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When Your Child Yells 'Kill!'

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Last week when we went to pick up our son from school, things didn't go as planned. I should have known we were in for it when his teacher, a wonderful woman, called us into her room. It's amazing how you can get that same pit-in-the-stomach feeling, even as a parent. She gently told us that our sweet, football-loving little boy had apparently been yelling "Kill, kill, kill!" repeatedly during his soccer class with one of his friends, and the coach sent them both back to the classroom.

My heart sank.

I didn't even think he knew the word "kill," let alone would be shouting it at other people. He is crazy for his bestie and partner in crime in this situation, talking about him often. And, I'll admit it, our child is a total follower, so anything his friends find funny and amusing, no matter the situation, it's likely that our son will join in the hype. Seriously, one day a child in his class told him to glue a puzzle piece into the puzzle, and he did it. A puzzle piece!

My husband and I met as teachers. I love educators and value the work they do beyond words. And here was my own son, disrespecting a teacher in his school. He was that kid. I know he knows better. He knows he knows better. But that counts for nothing when he is shouting, "Kill!" at the top of his lungs.

I wanted to run away and hide. I wanted to raise my voice at our son and ask him why on earth he would yell such a thing. I wanted to pick a fight with my husband about how we managed to raise a child who had such little self-control. But I didn't. I knew those things wouldn't work, and we would find ourselves back at the beginning again.

This isn't the post that is going to say, "3 Steps to Self Control," or "10 Ways That My Son Shouting, 'Kill!' is Actually a Good Thing." Nope. Not much of a silver lining, and no answers here. But, I will tell you what we are doing to cope and to make this situation better. And I hope you will share your lessons and thoughts with me, too.

1. Hit the Books

I'm the co-founder of a company that is rooted in children's books, so I will almost always turn to books for answers. In this case, one of our curators recommended Hunter's Best Friend at School to me. Is the book beautiful? Meh. Award-winning? Not that either. But, it seems to have been written for our son. In the book, a little raccoon named Hunter learns that, instead of following his mischievous friend Stripe, he can make good choices and inspire Stripe to do the same. We read the book nightly, and remind our son of Hunter every day when we drop him off at preschool.

2. Slow Down

We try to take it easier when the kids are out of school, leaving as much unscheduled time as possible for our family to be together and for the kids to play. This flexibility affords us the chance to spend more time talking with our son about kind words and harsh words, and and how what we say can affect others.

Beyond slowing down on the weekends, we also let our rigid routine go during the weeknights. Instead of pushing everyone to hurry up and eat, bathe and go to bed, we linger (as much as a 4- and 2-year-old can linger) during each of these and try to encourage real communication with our kids throughout the evening. If they're not in bed by 7:30 p.m., we'll all live.

3. Focus on the Good, Too

The truth is, we're still getting mixed reports at school each day. But no matter what, we search for something positive going on at school. In this way, we're always able to acknowledge the ways in which he is improving and making good choices. We lead with this, and then get to the harder conversations when they're needed. This seems to be taking root in a major way. He now basks in the light of his teacher telling us about his excitement around numbers lessons and circle time activities because he understands that will mean praise from us. Of course he understands the inverse, too, and tells us how he "forgot to make good choices," when his teachers have less positive things to say.

Even with these strategies, we haven't seen a complete turnaround. After a day of making good choices, a 4-year-old is likely to revert to old ways. Today, for example, his classroom teacher praised him for tackling his number work with excitement and focus, but his after-school teacher let us know he had to sit out of some activities because he and his pal wouldn't follow basic directions.

What I am learning now is that it's most important to find the patience within ourselves to not get frustrated at these setbacks. Keep at it, and try to demonstrate the perseverance I one day want our own children to emulate.

This was originally posted on the Zoobean blog