For the past few years I’ve worked at an after-school program for elementary-school-aged kids. For the most part, the kids are very sweet and well-behaved but of course there are always a few exceptions! Luckily, we have a decent system for keeping the kids under control, but nevertheless there are still some issues that need to be worked out. One activity that we haven’t yet found a perfect system for is snack time. Snack time usually consists of two to four counselors handing out food from behind a table while the kids wait in line (usually with a few more counselors for “crowd control”). We take care to make sure every kid gets the same amount of food, and we don’t hand out seconds until everyone has been served “firsts”.
If you’ve ever been in charge of a group of children you know that they’re usually much harder to control when they’re hungry, so the last few minutes before snack are often the toughest of the day! Every day we always end up with at least a few kids trying to cut in line, saying they haven’t been served yet when they have, demanding seconds before everyone has been served, etc. As a result, we try to remember which kids have already been served so we know when someone isn’t telling the truth. (Of course there are so many kids that we can’t always keep track, but like I said it’s not a perfect system!) Once a kid gets called out for lying they usually back down pretty easily.
One day last summer I was working the snack table. During the summers we open in the morning instead of after school, so I was already tired from the extra hours and my patience was running a bit thin to begin with. We also get different kids from week to week during our summer program (many of whom do not come to our after-school center during the year) and my shift had started after we’d done the “getting to know you” games, so I was struggling a bit to learn everyone’s name. I served most of the kids without incident until I got to a kid named “Mikey”. Though it was only Mikey’s first day at the program, I suspected he was a troublemaker because I’d had to discipline him that morning for taking a toy from another child. Sure enough, he told me he hadn’t been served snack when I was certain he had. Like I usually do in this situation, I said, “Nice try, but I remember giving you snack just a few minutes ago! Go sit down and you can have seconds once everyone’s been served.” But he kept protesting, saying, “No, I haven’t gotten any yet! I’ve been in line this whole time!” We went back and forth like that for a little while. I was getting pretty annoyed—hadn’t this kid’s parents taught him any manners? Not only was he lying in order to get his way, he was also holding up the line. Finally, I said to him, “You have two options: you may go sit at the table with the other kids and wait for seconds, or you may stand here and argue with me and not get any seconds at all. Your choice.” He still kept trying to argue with me, and by now was in the early stages of a full-on tantrum. I couldn’t believe it…how could this kid be so greedy? Even for an eight-year-old this seemed like a pretty minor thing to throw a fit (not to mention lie) about.
Just then, I noticed one of my fellow counselors trying to get my attention. I sort of brushed her off. Finally, she came up to me and whispered, “Mikey hasn’t gotten snack yet. You gave snack to his twin brother earlier.” Needless to say, I apologized to Mikey, gave him an extra-large serving, and made sure to remember what color shirt he and his twin were each wearing so I could tell them apart in the future. To make matters worse, it turned out that we had TWO sets of identical twins that week, and I made the same mistake at afternoon snack later that day. 0325-14