8 Year Old Suspended for HittingTeacher

Dr. Laura,

My 8 year old got suspended from school for hitting the teacher in her head. What can I say and do to help this? I certainly don't want him to feel he's getting away with it or that being suspended from school you get to stay home and have fun. Any advice would be very much appreciated.

How upsetting! For the teacher, for the children watching, for your son, and for you. I am so sorry this happened, and I know how worried you must be.

But your son is not a bad person. Clearly he was very upset to hit the teacher. He must have felt scared, backed into a corner, like only violence would solve his problem. He must not have seen any other way out.

1. Start by asking him about what happened. What led up to it? What did the teacher do? What was he thinking and feeling at the time? He probably doesn't even know how this happened, he just felt fear, and rage, and lashed out.

2. Listen. Empathize. "You must have been so upset."

3. Set clear limits. "Hitting is never okay, no matter what."

4. Ask him what he thinks resulted from this way of handling the problem. Teacher mad at him? Suspension? He needs to see that there is a cost to his behavior. But you aren't shaming him. You're empathizing. We all feel like hitting sometimes. But that solution costs us much more than we gain. It is never the best solution, no matter what.

5. Ask him how he can repair this situation. Perhaps a letter of apology to the teacher and the principal? What can he do to gain everyone's trust again?

6. Be sure that he spends the time out of school working -- writing a letter of apology to the teacher, studying for her class (and all his classes) so that he goes back to school all caught up with his work and poised to earn good grades. No screen time, or gaming -- but use this time to connect with him as much as you can. Don't make it punishment. Make it a chance to earn back his good name.

7. Problem solve. If a similar situation ever happens again,  how can he handle it? Would that have different results? Practice that solution so his subconscious has an alternative to violence.

8. Empower and inspire.  Not immediately, but as you continue to have conversations, be sure your son's takeaway is positive. Many kids react to a suspension with shame, which just makes their behavior worse. Tell him that the universe taps you on the shoulder to tell you about changes you need to make in your life. If you don't make those changes, the universe often increases the volume of the warning, and slugs you. So this suspension was that slug -- a wake-up call to change things. How can he use it positively to turn things around in his life?

Finally, take responsibility as his mom that something is really wrong here if your eight year old is resorting to hitting to solve problems. Make it your highest priority to get your son's life back on track. That means considering some kind of family counseling. Healing any stresses in your child's life that are making him lash out like this. Helping your son develop anger management skills. Addressing any ongoing issues that are making it hard for your son to manage his impulses, like anxiety. And making sure that your discipline consists of clear, firm limits, but never hitting.


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