Problem like, Maria

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Remember that song from the Sound of Music movie? It's the song that always comes to mind when my girls tell me about a kid that is bothering them. I think it's a rather pleasant way to think about difficult people. A song to sing as you ponder the situation.

What do you about Maria? Well it all depends on the type of Maria you are dealing with at the moment. In class Olivia has been paired up with a spirited and mouthy little boy. He sits next to her all day and is quite the annoyance. Not that my Olivia is the most perfect child ever, it's just at school she's all business. When it comes to school she keeps the sillies and such under control. Which is great. That means she's capable of self-control whereas this seat mate is not. She was in first grade with this boy so she's quite aware of his shenanigans. She hoped to never see him again considering her first grade class was full of these sorts of boys. For her the little distractions are annoying and unwelcome. So far this kid has tried everything to gain attention from her. She the stoic girl in class has maintained that outer calm. When I know she just wants to scream and possibly knock him out of his seat. I know this boy has become a problem when her daily school review includes a detailed list of what that kid did to disturb her and anyone else.

Sure I can request that she be moved but the reality is that at some point he'd be put right next to her again. This is the type of kid who will be rotated throughout the year to distribute the burden of his personality. Everyone will be affected and it's just a matter of time when he will be moved. That said the things he does can vary. Sometimes it's a good day and all he does is mutter rude comments about the teacher. This is where Olivia finds much distress. She is fond of her teacher and in general dislikes any negative statements about people. So this kid and his talk-back mouth often make Olivia feel offended. She especially finds the disrespect annoying. That being as upsetting as it can be is not nearly as bothersome as what he does with his stuff. For some reason he finds it absolutely hilarious to shove some of his things into her desk when she's not looking. Then when he is bored he'll push her aside and grab for those things. These are small things like erasers, USB drive, highlighters, stuff that can be hidden under her folders. She has become exasperated about this habit of his. I fully understand. I could tell her teacher about all this and have it mostly resolved but then he'd find something else to do to her and that other kid next to him.

What I figured is that she needed to hear a few stories of my elementary days. Stories of the same sort of dumb bothersome kids that most everyone has endured. I told her about a similar boy in my 5th grade class. Because this boy, we'll call him George, was smart, chatty, bold, popular, charming, and mean, he was in general a bothersome kid. The kind of guy who thrived on attention and making other people feel small. He was moved all over the class and pretty much tortured everyone he sat near. It was I who ended the year between him and another boy very similar in behavior. I was chosen because of my natural quietness, good grades and gentleness. I was a quiet and shy girl not one to be combative. In my teacher's mind I was the perfect person to deflect this boy's nonsense. For unexplained reasons George felt it was his duty to make my life hellish. It was little things such as the back-talk under his breath, rude comments about classmates, and the putting of his things into my desk. The latter was the most malicious. He did it as a way to attempt to get me into trouble. This kid thrived on getting others blamed for things. He enjoyed the unfolding of misery. Unfortunately for him I caught on to his "game". I knew he was a bully, albeit a very sly one, I had up until that point eluded that attention. After a few incidents of him claiming he couldn't find this or that only for me to discover it in my desk with him making a statement about how dare I take his stuff I knew this was the new way he thought he could "break" me down.

I suspect that he could have if I were not as clever as I was. I caught on and learned how to make it more of a problem than he would ever want to experience. I began to watch him and figured that he liked to hide things in my desk when I wasn't looking. When he left for another class and I was alone I'd fish those things out. We had lockers in 5th grade so I'd hide his stuff there until I could think of a decent place to stash it all. I'd choose really bizarre places, not too hidden but enough to give him a panic about it. Eventually he stopped putting things in my desk, maybe it had to do with the teacher thinking he was such an idiot. She couldn't understand how an intelligent (he was one of the top students in our grade, as was I) mostly organized boy seemed to have his things left all over the classroom. When that little problem of lack of organization went on his report card it became very clear to him that the wrath of Mom was not worth the trouble of annoying some dumb girl in his class. Eventually he gave up trying to make me crazy. Not that he never did anything else but at least the daily incidents were whittled down to maybe once a week or less.

My advice to Olivia was to check inside her desk every morning to see if any of this kid's stuff was in there. If she found something I instructed her to place those things in this boy's cubby. That way, his stuff was out of her space but in an obvious location. I told her that after a few times of his stuff being filtered to that cubby he might get tired of having to get up and retrieve them. I mentioned that while my story was funny (she loved that I hid George's stuff all over the classroom) that my story was dealing with an older kid and a very tolerant teacher. I suggested that after a period of time of her annoying seat mate's stuff still making its way into her desk to be placed in his cubby to keep on without halt that she could try another option. That option is setting his stuff on the teacher's desk, or handing if over to the teacher. We'll see how far this will go and how long it will continue.

Before you judge my method I want to explain my rationale. It's not that I don't want to have the teacher involved. That's not the issue at all. Her teacher is a very nice person and very good at her job. This is about problem solving plain and simple. My concern is that Mommy isn't always going to be around to resolve things. Self managing is a part of life. Being able to find a solution on your own is an important part of living in the world. I want my kids to come to me and tell me their problems seeking advice, but I don't want them to think that it will only be me solving those problems. That's an impossible expectation. I'll get involved when their attempts have failed or if the situation is severe. I can't raise my children to be expectant of their parents to step in and take charge in moments like that. They must learn how to handle sticky situations and difficult people. If I am harsh then that's what I am. If anything I am going to teach my kids to look at each situation, think about it, and ponder. I am teaching them how to gently resolve minor issues without being rash. To take charge of their circumstance addressing those bumps in the road of life instead of hiding behind Mommy's skirt. 


Unknown said…
Wise words, Mama! Your girls will only benefit from having parents who are committed to teaching them important skills for navigating life, instead of just bailing them out. As someone whose children are still small, I appreciate reading stuff like this! It gives me food for thought on how to handle these situations when they arise for my own kids!

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