A rebel after all

Last time I wrote about my oldest daughter and what a good kid she is. If you’ve missed it: read it here.

In my daughters class the teachers have been struggling with the proper response to kids that are unable to deliver their homework for whatever reason. This is really funny for me as a mom, because for some reason my daughter takes pleasure in telling me all the details about this system, how many kids are subject to it, whenever the teachers are in doubt about it, whenever they change something... It has become my daily soap opera.

From the start of the year, there were consequences to not being able to show your homework. I don’t really remember how it used to work, but I do recall wondering if they were able to maintain the way punishment would grow after not having delivered several times. For the first few times, they would keep the child in detention after hours and even after already a few weeks, my daughter “reported” to me some boys had already been detained for 20 minutes, so I wondered how things would evolve.

As time went on, and the disbelieve in my daughters reports grew, I started to wonder how this would effect my own daughter. So far she had never missed her homework assignments, but she’s only human, and a little perfectionist I’m afraid, so I started to think about this.

After a few months, the teachers had settled in a structure regarding the detentions for the recidivists. Every time a kid was unable to present their assignments, they would get 1 red cross behind their name. After 3 crosses, the kid would be in detention for 10 minutes. After another 3 crosses, detention would be 15 minutes. After yet another 3 crosses, 20 minutes and after this, the detention timer would be reset to 10 minutes again.

I guess this system failed big time, because in the daily reports I learned that after a few months there were kids that had run through the entire cycle three times already (so that would meant that they had not delivered their homework for at least 27 times. My daughter was disgusted by the whole thing.

In these months it had happened several times that my daughters own homework was missing. I did notice that this was something that would stress her out, and then I put it mildly. I subscribed her panic to the perfectionist parts of her character and I did worry a bit about that. Remember in my last blog I wanted to teach her to be a little more assertive and bold, and I wondered how these two things were related in her brain.

One evening, after she had not been to school for three weeks, due to a holiday and a week of being sick before that, she was really freaking out around bedtime. I asked her what was the matter and she cried and said that she was so confident that she had done her homework, but now she couldn’t find it anywhere. I decided I had enough. It was okay to be a good girl and try to do your homework as expected, but it was not okay to freak out the way she did when not having missed out on homework ever!

I sat her down and talked to her, the way I used to do that when I wanted her te be safe and learn from the situation. First I asked her some questions, in order to try and find out where the homework could be. When we established it really was nowhere to be found, I talked to her about the consequences. She cried really hard and said: then I will have a red cross behind my name. So I let it sink in and asked her gently… and how bad would that be?

She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said: I don’t want to have a red cross behind my name. So I hugged her again and said… well, that is praiseworthy, but now we can’t seem to prevent that from happening and you are freaking out? So… again, how bad is this? But she didn’t want to give in and kept saying… I don’t want to have a red cross! I wanted to be the only one all year long to not have had a red cross!

I could relate to that and sighed with her. In her class… it is exceptional to not have missed a single assignment, and having one red cross would put an end to that image. However… Since I was still hoping to coach my daughter to a tiny little bit more rebellious then she was, I could also see the opportunity. So I asked her again how bad it would be. And when she wouldn’t stop crying, I tried the growing older card: do you think anyone will ask you about your performance regarding your homework when you apply for a job? She didn’t answer, but she did calm down a little. I guess she came to acceptance that it was inevitable to get that red cross.

We talked some more about what a good girl she was, for not having had that cross so far. I even suggested her teacher might look the other way, since she has an outstanding performance so far. This is also something she has had to learn over the years, that teachers sometimes address the group, for the behavior of a few. And that it is perfectly okay, to filter these messages and decide if it’s for her or not. When I left her, so she could go to bed, she seemed reassured and not too frightened with the dreaded red cross anymore.

That same evening, I was going through some papers and… of course! I found her homework. Oh my goodness… I was so in doubt. I would do her so much pleasure by leaving it on the table, so she would be able to deliver it in the morning, but then she would miss out on the lessons we had talked about that evening. I admit, I was really tempted to hide it from her still, but my integrity won the battle: this was not my call! So I left it at the table.

The next morning, she was so pleased and happy and she went to school with a really big smile! When she came home for lunch, she was so jolly! She couldn’t stop laughing. I was curious, obviously something had happened. As soon as she had calmed down she told me, just before bursting out in yet another giggle: Mom! I made the wrong chapter! And the teacher did just what you expected. She said to me: you never miss your homework. This must have been because you had been sick before the holiday. Why don’t I pretend I didn’t ask you, and ask you again tomorrow? So now I did miss out, and I still don’t have a red cross!

I laughed with her, and wondered… where did this really, really good kid come from. And how was I, small rebel that I am, to deal with this.

That evening when she went to bed, we talked some more. I told her about my struggle to try and make her aware of her other, more rebellious options. She laughed and hugged me and said, really relaxed with a twinkle in her eye… but mom, you’ve got it all wrong! I’m not so eager to not have a red cross to please my teachers… I want to stand out from all the indifferent kids in my class!

I laughed and laughed! I was so pleased with her! My good kid!

There’s a little rebel in her after all!