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How do you punish a five-year-old boy who did something very wrong at school?

From a recent email that asked me that question:

Our son was a behavior problem at preschool in the past but this year he has been doing AWESOME in school. He has responded well to his teacher’s daily behavioral color code system in his kindergarten class. However yesterday his teacher gave him instructions not to open the completed project he was proudly taking home because it would make a mess. Temptation got the best of him and when he opened it spilled out on himself and others waiting to go home. His teacher called out to him that since he did not follow the rules she would have to change him from green (good) to a red (not so good) for the day. She reported that he became extremely upset and yelled out, “You’re dead!” while moving his hand across his throat. I’ve seen the hand across the throat gesture on some of these cartoons he watches and from some of the neighborhood kids when they play so I feel he is mimicking what he has seen. We have disconnected the cable in his room, told him no more cartoon network, put away the electronic games, and told him he is grounded (no playmates for the next week.) Do you have any other suggestions?

Delaying gratification (not opening the project the little boy was carrying home) is a hallmark of future success at school and in life. It is important that both parents and teachers work hard to teach this lesson and give the child repeated opportunities to practice this skill.

Of course the teacher did the right thing when she gave the boy a “red” behavior grade for disobeying her. By the way, I would not call the red “not so good.” In my book the red grade is “bad” and should be called that. Euphemisms confuse kids, as do fuzzy boundaries.

Worse than the disobedience was the throat gesture and yelling at the teacher. This can never be tolerated. The parents decided on appropriate, albeit stringent, punishment at home. I would permanently disconnect the child’s TV. Dr Heins says, “No TV in bedrooms until kids can afford to buy their own!” She does permit a bedroom radio or tapes that play soft music.

Parents should never assume that cartoons are OK, many are awful. Ditto video and computer games. The cartoons are purportedly designed for children. Yeah, right! They are designed to attract kids so the cartoon company, TV stations, and manufacturers of sugared cereal and noisy toys make money. Cartoons are violent, often wildly disrespectful, and coarse. Most have no redeeming social value to paraphrase a legal opinion about pornography.

But in addition, neither the rapid speed with which cartoon images change nor the loud staccato noise of the sound track is good for the developing brain of a young child.

I am not sure this kind of image or noise is good for anybody’s brain. We live in a frenetic, noisy society. So what is a parent to do? Make your home a calm refuge. An antidote to noisy violence: play classical music CDs and watch tapes of symphony orchestras. Give children a baton (you can substitute a pencil) so they can practice conducting. My grandkids loved to do this.

The parents were spot-on to take serious measures with the child. This is a serious offence. The lesson to be learned is that whenever you yell at or sass an adult, you will suffer the consequence.

Finally, whenever any serious infraction occurs at school, it is important that parents and teacher meet. They need a game plan: all of them should present a united front: What you did was bad. Whether you sass a grownup at school or at home you will be punished.