Tuesday, January 13, 2009

january in san diego

This is how we've been spending our mornings during "home school."

A quintessential winter's day in San Diego.

In the afternoons, we have some kind of activity. Today, it was gymnastics.

Charlie happened to be with me today, so together, we took the children to their class. William is in a boys-only tumbling class and the girls are in a girls-only tumbling class that meet at the same time, on opposite sides of the gym.

While Charlie and I were standing outside with Henry, I could see that William, along with his four-year-old peers, were bouncing all over the place. Because the parents are separated from the students by a large plate glass window, I couldn't hear what the instructor was saying, but it appeared as though he was becoming frustrated with his young class.

When he was trying to get them to stand on the line to do somersaults, and they all took off running for the trampoline, he had to chase after them. And when they left the bars to go jump on the beam, he held up his fingers and started to count.

After about 10 minutes, I handed Henry to Charlie and walked in to the gym and right up to William. I squatted down at his eye level and gave him a stern warning. "William, there is a time to play and a time to pay attention. Now is the time to pay attention. You need to LISTEN to your teacher and FOLLOW instructions. Do you understand?"

In a bout of silliness he nodded yes and then said something that sounded like, "Oooga Jugaaa Looga Mooga! HEE HEE HEE!!!"

I could tell that what my message wasn't sinking in, so I held his arm firmly and repeated, "William, you need to PAY attention. PLEASE."

I let him go to rejoin his class and he barrel rolled in to the group.

Instead of joining Charlie in the lobby, I stood off to the side of the gym keeping my eyes focused on my son's class and hoping that he would settle down. But instead, things seemed to get even more rowdy. It was evident that late afternoon energy stores were at an all-time high as the boys chased each other around, knocked each other down and wrestled across the ground.

I recognized that they were feeding off of each other's craziness, but I stood wondering at what point "typical four-year-old behavior" becomes "down-right-bratty." I didn't want to disturb the class (again), but I also didn't want for my child to act like a tyrant. Even if several of the other children were acting up, just as much.

After watching William take off for the pommel horse for the second time in less than two minutes - when the teacher was clearly trying to keep them on the mats, I stepped in again. Walking briskly towards William, I harshly whispered, "William! Follow me."

I took him in to a private office just off the gym and giving him a quick swat on the rear I said, "LISTEN. If I tell you to pay attention to a teacher, YOU PAY ATTENTION. You are acting naughty out there and I do not like it. Now you will go out there and you will LISTEN to what your teacher asks you to do and you will stop acting like a wild child. Are we clear?"

Instead of responding, he dissolved in to tears.

Sobbing, embarrassed tears.

For the next five minutes, I tried to get him to rejoin his class, but he wouldn't stop crying. Soon, Charlie came in to the gym looking for us and when he saw William, he shot me a look of disbelief. How could I get angry with a four-year-old who was acting his age?

Maybe I need to lighten up a bit?

Although he didn't say either of these things, I know he was thinking it.

So I asked, "Don't you think it's important that a parent steps in when they can clearly see that their offspring is defying authority? Or do you think I should just sit back and watch a teacher struggle?? Would you rather have a child that is respectful and has manners? Or would you rather have a child that behaves as though he was raised by a pack of wolves??"

Considering tonight when we came home from gymnastics, it was dark and our children stood outside of the house and howled at the magnificent moon, I'm worried I might be fighting against the tide on this one.


  1. I don't believe being four is a good enough reason to excuse disobedience. You know best what your four year old is capable of and what he should be accountable for.
    Of course, i don't know squat yet. My trio are only thirteen months old.

  2. mamabunnytam@yahoo.com1/13/09, 3:15 AM

    I'm totally with you on this issue Jen. I had to do the same thing with my daughter. It was upsetting, for me, to correct her in her class and to have her continue the bad behavior almost the moment I left. Even after she said that she understood what I expected of her.
    I do think it's important to correct them though. I had people say to let the teacher do it. But if it got to be too much I would step in, too. Sometimes the teacher wasn't firm enough either and my daughter needed that at the time.
    It does get better. It just takes consistent correcting, stepping in when needed, and extreme patience from the parent. I think the closer they get to five years old the lessons we teach them tend to sink in and the "fruits of our labor" start to come out. At least it seemed to be that way with our daughter. It sure was frusterating at the time though. She's turning five in a week. You won't believe how much they change from four and a half to five years.
    My husband would love to move to San Diego. The weather is just fantastic. Swimsuits in January? We could use some of that wonderful vitamin D here in Portland, Oregon.

  3. Jen- We had this EXACT issue at gymnastics. I tried both ways...sitting on the sidelines like a hawk and sitting out in the waiting area blissfully ignorant. Neither solution was perfect, but ultimately I asked the teacher what she preferred and followed her lead.
    Hang in there! I can SO empathize with you on this one!

  4. I don't think I could have stopped myself from intervening. Well done!

  5. My daughter is 3.5 and when I tell her things like what you told William (which, btw, I think is totally good parenting), I often get back "No. Don't talk to me that way. That's not respectful." Or "Listen to me. I am the Ellie and you are the mommy."

    If only they weren't so damn smart. Anyway, i just try to walk the line between letting her express her frustration and having consequences for her actions.

  6. This is a question that I have struggled with for years. When I have watched my children misbehave - when clearly they "know better" - my husband gave me the same looks - I think as mother's - we feel like our kids behavior is a direct reflection of our parenting skills. Maybe it's just that they are kids, normal kids, and they won't be kids forever, and the values and behavior that we have taught our kids - will be intact when they get older and really need them. -- remember that you are a wonderful mother! and your kids are normal - wonderfully normal crazy kids!

  7. You know, I would have been inclined to do something similar. I would DEFINITELY have intervened with my child, as you did. Without question. I also would have spoken with the administration about that teacher needing an assistant because kids running through the gym like that, with all the equipment, is unsafe. Plus, if the teacher can't teach, then what are the kids learning??


  8. I used to take my girls to a Gymboree class, and would mostly let the teacher be in charge of the kids. That's their job, and they should have the ability to keep the kids focused, using fun activities or silliness or sternness, whichever is necessary.

    However, there were a couple of occasions that I did step in when it was clear that my kid was the problem, and they were not listening to the instructor. I made it clear to her that if she wasn't going to pay attention to the teacher, she wasn't going to get to come to class. That was the kiss of death for her, and worked every time.

    In your case, it seems like it was the instructor who was the problem, not so much your kid.

  9. I am totally with you on this one. He was warned by the teacher several times and given a warning by you. After that, I would have gotten "serious" as well. There IS a fine line between letting a "kid be a kid" and being "too strict", but I KNOW in this case I would have done the same thing as you (I should say I HAVE done the same thing as you!).

    I think far too often in today's society, "bad" behavior is explained away as "oh, it's just the age" but I don't think "bad" behavior should be acceptable at ANY age. The fine line is determining what is "bad" behavior and what is just a "kid being a kid".

    Oh, and IMO it's a GOOD thing that William cried when you scolded him. It's when they DON'T care, or think it's funny that you are upset with them that you need to worry!!!


  10. I would and I have stepped in on Gymnastics class with my 4 yr old triplets. I think you did the right thing and if I were the teacher, I would want the parent to step in too if clearly what I was doing was not working.
    Furthermore on the way home from Gymnastics I told all three of the kids that if they could not listen and pay attention then we would no longer attend Gymnastics class. That seemed to do the trick.

  11. I think you did a good thing.

    I would have pulled my son completely out of the class after he re-entered improperly after the first chat. He would have gotten the pleasure of watching from the sidelines the rest of the class.

    I agree that boys do have some rowdiness, but they also need to respect a teacher. I would have stepped in.

  12. If it were me, I would not have been able to stand there and watch my kid misbehave.
    AND if it were me and my husband had pulled our kid out and then that kid was bawling and all, I would have wondered why the hell he didn't choose his battles better.
    Also, sounds like the teacher needs some better management skills!

  13. I for one think you were right on the money on this one.

  14. Very often, sports instructors are young and childless so they don't have the same perspective as a parent. They know their sport, but don't have the teaching skills that a school teacher has. Couple that with their natural tendency of not wanting to be too strict and having all the parents watching your every move and you've got the potential for chaos.

    I liked one of the comments that suggested talking to the instructor and following his/her lead. Giving the instructor permission to be more exacting may also help.

  15. I think you did the right thing. They do need to understand that just because other kids are doing things doesn't mean it is ok for them. They will need that lesson many times in life (especially in teen years) and making them understand now is getting them off to a great start.

  16. You exactly right and the crying thing is just the point at which he realised that a) you were serious b) you were in the right and he knew it and c) nobody elses parent had taken such a hard line and it didn't seem fair.. oh and d) he felt he had lost face with his freinds. A lot for a 4 year old to deal with but all necessary. The only other thing I would add would be that it would be a good thing to choose a quiet time before the next lesson and before he's likely to forget, to talk through what went wrong, what you expect from him and how he could have behaved last time. A promise to behave better might be a step too far but he'll at least know what is expected and have an alternative avaiable to him.

  17. I think you did the right thing. You removed him from the situation to talk to him...you didn't embarass him in front of the teacher/other kids. That's key. I have done the same thing with my boys...I do expect them to behave and listen to the teacher during class and they know I will remove them from the fun if they don't. It is especially hard when the other kids aren't behaving!

  18. I would have done the same thing, I have a 2 year old but I still expect her to have manners and some sort of decent behavior, normally it seems to take a little embarrassment to unboggle their little minds. They are young but still thats just life.

  19. Totally justified mommy behavior. I've taken mine down to the bathroom for a little "talk" more than once. Good going, Jen! ROAR!

  20. I'm against the masses on this one. I think you should have let it go and then talked with the instructor about what sort of guidelines they have for class management/discipline/etc. If every week a parent bops in to talk with his or her little one it can be very disruptive. Mommy and Me is a different story, but those children are usually younger.

    That is the policy at the dance studio we frequent. No parent disruption; it is teacher's discretion to send you child out if they are too uncooperative. It used to drive me bats and I would have to sit on my hands a TON, but they did get it after a while.

    AND I did talk with said child about being respectful and how she wouldn't return if her behavior didn't improve.

  21. I Think that the instructor should have more control of the class. Was the class too large for him?
    Boys will be boys and when they all get together it is a hard job to keep them corralled.
    I agree it can be dangerous if the little boys are allowed to run wild. I see why Will was upset--all the other kids were doing it--how come I got punished?

  22. I've done four three times over now (my current is four--five in a few weeks--is going to head to bed in a minute because she is so DONE for today) and all I can say is you have my sincere empathy.

    As to the behaviour issue...I've faced this sort of situation often enough. Yes, they really do feed off of one another and the lousy behaviour of one child encourages it in the next until it has a domino effect. This is ****especially**** true for boys and I'm afraid it won't improve for quite some time, either. I've had to step in and remove my child with the warning that if there isn't an *instant* improvement in behaviour, the activity is over and s/he will not return. If that doesn't have the desired effect, an abrupt "that's it for today, you are clearly not interested in this activity today" and removing the child without another word can really make an impact. Their protests and promises fall on deaf ears. It makes an impression, I assure you. ;-)

  23. I think January in San Diego looks much nicer than January in Boston!