It’s never too early to learn character

By Anita Doberman: Lifestyles Columnist

My daughter Luisa recently came home from kindergarten upset because she had been sent to the “time-out table” at lunch.

At Luisa’s school, three lunch ladies supervise the cafeteria and do their best to handle dozens of children who are supposed to eat quietly and act in a civilized manner. If children misbehave, they are sent to the infamous and feared time-out tables. Many of them handle their punishments well, some even attempt to grab their friends’ attention by yelling and throwing tiny pieces of food, but other little ones are mortified and cry for the entire lunch. I discovered my daughter is part of this latter group.

Up to this point, Luisa had never been punished by her teacher or a lunch lady. Every day, she proudly tells me she is on green, with the good kids, as opposed to yellow or, even worse, red with the “bad” crowd, and I thought she was upset since it was her first punishment.

But she insisted she was angry because the lunch lady sent her to time-out unjustly, thinking she was the one making noise when instead two children in front of her were yelling. I asked her if she was sure, and suggested that maybe she was talking loudly — we are Italian after all, and our speaking voices can be confused with loud yelling — but I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Just as we were talking about her meltdown, one of the mothers who volunteers in Luisa’s class called me to ask how Luisa was doing. She had been at lunch that day and corroborated Luisa’s story, adding that Luisa had been upset for more than an hour and a half after lunch, crying inconsolably. Luisa was right, she had been punished unfairly.

There was one of her first lessons that life is not fair.

I felt so bad for her and experienced one of those moments in which parents know they cannot protect their children. I told her I wished I could take away the unfairness of her day, but I couldn’t. I said I could help her become strong by facing these challenges, in school and outside because that’s how we “learn to forge our characters. How we react to bad things is what makes us stronger.” Of course I had to explain what character and forging meant several times, but she seemed to get the message. I even heard her telling her younger sisters to have “character” while brushing their teeth, it’s good for them.

By nighttime, I was still thinking about it while she seemed to have forgotten. When I put her to bed, she asked me, “Mommy, what do people become when they have a lot of character?”

“Parents, sweetie. And if they have a lot, a lot of character, they marry someone in the military.”