The pace and demands of our world keep teachers and parents very busy. They do not often have time to think about what it means to be a human being raising children to be good, free adults. We need to think deeply about what is happening when our children disappoint us.
We tend to think that every time a student or child does not do what we want, they are actively disobeying or trying to be difficult. In truth, there are at least four reasons a child may not comply with our expectations, rules, or wishes.


Sometimes a student is just being bad. They might want to cause trouble. Encourage these students to do the right thing and provide consequences and counseling to help them.


Unwritten expectations. We learn many things through experience, including accepted ways of interacting and communal responsibilities that we have to one another as adults. Children are unfamiliar with these things. A teacher of mine told me about a time when she was waiting for her parents to pick her up from an event. They were running extremely late. To help them out, she decided to hitch a ride home with friends. She had no ill will. When her parents eventually arrived, they panicked. She soon learned to think about others’ expectations for her in these situations.
Foolishness. Children have an age-appropriate foolishness. While they still need consequences for foolish behavior, try to approach things differently than if a child is simply “being bad.” In my experience, boys especially seem to learn about the world by doing silly things. I have had boys turn a water cooler into a bar—serving up water to friends during break. Some of these same boys decided to crush the used water cups by holding them to their chest and running into the wall. From the adult perspective, this was purposeless and senseless behavior. They put a hole in the wall. Initially, this looks pretty bad, but they did not intend to break the wall. They were having a silly, good time. I appreciated their honesty! They paid to fix the hole, but that was it. When I discipline students, I always look for simple foolishness; it still needs a consequence, but sometimes it merits a different approach than if someone was “being bad.”


Giftedness. Each of our children are uniquely gifted. We work, play, and solve problems out of our giftedness. This means that different people may solve the same problem in different ways. I can remember bringing firewood inside with my older brother. We disagreed over the best, fastest way to do it. I am sure he had the better way, but I wanted to experiment to know for myself. We got in a fight over it. In families and schools, we have to have a certain efficiency without which we would get very little done. This means that people must bend to make things work. Growing up with seven siblings and one bathroom, there was not a lot of time for creativity, primping, and prepping in the bathroom before school or church! We did not have the time for eight people to do things in eight different ways. Teachers face a similar challenge in the classroom. There has to be one way to turn paper in—not 25. It is helpful to remember that frustration is sometimes a function of someone trying to work within their giftedness. Study your children to learn their loves and gifts. Parents of larger families need to take the time to mediate both time and power so that each child has opportunities to do things their own way. No one can do it their way all the time, but some time for this is good and healthy. It is not good if everyone has to do it their older brother’s way, their coaches way, or their parents’ way all the time.


Take time out to remember that you are working with children. Children who are learning, growing, and making mistakes. Not every child who frustrates us is out to make things difficult. Sometimes, children are just trying to make their way in a big, adult world.

I can still hear her English accent in my head, “CHRISTOPHER!” It may have been for not putting something away, having a messy room, or making a foolish mistake and earning a bad grade. I think every man (at least every man with enough siblings) can conjure up the frustrated, angry voice of his mother. It never did me much good. It would boil over and then she would feel bad about it–I knew things were better when a favorite food showed up in the pantry or a good meal was on the table.
The frustration of mothers with their teenage sons is universal–a rite of passage.
It does not help.
For many boys reaching for independence, their goal is to navigate the day with as little involvement from their teacher and mother as possible. They do not want a blow-up from mom, but they know that it will blow over when it does happen.
When you respond with anger, you distract your son from his problem. He does not mind this distraction. Your anger also communicates that his problem is really yours. He does not mind this either–his life just got easier. “Mom’s really mad about this, I guess I do not need to worry about it–she’s got it!” If you take all the anger and frustration, there is none left for him. You can care too much for boys.


What should you do?
Boys need consequences, and they need to feel them. Generally, they learn about the world by breaking things, banging into them, and generating causes before they think about effects. They understand that actions have consequences. That is why they hit hard in football or disrupt the classroom with their loud talk, laughter, antics, or subtle jokes. They go around thinking, “What happens if I…?” They need consequences that affect them when they mess up.
If your child does not get his homework done, make him miss whatever he was going to do so he can finish it. You cannot trust him when he says his work is complete and done properly–make him write down all his assigned work at school and then show it to you when it is complete–every day. People who do not do as well have to work harder to succeed. (He is learning this from his coach.) If his grades are lower than his ability–require that he spend a certain amount of time every weekend on studies. If he has a habitual problem, hold a meeting with him when no one is angry and lay out the consequences of failure. Then, when he does mess up, be SILENT. You will be angry because that is your habit. If you need to yell, find his father, but do not yell at or in front of your son. If you have the consequence system set up, just put it into action. Enforce it. Use as few words as possible. A mother’s silence is terrifying. Then go back to normal. It is just the consequence. He does not need anything else. You are going to love him, drive him to school, kiss him goodbye–he just won’t get his cell phone back for another week.
Anger is easier. You get to blow off steam and get back to life. A helpful response will take more of your time because you must enforce it, but it is what your son needs.
Dads, your wife might be drowning. You need to check in with her to see how things are going. You are the one who needs to step in and break the anger-feel bad-peace offering cycle if it is happening. This all works better if you are involved. He is learning from you. If your son messes up, mom can just send him to you and you can enforce the consequences. If he wants to complain, mom should not have to hear complaints, they can go straight to dad. Dad, if you see mom blowing her top or caving to your son’s emotional appeals–step in, give her the night off, and deal with your son. Be unemotional, love him, lay down the consequence, love him, and let it be done. You know what he needs, you have been there before with your own mother and probably with your wife too.
As a general rule (I cannot think of an exception.) do not follow discipline up with some peace offering to make your son feel better. He does not apologize to an opponent for scoring a touchdown or for winning a chess match. You do not need to apologize for giving him consequences he deserved. He understands this. Despite your feelings, he will love and respect you more for a straightforward approach. A peace offering communicates that you did wrong by disciplining him. (If you did do wrong, apologize.) Even young children get this message. Discipline him, and, like a good football player, give him a hand up when he gets knocked down, but do not apologize or “make things better.” He is the one who needs to make things better–do not do it for him.
As a headmaster, moms are generally easier to deal with, but we intentionally involve dads in discipline issues–especially if they are habitual. Dads need to be checking in on things daily and we want to encourage that.
Divorced families. You must be on the same page with this. Mom, you must ask dad to step up to the plate and help. Your son needs both of you to do this. Dad, don’t ruin what mom is trying to do to obtain your son’s loyalty or love. If you want your son’s love and loyalty, be on the same page with mom for his sake.
If your son has a habitual problem, you need to go deeper. Do not talk to him about behavior only. He needs the consequence, but his soul needs tending. Talk to him about God, sin, the Cross, and forgiveness. We all need saving from things that cause us habitual problems. When your son messes up, you have an opportunity to help him cry out for salvation–you are more interested in that than in any specific behavior. When you recognize that problems are invitations for deep discussions, you can be thankful instead of angry. You want him to get to the point where he seeks forgiveness and restoration and makes restitution without your intervention.