The importance of exercising patience, wisdom and understanding when teaching right from wrong


My daughter and my niece saw the funny side straight away. They were stood behind my sons teacher listening and silently giggling as she told me about the incident. I was listening to the teacher but I caught my daughters eye a couple of times and had to stop myself from giggling too.

“It’s not a laughing matter” I was told crossly. “It was dangerous, there were dangerous wires hanging out the wall”! “Your son is in a lot of trouble for destroying school property”.

My son, it transpired, had pulled the hand dryer off the wall in the toilets. He was 5, he was unsupervised, he had swung on it and it had come off the wall leaving “dangerous wires” exposed to the rest of the boys in the class.

Yes, my son should not have swung off the hand dryer. However he had never attempted that before so he had never been told not to do that before, which meant he had not learnt that if you swing on hand dryers they could come off the wall.

You see my son, believe it or not, has always actually wanted to be good. He has never liked people getting cross or upset and he has always wanted everything to stay calm so, even at five years old, he would never have dreamt of swinging on a hand dryer if he thought it would come off the wall and land him in trouble.

The way the situation was dealt with was to make him feel as terrible as possible. He was shouted at, made to sit in the corridor away from his class and he had no play times or breaks all day. After this incident my son hated school. He hated his teacher and years of school refusal followed. I know some people will read this and think it was right for him to get in trouble, I know some will think it was ok for the teacher to be stern with me but I have a different perspective.

As a professional child carer I personally deal with things a little differently. Children need to learn right from wrong but it is exactly that, learning. I am a firm believer that consequence should be based more on intent than on result of action. I think the consequence of a teacher witnessing my son swinging on the hand dryer, had it not come off the wall would probably have been them telling him to get down and explaining why. His intent was the same regardless of the handryer coming off the wall, so I would suggest that just because the result of his actions changed, he should still have been calmly explained to as to what he did wrong. His intent in this situation was not to destroy school property, create a dangerous environment for other children or to remove the hand dryer from the wall. He was unaware that he was doing anything wrong at all, being that he was 5 and autistic and no one had ever told him not to swing on a hand dryer, yet his punishment was unproportional and possibly causing more damage than the incident. He literally only needed someone to explain how his swinging on the hand dryer had made it fall off the wall and that he shouldn’t do that again. He possibly even needed a hug and reassurance because he was terrified when that hand dryer came off the wall!

If a child snatches a toy from another child for the first time, their intent is to get the toy. They are not thinking of how their action will affect the other child and they have probably not yet learnt that you shouldn’t snatch toys from other children. Giving the toy back to its owner and explaining that we don’t snatch things from other people then finding another toy to play with, I would consider teaching. Running up and shouting at the child, I would consider pointless because unless they understand they have done something wrong, why would they not do it again. Do we want the child to think “when I choose a toy I like, mummy shouts” or do we want them to think “I should not take toys off other people because it would make them sad”?

Autistic children can sometimes take longer to grasp the fact there are consequences to their actions, they often don’t understand the need not to do certain things. They may need more teaching than other children in more ways than other children. It may also be necessary for them to learn every single circumstance. For instance my son might have known not to swing on a sink because he had previously been told, but he would not have related that to a hand dryer. My daughter got herself in a pickle when she was 12 for going to the park after school without telling me. At the time I was very frustrated with her because she had been in trouble the week before for going to the shop without telling me and promised not to do it again. However she didn’t realise that both incidents were the same because one was the shop from home and one the park after school. Autistic children will need more patience and understanding than other children.

It is all too easy to be crosser if the result of a child’s action is worse, yet it is necessary to take a step back to see the level of intent and understanding. Did the child know what they were doing was wrong? Is the child capable of understanding this in the first place? If the child’s actions had caused a lesser result,would we be reacting differently to the situation? Is our reaction helping the child to learn?

It is essential for anyone working with children, especially those with additional needs, to be able to exercise patience, wisdom and understanding when teaching children right from wrong.

The importance of excersizing patience, wisdom and understanding when teaching right from wrong
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