Children’s behavior is the concern of many parents. Kids can be diagnosed with ADD, ADHD or ODD, when in fact, it is the various choices their parents have made throughout the course of their kids’ lives that make kids act the way they do. Yes, I know this is hard to accept, but I believe that if you were to give me a normal child – boy or girl – I could, by making a simple choice to act in a particular way, single-handedly turn this child into a problematic beast with social problems, difficulties with authority, declining academic achievement, lack of motivation, depression, anger and anxiety, just to name a few.
The success kids experience in their social, academic and even physical lives depends on the environment within which they live. It takes two to tango. If you position a cheerful child in a gloomy place, you already have a formula for trouble. If you put a sporty kid in a slow-paced or restrained environment, you have a recipe for a problematic kid.
I am going to illustrate to you how this works with one of my personal experiences, which I think is a great example.
How normal kids can become problematic
When our son Tsoof was in his final year of primary school, all the parents began talking about choosing high schools for their kids. The tension was surprisingly high, as many parents thought that was the most important decision of their kids’ lives.
Gal and I were a bit confused about it. Four years before, we had chosen our daughter Eden’s school because it was good school and because she wanted to dance. However, we were unsure that school would also be the best for Tsoof, because all Tsoof ever wanted to do was play and listen to music and play basketball.
Technically, we could register him at the same school as his sister, or at a school closer to home, which had an excellent reputation academically and as a school of excellence in music and French. Of course, we always had the option of registering him at one of the larger private schools close to the city, but we had heard that academically, the two schools we were considering were more successful than those top private schools.
So we narrowed the choice down to the following:
- School A: Located within walking distance from our house and offering a program of excellence in music, which is what our son loved and wanted to do.
- School B: Located 10 minutes’ drive from our house and offering a multicultural environment (kids from over 60 different countries) and an excellence program in sport (Tsoof played basketball) and in performing arts (dance, drama and music).
So one day, Gal talked to the history teacher from School A, who happens to live on our street, and asked him about the reasons people chose to send their kids to that particular school.
“People bring their kids to our school when they want a strict school with discipline, where their kids won’t get into trouble and mischief. We do not allow trouble makers, so kids cannot afford to cause any trouble at our school”.
We knew all there was to know about School B, because our daughter Eden had studied there for 3 years, so finally, we decided to go and check out School A in person and more closely.
We discovered by asking some students in the yard that the school was an extremely competitive one. Some of the kids even suggested to us that unless Tsoof excelled in music or French, it was not worth considering.
Then, Gal went to the school to visit the principal.
“I am considering registering my son at this school and he’s really into music. In your opinion, what is it about this school that makes parents choose it over other schools?”
The principal answered proudly, “Other schools allow kids to have different hair styles or different colored hats, but at our school, all the kids must be the same. The best thing about this school is the discipline. Kids are disciplined here and this is the reason they are better at everything they do”.
“What do you mean by ‘discipline’? Why would kids need discipline to do well at school?” Gal asked.
“It is because the rules are very clear. Their hair cut, the folding of their socks, their homework, their uniform, the punctuality – all at very strict and very clear”.
“Why would it matter if they have a different hair cut?” Gal asked.
“If students have long hair and stand out amongst everyone else, then they quickly draw attention to themselves. They then come to expect that they are always the center of attention and they start to become disrespectful by continually attempting to draw attention to themselves. This school does not tolerate disrespectful kids”, said the principal, starting to sound as if this was rather obvious.
“What if their hair is their way of expressing themselves? What about individuality?” Gal asked.
“Good schoolwork and achievement is their way to express their individuality. I promise you, if your son studies here, you will not experience any behavioral problems”.
I believe this could not be further from the truth and let me explain how easy it is to take my normal, happy, successful kid and turn him into a troublemaker.
Here is Tsoof the year before he started high school:
What do you think would become of such a kid if he studied in a school that believed its greatest asset was discipline?
Despite the school’s program of excellence in music, you only need one glance at this kid to understand that that school and Tsoof would never gel together.
This year, for the 3rd time in his life, Tsoof decided to grow his hair long. The first time he did that was in Prep (the year before Grade 1). The second time was in Grade 5 and all the while with his long hair he made wonderful academic achievements, exhibited great talent in music and developed excellent social skills with ease, as he did during the rest of his primary schooling. He was never disrespectful towards other kids, other adults, his parents, his teachers or his principals and he developed very well with neither a perfect uniform nor strict discipline.
It is perhaps true that some kids need a structured school environment. Such kids mesh well with the type of school down the road from us, but many others, with free spirits, can only blossom in a freer environment.
I could just imagine Tsoof getting up every day and complaining about teachers telling him off about his hair, his necklace (that he would no doubt have to hide so no one could see it), his wristband or his shirt that would be not tucked in after a basketball game during breaks. I could imagine the dramas every day and being called to school for a “discussion” with his teachers. I could imagine the frustration and the anger he would have towards us, his parents, for torturing him with this “silly school stuff” and “who need school anyway?”
I could imagine my happy, joyful, friendly and bubbly child gradually sinking lower and lower, at first protesting, “Mom, these people don’t respect or appreciate me. I’m just one of many soldiers in their army”. Then, I could imagine him putting most of his energy into finding strange and dangerous ways to express himself. I could see him neglecting his schoolwork and his academic achievements going way down.
And just like many other kids who have been diagnosed with behavioral problems, he would gain the dreaded title of “troublemaker” for life.
Suddenly, I understood how time and time again, parents fall into the trap of thinking, “I am giving my kids the best”, but in their search for “excellence”, they end up ignoring the true needs of their kids. I could easily have been blinded by the concept of the school having a “program of excellence in music”, but in reality, I would have made a decision that satisfied my need for security over Tsoof’s learning needs. I now understand how easy it is to make that wrong choice. In the end, we figured out that the choice we had to make was one between excellence and happiness and once we realized this, the choice was easy.
So as you can see, one choice on your part can change your kid’s life forever.
When it comes time for choosing schools, get to know your kids and make the choice that is right for them!
Happy parenting for happy kids,