Red Cards: Behavior Lessons from Kindergarten

During our typical evening game of high-low-day – a dinner time conversation in which each of us shares the best and worst thing that happened, my kindergartener stated that her “low” point was “getting in trouble”. She didn’t want to give up the details, so I did not push – assuming that the teacher would inform me if the offense was sufficiently egregious. She then made clear that her actions did not result in a red card, or even a yellow or orange card. The card system is sort of a kindergarten meets Homeland Security terror identification system for classifying behavior. Green cards are indicative of consistently good behavior throughout the day, and these can even be enhanced with stickers if the child engaged in notably prosocial or proactive behavior such as a kindness toward a classmate. Yellow and orange cards are the misdemeanors and dispatched when a significant behavioral violation is observed – such violations are met with painful consequences such as the loss of 5 minutes of recess or time out. The red card, however, is the felonious assault of kindergarten, and issued in the face of major violations such as unwanted or violent physical contact or inappropriate verbalizations toward classmates or teachers. The Red Card is enforced with the capital punishment of the kindergarten universe – a call to the parents. Even as my daughter explains that punishment to me, her eyes fill with terror at the prospect. This system maintains the harmonious society of kindergarten, and the cards are publicly displayed – resulting in a sort of constant rogue’s gallery for all to see. The parents whose children’s green cards are covered with stickers can smugly strut about, assured of their child’s Nobel positioning in the kindergarten hierarchy. Those of us in possession of the sweet yet sociopathic kiddies take solace in yellow and hope that the red cards are not on open display during open house night.
Given that good behavior went the way of vinyl for most adults – perhaps the red card system can be considered for workplaces and other social venues. Imagine if adults’ rude verbalizations, tirades at hotel clerks, and shoving matches were issued orange and red cards and enforced with the grown-up equivalents of time outs, loss of recess and (gulp) calls to parents. Unless we are engaged in frankly criminal acts and can rely on law enforcement to clean up the mess, the code of conduct for most adults is set to a far lower standard than it is for these card fearing/coveting children. There is insufficient public approbation for bad adult behavior, and in fact in this age of reality television – there is no quicker way to fame and riches than inappropriate public behavior (red cards become the Warholian ticket to fame in the current media environment, and green cards are for suckers who pay taxes and floss regularly).
What’s a kid to do? Children do what we do, not what we say. Schools are committed to teaching respect and compassion. Hackneyed exercises and poetry extolling the virtues of kindness are lovely and necessary, but they aren’t enough. At an amusement park recently, my children were witness to a woman in line in a candy shop calling her husband a “selfish bastard” and an “idiot” for suggesting that she move to a queue that ended up moving more slowly. The poor man received his browbeating with a Zen-like countenance, but my kids were shocked by the woman’s public virulence toward her spouse, a scene that was openly played in front of their children. Perhaps a red card, loss of recess, and a call to mom and dad would have set her straight.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 at 10:30 am and is filed under Media and Mental Health, Parenting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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