, Sally King on adoption and fostering, myself on tools to help your child overcome mental health, Elizabeth Bennet, a school principal who will speak to the importance of a village.
Every parent will leave with tools to be BRAVE to help their children overcome. Don’t miss this incredible conference coming your way.
Tickets are only $50 until Feb 29! Ticket link here