Column: Allow your child to learn from their mistakes

By Gordon Beinstein

This weeks ‘sermon’ provides insight on how to work with the school when your child makes a poor choice. As a former principal friend of mine once said to a parent of a misbehaving child when his mother wondered aloud who was on her child’s side, ‘your child doesn’t need an advocate; he needs a spanking!’ While I’m not encouraging you resort to physical means to correct the behavior of your child, there is much to take away from this statement. In my role, it is not uncommon to have conversations with parents around issues that arise when their child makes an error in judgment. While I am fortunate that it doesn’t happen often, sometimes parents try to redirect these discussions by attempting to move the focus of the conversation away from the behavior of their child. They instead choose to emphasize the actions of the adults or other children or the conversation shifts to excuses, explanations, and rationales for poor work or behavior; i.e., ‘He cheated because he was under a lot of pressure’, ‘Other children were doing the same thing’, ‘It’s not his fault because…’, ‘The teacher doesn’t like him/her (usually him!)’. While I understand the desire to protect your child, what exactly are you protecting him from?

Middle school is the time to learn from one’s poor decisions when the stakes aren’t quite so high. When you fly in to ‘rescue’ your child, you miss an opportunity for the child to learn from their errors in judgment and, believe me, every child has these lapses. The conversation needs to be about the child and his actions. We want the student to accept responsibility. Once accomplished, we can then discuss what steps can be taken to ensure that the infraction does not repeat. In my experience, when a child knows that his parents will work with us and hold him accountable, they are more apt to own their misdeeds, allowing the poor choice to become a learning experience. This outcome is less likely to occur if the child suspects their parents will defend him, right or wrong. To paraphrase Michael Corleone in The Godfather, this isn’t about ‘taking sides against the family’. It is about recognizing that it is our mutual responsibility to ensure that your child learns from poor choices so that they can grow into the fine young men and women they are sure to become.

At Western, we love this age group and all of the ‘joys’ that come with puberty. We do not judge the children (or their parents). We address actions as they arise, use misdeeds as teachable moments, and ‘let go and move on’. Working in partnership, we can ‘fix’ your kids before they go off to high school. (I know they are not broken, they are simply pubescent!)

Gordon Beinstein has been working in middle schools for 32 years and still can’t get out of the 8th grade! He is currently the principal of Western Middle School and was recently named the Connecticut Association of Schools 2019 Principal of the Year.