My six year old's teacher says he shows no remorse

Q: Our six-year-old attends Kindergarten at a Waldorf school. Last week the teacher asked for a meeting, stating that our son shows no remorse when told that he has hurt his friend (lately the boys in his class have been sharpening sticks and poking each other with them), and that he gets sneaky about things he is told not to do (isn't that normal?). They want us to have him assessed. 
We are concerned that the school is taking a potentially minor behavior out of 6-year-old context and suggesting adult motivations and intentions. Of course we don't want him to hurt other children, so that's a valid issue that we want to address. At home, we have been using the "if you don't do as we say, we will take a privilege away / give you a time out / take a way a toy / not let you do ... you name it. The school also uses consequences as means of disciplining.

After reading many of your posts, it seems like this approach is not working for us because it is not working, rather than us being inconsistent. We have often tried to partner with our child to find solutions rather than punish him, and it was usually successful ...

Anyway, we will do the assessment because we are worried about all this, but any advice would be very much appreciated.

- concerned mom  (note from karen:  I edited and shortened this email.)

A: Yikes.  I feel for ya.  Based on what you've written, your parental instincts sound right on target to me. The term "behavior problem" is quite often actually just another way to say "We are not equipped to deal with this here."

Of course each school within any given educational philosophy will be different, but based on what I hear from my clients and my own limited experience with Waldorf schools and preschools in my area, it seems to me that they are often at a little bit of a loss about how to deal with normal, natural rambunctiousness, especially that of boys, bless their well-intended, kind and gentle hearts.  

There are many things I adore about Waldorf, and as much as I love their schools for a child whose temperament is a good fit, I don't think it's a one size fits all type of education. In a different setting and context, your son's behavior might not trigger any concern at all.  

Of course, just about any school would likely be similarly unenthusiastic about sending a kid home with poke marks from sticks.  So it's good for you to deal with this head on.  

I think you are also correct that the victim in this particular situation is a participant in this dynamic because he is not communicating that he wants it to stop when your son checks in with him. With the strong media focus on bullying these days, I think that's a huge piece that is getting overlooked. We need to spend as much or more time teaching kids how to not be good targets as we do teaching the bullies how to be nice. Hopefully the other kid's teacher and parents are on top of that, although they sound like they may not be yet. 

So here's what I'd suggest.  Hop over to and read their articles on aggression.  Take a look at The Explosive Child by Ross Greene or check out this website:  This approach is highly effective even for non-explosive children.  

After you've read up on that stuff, you'll probably have some ideas about how to work with your son at home to channel his energy in a satisfying direction.  

Then it's time to talk with him about school.  Let him know that he's fine, but different places and people have different standards and expectations for kids' behavior, and his school is one that expects x, y and z. So his life will simply go much more smoothly there if he makes sure to do a, b and c instead.  

Then practice it, play games with it, and joke about it together. 

For example, at dinner, ask him playfully "Do you think your teacher would mind if I stuck daddy like this with this fork at the next parent dinner?  What about if I used a spoon?  I just need to poke something!  What can I poke?  Can I poke anyone's tummy?  What if I use my nose instead of my finger?" Anything that gets a hearty laugh going is good medicine - keep it light and fun. It's not a lesson, it's a way to lighten the energy around this topic for him and for you guys.  If he doesn't laugh, keep trying goofy things having to do with sticks or poking things until he does. 

I'm guessing you've seen my posts on remorse - it's probably what brought you to my site?  But if not, they are here:

If you'd like to discuss this further, let's schedule a phone consultation.  Send me a few times that are good for you, as well as your time zone and phone number, and I will get back to you promptly to confirm when I will give you a call. 

Good luck, Concerned Mom!  Your boy is blessed to have such an insightful mama.  I'd love to hear how it goes. 

Oh, and at the next parent-teacher meeting, you might request that an adult stays physically close to your son on the playground for a while until this pattern has been broken, so they can intervene gently BEFORE any harm occurs.  It would be wise and more effective for them to help your little guy do the right thing rather than expect a 6 yr old to rely on willpower ... in fact, I'm thinkin' it's actually part of a kindergarten teacher's job description to help kids learn to get along.  

And bless their hearts, most teachers are saints! A kind and sincere acknowledgement of how much you appreciate that he or she is going the extra mile to help your son will go a long way toward maintaining a positive parent-teacher relationship.  But I bet you are already doing that.   :)

- karen 

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