Should you give trust ultimatums?

I did something today. Gave an ultimatum. And I don't know if it was the right choice. I need you guys to tell me if I messed up.

I've written about Drama King a few times recently:

Drama King has been somewhat....difficult this year; he's feeling pretty burnt out on school and he's not getting a lot of work done. He's supposed to stay after school to catch up on his work and it happens now and again, but not with any regularity.

Today was another day he was supposed to stay, and OH he did not want to. And I get that, I really do - it's been a long day, he's tired, who wants to do more work after? But he doesn't get it done in class and he doesn't get it done at home and I don't know what else to do.

So he was all whiny about staying. And I told him that it was his choice and he could do whatever he wanted, but I gave him the serious unhappy-with-your-choices face, and he was like, "See? Now you're all mad!"

And I did the whole teacher, "I'm not mad, but yeah, I'm disappointed in you," spiel, and we went round and round on the whole thing, and it ended with him PROMISING that he would get a piece of writing done. And he pinky promised, which is something he usually doesn't take lightly (as juvenile as I feel doing it, kids seem to respond to it and mean it). But at first I wouldn't do it, because I told him that I didn't believe him. I finally agreed, but I told him that this was it - that if he broke this promise, that the trust was broken forever.

At that he wavered. "Like really forever? Like you won't trust me again?"

"Probably not, no. You've said you were going to do things too many times and not followed through. I'm tired of it. I'm done."

He thought for a moment, and then he held his pinky out, and promised.

I'm not sure - should I have told him that? I THINK it was the right thing, I think he needs to know that promises aren't something you can make lightly, but.....I don't know, I guess I'm just sad because I don't think he's going to come through, and it's going to break my heart a little tomorrow.


(Image credit to KaylaDavis)


Ricochet said...

I had a similar discussion with a boy today - he wanted a pass to go to a different bathroom and I reminisced that the last time I did that he ended up in the gym.

Then he talked about a boy who stole and then (horrors) lied about his friends. And I repeated my story about the gym.

I told him it takes a while to create a new habit.

And cheating breads lying.

OKP said...

I think you did the right thing. Let me start there.

I just don't know how it's going to work on your end. How does he know what it means to not be trusted? What does that look like?

If the trust is gone, does that mean he can't come to your room? You stop riding him about his work, or requiring him to come in? You don't call him by his first name (professional distance)? You don't give him tasks? Or treats?

Does it mean more detentions, more often? Calls home?

If the loss of trust has a consequence for him, then maybe he can try to earn it back.

I still think you did the right thing.

TeachEnEspanol said...

Yes. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. People who make empty promises have gotten away with it without any real ramifications for a long time. There is nothing wrong with explaining that it is impossible to trust and believe in someone who constantly let you down. If nothing else, this is a very important life lesson about the kind of man he is going to become and it is a true test of how much he values the relationships that means something to him.

teachin' said...

Yeah, as soon as I read OKP's comment, I was like, "....oh. Right. What does that actually MEAN." So then I thought about it, because, yeah, forever, awfully long time, and what DOES it look like, and decided that it would mean that he was no longer allowed in my room for lunch, but would be able to earn the trust back if he got the work done.

Didn't end up being much of an issue, though, because he came in with the work. It wasn't done, but it was a lot closer, and it was good enough.

But that, I think, is why the ultimatum was the wrong choice - it didn't necessarily mean anything. It would have been better to be more concrete and have specific, measurable consequences, like not being able to come to my room, or like not being able to call me Mom, as with Honey.

So thank you guys for your input and thoughts - I'm glad I'm not the only one who's gone through similar things, and I really appreciate your insightful replies!

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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