Most kids come to the shelter dazed, sad, unsure of the future. A few come with a chip on their shoulder or ready laughter that mocks or interrupts.These kids are in the minority and usually older elementary age boys. Under their surface behavior may lie tremendous anger, self-hatred, or fear which may erupt when they're comfortable with the group process.
"JoJo" is a well-spoken, tall boy who is friendly and co-operative at supper. He's nice to the children nearby, though he demands much attention with rapid, friendly conversation. Group revealed a very different child. The rule is, everyone must listen to the child telling a "story," and then me re-telling that story.
Unfortunately, JoJo had no use for rules. He corrected or added to the storyteller's words, despite my reminding him of the rules. I moved his chair out of the group circle, telling him I would give him a check for every interruption from then on, and that three checks meant he would get 5 minutes Time Out while the others kids played. He kept talking, moved his chair back into the circle and argued when I directed him back to his former spot. He quickly earned three checks.
The other kids began to giggle, talk, and react to my unusually frequent limit-setting. His disobedience and my stern response no doubt made them nervous. "That's three," I said quietly when JoJo kept talking. "You will sit for 5 minutes while others play." He shrugged, laughed, and insulted the storyteller who had a poor command of English.
"And," I added. "You're still interrupting, so that's one check on 5 more minutes of Time Out."
He stopped misbehaving. When it was my turn to re-tell the story, I let him return to the group. I told him he'd earned his way back, but the rules hadn't changed. No prob. From then on, he was a model citizen. He did his 5 minutes Time Out without argument and didn't earn 5 more. I acknowledged that achievement briefly, but did not overly praise. He should do what he is told.
Kids like JoJo who reside in a domestic violence shelter (and many others who don't), may not be used to a strong woman in their home. I must earn their respect. Meanwhile, their testing may escalate very fast as they test me to see if I will yell, hit, threaten something dire, etc.
Some shelter moms who battle this lack of respect at home thanks to the batterer, immediately become strong parents at the shelter. Others continue to accept their children's demands, refusals, and arguing until the other mothers teach them they deserve better.
I think JoJo did learn something from me. He found out violence does not have to be part of an adult's repertoire, no matter how annoying a child is.
Will he make this knowledge part of his future relationships? I sure hope so.