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My well behaved, bright, popular, naive 9 year old son brought a plastic toy revolver (the kind with the bright orange barrel to indicate that it's a toy) to school yesterday. He snuck it into his back pack because he wanted to show the girl across the street while they rode the bus to school. He had to sneak it because he knows that toys are not allowed at school. I know he knows this because he was scolded two days before when I found toys in his bag, which I confiscated.

Obviously, he got caught with it. Another child saw him showing some friends and told their classroom teacher about it once they got to class. This child is probably the only one in my sons class that doesn't get along with my boy. I am not excusing my son's behavior at all, but the dynamic between these two boys is important to this situation.
My son has trouble understanding that he should stay away from this boy. He is, in my opinion, a liar, a back-stabber, and an emotional bully. My boy wants everyone to be friends, and so he continues to hang around this kid despite my warnings and having experienced multiple betrayals. Until now. He is, for the fist time, very angry at one of his 'friends' and is struggling with it. Per school regulation, my son was suspended for the rest of the school day, the "weapon" was confiscated, and he was interviewed by the principal, school psychologist, and a police officer. The school chose not to press charges, thankfully. His intentions were not even remotely malicious, so they were lenient. I am struggling with how to punish him appropriately for this. On one hand, his principal told him today when we met for his reinstatement that "it's over now, and we 're moving on. Let's put this behind us now and learn from our mistakes" and so perhaps I should echo the tone and be forgiving and lenient, chalking this up to at worst a big mistake? On the other hand, my son is not exhibiting any real signs of remorse or appreciation for the seriousness of bringing a weapon to school (even though it's fake) and being suspended, or the sneakiness, or the fact that he deliberately disobeyed me and that makes me think I should come down pretty hard on him to drive the point home. After all, isn't his lack of awareness (or respect for) the rules the reason we are in this mess?
I have told him that he is to be on his best behavior for now, and I've removed his electronic privileges while we think what his punishment should be. He's already shocked that there could be any more punishment besides losing the iPad and the 'ordeal' (his words!) at school. This is more evidence that he doesn't get it. Here's where the other kid comes in: when I can get him to talk about this, without rolling his eyes or making jokes, his biggest problem with all of this is that it's "not even my fault!" Since the other kid told on him, after he touched the toy gun and praised my son for being so "bad ass" for bringing it in and then pretended to be an innocent, frightened witness, my son completely, thoroughly, blames this other kid. I secretly partially blame him too; for being such a two face I really can't stand him, but I bury it and correct my son; it's my sons fault alone that he is in trouble because when you do bad things you get caught and you get punished. He won't stop obsessing about the "tattle-tail" and I really think it's blocking him from seeing the truth here. I suspect he's blinded by the anger and hurt he feels by this kid's betrayal (although they never had any trust, my son falsely believed it was there.) How can I help him to: 1) accept full responsibility for his actions. 2) nip the "blame game" in the bud. 3) stay away from this other kid for good.
4) punish him with the right balance of harshness for the seriousness of the offense and leniency for the lack of ill intent.

Everyone is on eggshells here at my house, any advice would be appreciated.

By the way, this is the ONLY toy weapon we've ever had, it was purchased by my mother, and it is long gone. We are not that sort of family where violence of any kind is tolerated, witnessed, or promoted. We don't even have local network television in the house, or violent video games. He wanted the cap gun because he likes the smell of the caps. Honestly. He's that naive to guns and what they mean. We've got real guns in the house, he knows this, and has no interest in them whatsoever. This event really came out of the blue. It is very unsettling however.

UPDATE We ended up taking a middle ground approach in regards to punishment. Our first instinct, before I even put this question out for answers, was to remove the biggest distraction/infatuation of the moment so that he would be forced to focus on this. Minecraft went bye-bye. I did take DanBeale's advice though, and he got the iPad back almost immediately (sans Minecraft of course). We allowed him to reinstall the game after he wrote 2 letters of apology and thanks to his teacher for vouching for him and also for claiming he had a "dentist appointment" in an effort to shut down the rumor mill, and also to the principal for leniency. He also had to purchase the game with his own money this time.
After that, we let the issue of the gun rest (at home) but I did request the school psychologist speak to him about WHY everyone freaked out about the gun. I went this route because my husband kept veering towards making jokes about all this and I just wasn't confident the message would be delivered in such a way so that it would hit home. That's an issue for another forum I suppose. My son has finally accepted that this other boy is not trustworthy, and is therefore not a good friend. I think he finally understands that relationships come in many shades of gray, not just super BFF's forever on one side and sworn enemies on the other. He has decided he'll still be nice to the boy, but won't purposely sit next to him at lunch- a shade of grey closer to the enemy end of the spectrum in 9 year old social circles from what I can tell. I never realized how difficult it is to explain trust and how important it is to a child until now. I think he gets it, but only time will tell. Thanks for the great answers.

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You cannot pin this on the other kid, no matter what the history. We teach kids in my school that there are certain things they simply must tell an adult. Anything that might hurt another child, any child who might hurt himself, any child with drugs or a weapon, these have to be reported for the good of everyone. If it is the kid you suspect, he was probably following directions. –  Marc Mar 9 at 3:44
    
@marc I know that, and I explained that to my son- that no matter what this kid's motivation was, he did the right thing, period. We read the hand book to prove it to him. –  Jax Mar 9 at 11:52
    
One reason many schools are so harsh is because weapons breed weapons. Often the first kid to bring one feels threatened, so he wants to scare off the bullies. When he does, other kids feel unsafe because of his weapon, and they bring weapons, and now everyone is in far more danger than the first kid ever was. We are justifiably gun-shy, so we stomp hard on anything leaning that way, and often the kid who gets stomped on is not usually a problem, but a victim of bullying. We do what we can to help when we find out about it, but really, there is nothing else we can do in the moment. –  Marc Mar 9 at 13:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

1) the other kid.

Talk to your son. Make sure you listen to what he says, and acknowledge it. His feelings of hurt ad anger and confusion are real. The aim here is to allow tour son to come to the realisation that he doesn't want to spend time with this other boy because the other boy causes upset.

2) removing an iPad for 25 minutes is just as effective as removing it for a week. Seriously, if it's done carefully the child realises the mistake and that there are consequences.

3) the gun.

Talk to him about the gun. Why does he think the police were called? Why does he think he had to see a counsellor? Can he see a difference in the level of reaction between this situation - taking a gun to school - and the last situation -taking general toys to school-? Each time he mentions the other child just calmly state "we are talking about what you did now. We are not talking about things that other people did. We can talk about that later (and remember we talked about him earlier) but now we are talking about what you did."

The aim here is for him to realise that some rules are more serious than others, and that things involving violence to other people are really serious. I'm not sure if wording like "sometimes bad guys have guns, and so when you take a toy gun to school people have to make sure that you're not a bad guy." Is acceptable to you?

4) punishment.

I think punishment now is counter productive. He's had a range of measures taken against him. I'd concentrate on getting him to understand what was wrong; and on getting reassurance that he's not going to do similar; and then giving clear firm warnings about future behaviour. "Taking toys to school is against the rules. You will be punished with X if you do it again."

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  • Punishment

I agree with the school that he has had enough punishment and it should be time to move on at least in regard to punishing consequences - If he describes his experience with this at the school as an "ordeal" then, the interviews with the police, psychologist etc. were dramatic and disturbing to him and he has definitely got the message that the adults were upset by it.

  • Learning from the Mistake

I agree with you that to truly "learn from his mistake" he cannot remain naive about why it was such a big deal either. I think DanBeale's answer contains very good advice and offers a great place to start, but, I'd consider taking it one step further if it seems your son still isn't getting it.

I know he is nine, and that may make you reluctant to discuss school shootings etc. with him, but perhaps this is the best time to bring up some of the history about why schools are so stringent about guns (even toy ones) at schools. There are ways to go about introducing this bit of history to induce empathy rather than fear, but you will need to be careful as it is a fine line. Here are some pieces to the equation you could consider:

  • Online Resources Regarding Talking to Your Kids About School Violence

These are larggely about discussing things with kids that have learned about a shooting that was currently in the news, but I think the information is still important in your considerations. You'll want to focus on what is being done to prevent such a thing happening again (and rules about even toy weapons at school are a part of that) These should be stories he learns about people overcoming a tragedy, moving on and learning about how to do better in the future - an attitude he'll need to have about his own mistake too.

The New York Times

Parents Magazine

  • Visual Media

Visual media requires a special level of caution. It may be more helpful for you to watch some of this so you are well informed and not show it to him. OR just pick out a choice clip or two to show. Visual media can provide images that will then be burned into a person's brain for years and you want to avoid doing this to your son. I don't know that showing him this kind of media will be necessary, but I simply offer it here for your consideration:

After the Newtown incident, PBS made sure to cover the topic and although, nine is not the target audience here, You may find something from PBS helpful.

I have not seen any of the documentaries listed on Screen Junkies about Columbine and highly doubt any of them are specifically designed with a 9-year-old in mind, but perhaps some of the info here might be helpful.

A Columbine site, also lists movies, documentaries and plays inspired by various school shootings. Again, I have not seen any of them and doubt if watching in a complete way is the right way to go, I do recommend previewing some of the ones that look like the most likely candidates for good info for your son and picking some choice bits that are informative without being graphic, or scary. April Showers looks like it might have some potential.

Overall, I don't think you Want to delve into the history here too much, but reading a couple of clippings from the news at the time of each of these shootings together and talking about how the school's response to his toy is because of this history and a big part of why it was taken so seriously will be a good way to help him answer the question, "Why was the response to the toy gun different from the response to just toys?" if you find him unable to answer it satisfactorily otherwise.

The Other Boy and Responsibility You say you "secretly partially blame" the other kid too - but I didn't need that statement to know you felt that way because of some of the other things you offer in the question earlier on. Your own "secret" here may not be as secret as you think, and may be feeding your son's own blockage.

Assuming there is evidence and you can be sure this other kid, is in fact, the one that "tattled" - his involvement, as you know is irrelevant other than the way the blame game is preventing your son from taking responsibility for his own actions that got him here.

I highly recommend taking DanBeale's Tact here too. but first, you need to address your own feelings on the matter. Obviously, this other kid has some issues he is going to need to address at some point in his life in order to be a healthy, happy, connected to others adult. Listening to your son about his feelings on the matter is a great idea, but accidentally doing anything to amp up his anger at this other boy (like pushing an agenda that requires him to stay away from the other boy) will only help him to continue to blame the other boy and be blind to his own responsibilities here.

In fact, if there isn't direct evidence that it was the other boy, an honest, "I think it was probably (other boy's name) that tattled on you too. We really don't know that for sure though. It is possible it was even one of the other kids on the bus that isn't in your class and doesn't know you. Let's just pretend it wasn't (other boy's name) for a moment. Can you think of reasons why some one might have told that weren't just about being mean to you?" would be helpful.

Taking a tact such as this helps to build empathy for those who could have been around him who may have not even understood the toy gun, or who might be scared - not because they existed in this instance, but because it will help your son to know they could have existed and understand why taking a toy gun to school isn't a great idea in the first place. It might be good for him to know there are times when telling an adult is about helping and not about hurting.

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Thank you for these excellent clarifications and extensions and additional points! –  DanBeale Mar 8 at 18:07
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+1 for suggesting helping him understand about real guns in schools. Schools overreact to an absurd level about toy guns, and I think that to a nine-year-old that is obvious. He needs to understand why the reaction exists, and why it may not seem absurd to everyone. Also that regardless of how he feels about the rule, knowing about school shootings will help him understand why it is a very strict rule that will be enforced. –  philosodad Sep 27 at 21:46

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