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Parenting Spike:  The seriously difficult child  – School

by Andrew D. Gibson, Ph.D



Spike and school don’t mix. Spike is a ten year old, out control kid who would just as soon burn down the place as sit on one of its seats. Why should that be? Well, he has pretty much destroyed home life and has decided to move on. The next logical place to move is the school. Miserably unhappy kids generalize their misery from one place to the next. First it is home, then Sunday school, then public school, then the neighborhood, then the cops and then the judge. This process takes time. If it can be nipped at the bud of home, that’s great. But nipping often doesn’t happen. Spike’s parents are aware that something is wrong. They’ve known it for a while. They drag Spike (to the extent that he will allow anyone to drag him anywhere) from service to service in hopes of finding the connection that will fix him. He is a little beast but for probably very good reason. We don’t know the reason and Spike doesn’t either, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If Spike will ever agree to go to a therapist, they may be able to figure it out.

Schools, for parents like Spike’s, are often unfriendly places. His parents get calls at work from the principals office saying, “ Come get your Kid. He’s fighting again.” So one of them slinks out of work muttering something about having to pick up their son. They hope everyone in the office will just think the boy broke a leg on the playground; not that he broke a chair over someone’s head which is closer to the truth. To be Spike’s parents is to be embarrassed.

They get called to the school for meetings. It makes them feel two inches tall. None of the meetings are productive. None of them make things better for Spike. It is just meeting after meeting. The school loves meetings. Everyone is very serious. Everyone says, in one way or another, “ Put boundaries around that kid!” as if the school had the remotest idea how to do it or as if Spike’s folks had never thought of it themselves. “Did you ever think of a reward system?” one of them says. They’d like to reply, “What? Are you nuts?” But they don’t. None of them ever had a kid like Spike so they haven’t a clue that reward systems do not work with kids like him. That does not stop them from acting vaguely superior. These otherwise sophisticated parents shrink a bit in their seats. It makes them mad. Spikes’ parents are educated, professional people who are used to respect and authority. Not here. They are obliged to listen to complaint at unproductive meeting after unproductive meeting from people who want them to do something they can’t do themselves; put boundaries around that kid.

The meeting room is an inquisition site; they are always outnumbered: there is the principal, the teacher, the counselor, the school psychologist, the special ed teacher, the aide, the janitor and the bus driver, somebodies girl friend and God knows, who else. On the other side, is just the two of them. They’ve all got complaints but none has a sensible idea. Oh, they fiddle with this part and that part of his school day, but everyone knows its nonsense. There is no way Spike’s parents will prevail in any conversation about him here. They just have to sit and take it. They come out discouraged. They always come out discouraged. Isn’t the school supposed to understand kids like Spike? Surely he can’t be the first one they’ve ever had. Did they do as badly with the others, too? But it doesn’t much matter if they did or didn’t. These folks still have Spike to come home to and all the frustration and disappointment of not knowing what to do there, either.


About The Author


Dr. Andrew Gibson was born in Detroit at the close of WWII. He grew up in the midst of farming country in central Michigan. Both parents were teachers. He keeps a picture of his childhood companion, Wags, to this day (you had to see the tail to appreciate the name). After discharge from the Navy after the Viet Name war, he graduated with a BA and MA from San Diego State University and earned his Ph. D from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Portland State University, n Portland Oregon, at the University of Maine, Presque Isle and at SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Eastern Connecticut, with his wife of 41 years, where he conducts a private practice in parenting seriously difficult children. His book “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child’ is the first of a series examining seriously difficult children at various age and emotional disturbance levels. He invites you to find him on the web at

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