A Picture Tells…Maybe Nothing? – By Cara Potapshyn Meyers
Last week, when I went to pick my son up from his after school program, one of the employees of the program asked to speak to me in person. She took me to the back of the room and showed me a picture that my son had drawn which showed a male person with genitalia. Knowing as much as I do about child psychology of a seven-year-old boy, my gut reaction was to giggle. But the seriousness of the matter on this employee’s face quickly made me stifle my laugh. She told me that because it was early in the year she was going to let it go…for now…but that if it continued, my son would be expelled from the program. I looked at her and thought, “You run a program for grade school children…do you know nothing about seven year old boys??” She obviously could use a refresher course.
Then I noticed that my son was sitting with a “friend,” whom I know from past experience, is an awful influence on my son. We even went so far as to have a meeting with the principal, requesting that my son and this other child not be placed in the same class for Second Grade. She honored our request. Every time my son spends even a small amount of time with this other boy, my son will begin to use inappropriate language or demonstrate what I term “toilet behavior.” We know it is the influence of this other child. Because when time goes by like a Winter Recess, the language and foul behavior diminish and then stops altogether. We have tried to talk to this child’s mother regarding this issue, but she never bothered to discuss it with her son and said that all of her son’s older male cousins speak and act like that, so there is nothing she could do. It was at that moment that we decided to limit the amount of time our son would spend with this boy. There is nothing we can do about lunch, recess, and the after school program, but other than those activities, our son does not see this other boy at all.
When I tried to explain to the employee that this other child has a history of instigating our son to do and say things he normally wouldn’t, the after school emplyoyee wouldn’t listen. Her response was, “This is his (the other boy) first day here and he has been playing very nicely today.” When I told her it was on school record that this other child has a history of bullying my son on the playground. The employee blew it off. All she cared about was the picture and the fact that if we didn’t get our son under control, he would be expelled from the program.
I next went to my therapist, who has extensive experience with grade school children, and showed her the picture. Her response was the same as mine. She wondered if any of these employees were trained, in any way, regarding child psychology of grade school children. She said what my son drew, albeit not very appropriate, was absolutely “normal” for a child his age. She then asked how my husband and I handled the situation with our son.
I told her that we all sat down together (which was a first in I can’t tell you how many months!) and asked our son why he drew the picture with male genitalia. Our son said, “It was an accident!” I calmly explained that spilling a cup of water because you forgot it was next to you is an accident. Or sometimes when I call my son my dog’s name or my dog my son’s name, it is an accident (yes, my dog is one of my children!). But when you draw anything, you have to think…even for a moment, what you want to put down on paper. I told him that what he did was not an accident. We also told him that we loved him no matter what he did, and nothing would ever change that. And we encouraged him to please be honest with us. When we point blank asked him if this other child asked him to draw the genitalia on the picture, he sheepishly said yes. Both my husband and I kissed and hugged him for being honest with us. We then tried to impart a little of a lifelong lesson in our son: We told him that there would be many times that other children, good friends or not, who would ask him to do things that were either inappropriate or wrong, especially if he felt it was wrong deep down inside of him. We implored that he think for a moment, if possible, (kids with Auditory Processing Disorder and ADD are neurologically wired to be impulsive), about what he was being asked to do and whether it was the right thing to do or not. Truthfully, my son has never drawn pictures of genitalia on anything he has ever created. In fact he usually draws scenery. In fact one of his paintings won an award! My therapist said we handled it beautifully and to just let the issue go from then on.
The following week, my husband went to pick up my son from the after school program and noticed that this same employee was having a serious conversation with the mother of the boy who made my son draw the inappropriate picture. My husband lingered because he wanted to see if this other boy’s mother would provide any further information about the incident that had occurred the week before. All this mother said was, “My son is in big, big trouble!!” That’s all we needed to hear. We now knew that the program employees knew that it wasn’t completely our son who was at fault. They now knew that this other boy does and says things that are just plain inappropriate in and of themselves.
My son was not punished for drawing what he did. We knew he was coerced. He would never have drawn anything like that on his own accord. But we do have consequences laid out for any future infractions that occur where we know he should have known better. And he is fully aware of this. But for goodness sake…would programs that work with a certain child population at least get a crash course on child psychology??? Sheesh!!