Protecting your child from bad guys: when the ‘bad guy’ is someone you trusted

We had an incident recently with Fred’s after school
teacher. The incident started with an accident (in which Fred was the victim) and
ended with the teacher’s firing.

The story is involved and I’ll keep it short: the accident was caused by the teacher; I casually brought the accident to the teacher’s attention in a private conversation and in a “no biggie but FYI” kind of way; the teacher became belligerent and defensive, denying the whole incident; the accident reflected larger classroom management
incompetence; we believed in our son; we spoke up; our complaint was not the
first.

Speaking to the head of the program was one of the
most empowering things I have done as a parent. We were fortunate in that we
were listened to and fully supported. When we first spoke with the director, we
were immediately offered the choice to switch Fred into another class. Fred is
very adaptable, and took the changes in the coming few weeks in stride.
However, he was curious: “Why am I switching teachers?” “Where do I go
tomorrow?” “Where did Ms. ___ go? Is she coming back?”

I somehow managed to evade his questions by
responding vaguely, something I could get away with perhaps because the issue
involved someone he had not been that happy with anyway. I was vague because,
regardless of his or our feelings toward the teacher, I believed that I should
not reveal the negative side of the important adults in his life.

But ultimately it would not be up to me. During a
car ride with Fred’s best friend Jack and his mother, I overheard the two boys
talking about the “incident.” Jack’s mother asked me what was going on, and I
told her the whole story. I’d lowered my voice when I told her how the teacher
vehemently denied everything, and that is when Fred’s 7 year-old voice pierced through
our whispering like a bomb: “She is a BIG FAT LIAR! She did it and EVERYONE
knows it! EVERYONE heard me crying! She is a STUPID LIAR!” My throat tightened
and we stopped talking. Initially it was my dismay that he had heard me, as well
as a knee-jerk reaction to hearing him speak disrespectfully of a teacher. But
soon I realized I was reacting to something else. While I had never doubted
Fred’s version of the story, his raw fury simply made the truth all that much
clearer to me.

“Well, she is not there anymore,” was all I decided to
say, to let him know that he had been heard, that he had been vindicated.

Throughout this incident I’ve tried to walk a fine
line between maintaining respect for this teacher and letting Fred know that we’d
gone to bat for him. But how do you tell a child you’ve beaten the bad guy
while maintaining his illusion that there is no bad guy? Central to this
experience is the lesson that we want to teach Fred about self-respect: no
one – no child and certainly no adult – should lie to you. And if you feel
something wrong has been done, you need to speak up. Good people
will listen. Good people will support you. Things will work out, and if they
don’t, at least you will know that you have done all you could.

At the same time, how real does the world need to be
for a 7 year old? What does it do to his concept of trust if he knows that the
most important adults in his life can behave so badly?

I’m just beginning to look for answers. At the very least, I want Fred to know that for
every bad adult that’s out there, he’s got an army of good ones on his side.