We were sitting around the dinner table, having a fairly normal family conversation- me “reminding” my children to eat their veggies, my husband trying to tell me about his day in between- when he switched topics on me rather suddenly.
“Taz had a rough day at preschool, didn’t you, buddy? We need to tell Mommy what happened.”
And I expected to hear about a potty accident, cutting a friend in line, maybe pushing a friend on the playground- typical preschool transgressions. Nope.
“I can’t go to preschool if I can not follow what teachers say,” my little guy said with his eyes on the floor.
“I got a call at the office. They told me to come pick him up because he wasn’t listening,” my husband clarified.
I was stunned.
My heart dropped into my stomach.
“Wait, what?” I asked, “What on earth happened that he was sent home?”
“Apparently he hit a teacher and was spitting, and they agreed that he couldn’t stay if he wouldn’t behave.”
First of all, as a teacher, let me say right up front that I completely agree that the behavior was unacceptable. Spitting and hitting are not OK, ever, and need to be dealt with. Got that, mkay?
Secondly, HE’S 3! So, he shouldn’t be hitting, but come ON. Suspend my kid for undesirable, but entirely normal boundary pushing 3 year old behavior?
I dug a little deeper later on after Taz was in bed. It seems that he had been a total pill all day for teachers- not listening, not willing to be redirected, running away and laughing when asked to transition to new activities, laughing when consequences were named. By the time they called my husband, they were just straight up done.
Also, the laughing thing. Ugh. It’s a relatively new thing for us, and it’s totally infuriating. It’s pretty much impossible to redirect him when he gets wound up like that, but I have learned a trick that seems to keep it at bay…. don’t let him get to that point. Something triggered the obstinate behavior. Some warning was going on that he was getting out of hand, and there is a window- sometimes a brief one, but always a window- to catch him before he’s too far gone. I’ve found that the times he gets that way with me are when he’s 1) hungry 2) tired 3) in need of attention.
1) Acknowledge the feelings, “Taz I can see you are making some choices that make me sad. It seems like you are feeling____”
2) Offer alternatives: “I think you need help. Can I give you a hug/ snack/ different activity?”
3) Name natural consequences, “If you choose not to listen, you can’t join your friends for ____. It would make me sad to see you left out of something fun.”
4) Just keep on talking and talking until you talk him out of the funk, “Oh my goodness we have the most fun day planned. I woke up this morning and said to myself, ‘You know what I’ll bet Taz would like today? Playing with cars! He LOVES cars! Don’t you love cars?’ ” Etc. Keep going until he’s fully engaged in conversation with you and ready to be directed.
My husband said he took Taz back to work with him and had a man to man talk in his office about his behavior. The message had sunk in deep that preschool was not an option if he was going to be so rude. After he was settled, he actually fell asleep under a desk. My hubby said it was pretty obvious that he was exhausted.
I’ve been at the end of my rope both as a teacher and a mom. I know that I’ve got a seriously high energy, strong willed first born. I know he can be difficult sometimes. But, to me, the consequence was completely inappropriate. He was hitting and spitting, but he IS only 3, so the damage he was causing was not severe. He was not placing anyone in danger- he was being a defiant little kid. He needs to know that he HAS to respect the authority of his teachers, and going home is not on the table as an option.
As a mom, I need to know that the people I entrust my child to during the day can handle him on his good days and his bad ones. Tall order? You bet. But I know what I’m asking- I have several hundred families ask the same of me every day in my job.
Something I’ve learned in handling many different “difficult” kids across a very wide age spectrum is that misbehavior is always a cry for help. I’ve learned to switch it all in my head from “She’s a bad kid,” to, “She really needs some extra help today. What can I do to make her feel safe and ready to learn?” I’m not perfect, I’m not always successful, but I sure as hell try.
I’m grateful for a teacher’s schedule. It means that I can spend the next 8 weeks addressing the behaviors that need some aggressive one on one intervention. I’m grateful for the bonding time. I’m grateful for the chance to enjoy my kiddos all day, every day, all to myself.
But I also need to know that when it’s time for me to go face another school year, my bright, creative, exuberant, active boy is in strong, capable, loving hands. That ease lets me do the same for the parents of the children in my care.