I just yelled at my daughter for writing on one of my students’ papers. Scribbles and wavy lines all through the bottom margin of a final draft of an important paper.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught her. I shouted, “Are you writing on my student’s paper?”
Her eyes grew wide and she set down the pen and sat back on her bottom in the chair. “Don’t be mad, don’t be mad!”
“Did. you. write. on. my. student’s. paper?”
And then she was crying, a sincere, remorseful cry.
I picked her up, turned off the TV, carried her to her room where I set her down. I did not use the words “time out,” but I gave us one. I said, “You stay here. I’m going to the bathroom. When I’m done, I’ll come back to talk to you.”
She stayed in her chair. She waited. She was only still sobbing a little when I picked her up again.
I put her in my lap, facing me, and I asked her if she had written on the paper. She nodded. She started to sniffle. I could see that she took this very seriously and, given the crime*, had been punished enough.
In the past, I would have told her (again) what I expect her to do, but this time I asked her what she thought she could do. What are some things she can do or say when she wants to use my pens? Ultimately she said nothing. I offered that she can ask me for some paper that she can draw on. She nodded.
Ironically, the student whose essay the tot drew on is a student who wrote her first essay of the semester on why spanking is better than time outs. She and I talked a lot about time outs, and it became clear to me that although I don’t really think I understand the myriad ways time out can be used with a smaller child, my student had no idea at all about it and was unwilling to consider the alternative. Instead, she would have had me spank the tot after the drawing offense, to underscore that the behavior was wrong.
I am not sad about the choice I made. Whether the tot will do it again remains to be seen, but I don’t think that could be predicted whichever choice I had made.
She got down from my lap and dejectedly picked up some lego blocks. I said, “Playing with blocks is a good choice right now,” and I left the room.
Maybe a minute later, she came out with the bucket of legos and said, “I can build something, you know.”
“Oh? What are you going to build? A rocket ship? Or a tower?”
“I could build an airplane or something.”
“That’d be cool.”
“Or a faucet. You know a faucet? Where the water comes out? I could build one and then I could have water right here.”
“That’s true. You can build whatever you can imagine.”
Let’s be honest, I didn’t care what she built, but I didn’t expect she’d actually build a faucet. She did, though. And she was happy about that.
*Not that big of a deal, all in all. I care about it in principle, but not in practice. If my students are the type that can’t accept my apology for these things, then I probably do not like them anyway.