Dear Miss Patti,
My child keeps coming home and mentioning another child’s name all the time. “Johnny did this... Johnny’s not listening to teachers... Johnny pulled my hair today.” I don’t know quite what to say in these moments. Sometimes I want to ask to switch to a different day to avoid Johnny, but I know this probably isn’t the best solution either. Advice?
—What To Do About Johnny
Dear What To Do About Johnny,
This is called scapegoating and we see it everywhere!
One child’s name in particular is repeated many times during the day due to their individual needs. That name is the one every child then learns. Ask many three and four-year-olds their friends' names and they just shrug their shoulders. But Johnny’s name they remember because it is a name said a lot. So when a child complains that someone pushed them and the parent asks who, the child might automatically say Johnny since it’s the one name they remember and it might not necessarily be Johnny. We had a case where a child was blaming another child for something that happened and that child wasn’t even there that day!
So when your child comes home playing the Let’s Talk About How Difficult This Johnny Is game, try and advocate for Johnny. “It sounds like Johnny is still learning the routines of your school. Let’s just remember to always be kind.” Simple and straightforward. In other words, “You worry about you and let the teachers worry about Johnny.”
Because we also don’t want the opposite to happen. If you encourage your child to be a support for Johnny, poor Johnny might then have a bunch of little bosses reminding him all day long what he’s supposed to be doing (or not doing).
If you’re Johnny’s family/educator, and you know he’s struggling and getting blamed for things, help give him value in the class. Make a batch of muffins together to give to his friends or as an educator find the things that Johnny’s good at and set him up as a resource for others. When a child asks you to open a cheese string for example, direct them to Johnny. “Can you ask Johnny to do that for you, he’s super good at that.”
Teaching empathy and perspective taking are important skills for all of us. You’re right, switching classes won’t help… there is always going to be a Johnny. Teaching children to advocate for others, having empathy and seeing things from others point of view will help them with all the Johnnys your child will encounter over the years.
Send your questions to Miss Patti at firstname.lastname@example.org