Relationship Connection: My son is being punished for his sketch of a bully

Drawing by Ariel Meitz, April 30, 2010

Question:

My third-grade son is a straight A, honor-roll, perfect attendance, responsibility-award recipient, student. He has never had a discipline referral and all his teachers have consistently told us he is a polite, respectful, responsible, smart kid.

My son has been harassed for months now by another boy who has been a consistent problem for several teachers and other students. The teacher, administration, and other parents have tried and failed to remedy the situation.

My son has a private journal that he draws in when he is finished with his schoolwork. He draws comic strips and likes to draw military style battle scenes, almost like playing “army men” on paper. This has never been a problem before.

Yesterday, he was very annoyed with the bully-child and wrote his name on a drawing he made in his private journal. He depicted the bully-boy as the bad guy in a battle scene and drew him as a “dead” stick figure with x’d out eyes. The other child, who is already supposed to stay in his seat away from my son, got up and came to my son’s desk and saw his name on the paper and told the teacher.

The school is now characterizing my son’s drawing as a threat and has mandated an automatic 3-day suspension. I have a meeting with the principle scheduled.

Although I do see how this picture is inappropriate, I do not view it as a “threat.” My belief is that a child expressing their frustrations privately through journaling or art is a healthy alternative to acting out verbally or physically in inappropriate ways that will disturb others.

Am I missing something?

Answer:

It’s true that school administrators and teachers are on high alert for anything that hints at violence or aggression, even from a third-grader who has no history of aggression. I don’t think this is ever going to change, especially considering the handful of school shootings and threats that are now a part of our collective memory.

It’s unfortunate that your son doesn’t have any room to express his frustrations with what he feels is an impossible dead-end situation with this other child. It’s normal for children to use fantasy play as a way to deal with stressful situations. Children are our most powerless citizens and often resort to make-believe as a way to cope with situations.

I believe this is an opportunity for the schoolteacher and administrators to better understand your son’s dilemma. Clearly, he’s expressing how dire his situation is with this other child. I hope the principal is able to use this journal entry as a way to better understand how powerless your son feels in the classroom. If they automatically treat your son like a criminal, they will miss an opportunity to not only help your son, but this other boy, who needs some structure himself.

My guess is that if even one adult would validate your son’s irritation with this boy, it would help your son deal with his frustration. They might say, “you wish he would just disappear.” Or, “he’s so irritating to you, you don’t know how else to get him away from you.” Often, when we get to the heart of the matter with our kids’ frustrations, they move on to other things.

There has to be room for children to express themselves, even in ways that make us uncomfortable. They don’t have a mastery of words, so often they will use pictures and scenarios to express what they’re feeling. It’s our job as adults to take the time needed to make sense of what they are really saying. Look for patterns and see if it becomes a theme that he becomes obsessed with it. My belief is that he’s just venting and needs someone to listen to him.

I’ll end with this insight from Dr. Haim Ginott, a renowned educator and child psychologist. In his book, “Teacher and Child”, he wrote, “I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

Stay connected!

 

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Drawing by Ariel Meitz,  April 30, 2010
Drawing by Ariel Meitz, April 30, 2010

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12 Comments

  • Mary April 30, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I understand the schools concern, they have to be careful. HOWEVER, if the bully is picking on your boy they should be doing something about that. It’s totally unfair to punish your son for being upset and expressing it when they obviously aren’t going to stop the bully. Stop the bully and that will stop the drawings of the bully being “dead”.

  • kristopher April 30, 2013 at 10:42 am

    i think your child had every right to draw the picture, the teachers wouldn’t do anything about the bully then i believe the child has the right to expressed him self in a way that helps him.

  • deborah April 30, 2013 at 10:44 am

    this is just a mirror reflection of what is going on in our nation. sorry to scream politics with this.. but we are being bullied and we are being punished for expressing anything we don’t like about it.. just sayin. our free speech is gone and therefore, so are our kids free speech.. because of a lean toward administrations catering to bullies out of fear of their families.

  • Tricia April 30, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I had a similar experience with my son, he was bullied and drew a picture of the situation also in a journal, he was on the 6th grade the outcome was also the same, school suspension. I was upset with the accusations, but understand that it is a precautionary procedure to protect all students. It is more embarrassing for our children. I understand the meeting but not the suspension. They shouldnt be punished, just corrected.

  • Don Leonard April 30, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Just like Doctors will “kill you and bill you”, our government run schools will destroy your children. If you don’t like how your children are being taught, take them out of these socialist run institutions and home school them. Doing this will make you a true American Hero, in my opinion. At least they will have a better chance at growing into decent people with morals, ethics, and a better knowledge of who the world should be.

  • Concerned April 30, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Is the bully from Santa Clara maybe with connections to three boys that kidnapped and terrorized a girl for hours? Better be careful or you might feel pressured by the community and church bishops to not do anything about it.

    Sad that the school has such a weak backbone to remove the bully from the school.

    • Concerned April 30, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Meant to say “such a weak backbone to NOT have removed the bully from school.”

  • Justin April 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Lets not confuse the teachers inability to stop the bullying with not doing anything. What they wrote “have tried and failed to remedy the situation.” We have created a situation in our society where discipline at school is treated the same as this cartoon caricature and gets teachers fired. Until parents are willing to take control at home and take away all video games and TV, or whatever the issue is, bullies will continue. Parents must teach old fashion values like morality, civility, mercy, industry and more especially love and gratitude we have no chance of stopping this.

  • Wrathan April 30, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I think the fear that SHOULD be here is that the Boy Being Bullied may be contemplating taking his life as this threat is that severe to him. Care must be taken here and the bully boy should be ejected from school.

  • Big Don April 30, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    While we are only getting one side of the story here, it sure doesn’t seem right for this little kid to get a suspension.
    In our “feel good” era, we would like to see an end to bullying. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen. It is an unrealistic expectation.
    I really feel for this child. Back when I was a kid, you handled bullies one of two ways. You either beat the snot out of them, or if you were not able to do that, you stayed out of their way. Interesting enough, the ones that got the snot beaten out of them, usually stopped being bullies. But of course we can’t let that happen today. It isn’t politically correct.
    And it is so much easier to “punish the victim.” What a crock.

  • Maggie April 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    So the bully won again! We not only need responsible people carrying guns in our schools to protect our children, we also need administrators and teachers with the common sense and training to deal with things like this appropriately.
    How would you like the young man being bullied to express himself? Has anyone given him an outlet?
    Has anyone set up a red line(as Obama says) for the bully and family? Has the bully crossed that line? If so ,what has been done to the child that bullied? If nothing, expect the bully to push the line even further,doing even more damage. Children who have not been taught to self regulate ,in many instances, grow up to be adults with an even more dangerous problem to society. Our jails and streets are full of them. I am reminded of the gathering in Denver and Colorado State U the past few weeks.Chicago and many other cities with really bad school systems are just dumping these children on the street for all of us to deal with.
    The child being bullied will indeed find a way to protect himself ,with or without the help of the adults around him. It would be better for all if the adults acted like adults and helped him find the appropriate way to do so. Being suspended from school certainly solves nothing, but perhaps make the adults feel in charge. They may win the battle and loose the war with this approach.

  • Separate School and State April 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    The guvskool supported the bully because the guvskool engages in bullying on a massive scale.

    According to guvskool values, those who display opposition to bullying must be punished and made an example for others who may contemplate disobedience.

    A free country would not leave something as important as education to the government.

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