WORK DETAIL- INSIGHT OR PUNISHMENT?
By: Laura Morton
Your child's group leader is on a phone call with you and he tells you your child was placed on work assignment today due to an outburst that occurred in his group therapy.
(Please note: work assignments (a/k/a work detail, chores, etc) are often a source of controversy, mainly due to the name, yet are quite useful for many reasons. They teach a child beginning, middle and end which are often the foundations for creating a positive long-lasting work ethic, for learning to finish that which is started and creating value for them in accomplishing a job well done. Yet, the child will put a spin on it and complain about the work and deem it "abusive".)
Based on his actions (throwing a chair in group), he had gotten out of agreement with the rules at the school/program and his work assignment was designed to assist him in slowing down and taking a look at the consequences of those actions.
He has been put on work assignments for creating unsafety in his group and will be given direction on both the physical part of the work assignment and direction for the contemplative aspect of the assignment. (In laymen's terms, it means slowing down and taking a look at your actions. Why did you throw the chair? What were the feelings that got kicked up for you in there? And what could I have done instead.)
The group leader tells you that your child will still have their assigned phone call tonight and that your child himself needs to tell you about the incident that occurred, what his work assignment was and what he got out of it (understanding the emotions that are related to what happened in group).
In response, as a parent, it is important to not buy into the negativity and possible manipulation your child will throw at you concerning his consequences, placing the blame on the school, his group leader and even you for "making him go to this stupid school," trying to create a wedge between you and the school. Instead, your job on this phone call is to deflect his pessimism and keep the conversation on track. The following is an example of how a parent should handle this kind of phone call.
When the time arrives and the phone rings you ask him about his day.
From the other end of the phone, your child is complaining about having to do a work assignment which consisted of splitting and stacking firewood (or weeding in the garden or deep cleaning the dining room, etc. etc.)
The conversation goes something like this:
Child: Yeah…they made me work all day long. I had to wear work boots and carry around a water bottle with me all day.
Parent: Well, why did you get put on work assignments?
Child: I don't know
Parent: Did they tell you why?
Parent: And what did they say?
Child: A bunch of lame stuff, like breaking the rules and taking safety away from the school and others. I don't know, I think it's a bunch of bull anyway.
Parent: So, (my darling child) what rule did you break?
Child: No big deal…I got mad in my group today and threw a chair. There was a kid in there that ticked me off and I didn't want to listen to him anymore, so I got up and threw my chair out of the way. It's not like I threw it at anyone!
Parent: So, tell me about your work assignment.
Child: I had to split like a million logs and then stack all of it. I told them my parents didn't send me here to do all of their manual labor.
Parent: Well, good for you, learning how to split wood! Did you get a lot done?
Child: yeah, enough to stock the wood bin in the main house.
Parent: Good work. I bet the other kids will be glad to have that wood for a fire this evening. Good job. So, why did you get so mad and throw the chair in group today?
Child: Cause that other kid was making me mad. I didn't like it when he was asking me questions about why I was at the school and how I really felt about being there. It was like everyone was looking at me and waiting for me to answer and I got embarrassed.
Parent: So, then what happened?
Child: I wanted to say I hated it here and I missed home. But I started to get sad and I didn't want to look like a wimp, so I got mad and told them to "back off."
Parent: Well, what could you have done instead?
Child: I could have told them how I really feel. And I guess I kind of scared some of the other kids that were in there. My group leader said that some of the kids have had some hard times with violence and that what I did kicked up stuff for some of them and that I made it unsafe for them.
Parent: Sounds like you learned some things from this and I am proud of you for telling me about this and for being honest with me.
For this child, slowing him down and giving him a chance to think about his actions gave him the chance to examine his feelings, give back to the school (via a fresh stack of split logs for a cozy fire) and allowed him to open up and communicate honestly with his parents about his behavior, his feelings and the end results.
About the author:
Laura Morton works for Woodbury Reports, Inc. She has over 20 years working in various positions in the parent-choice private program industry, including as a team leader.