Posts Tagged ‘raising boys’

Just when you think it’s safe to go back to school

October 1, 2008

Boy’s week has started out rough. 

Sunday night he cried at bedtime because he’s afraid of the dark despite the landing strip night lights available throughout the room. 

Monday night he cried at bedtime because his tummy hurt and his feet hurt because he ate too much and he’s afraid of the dark.  He may have eaten too much as we’re celebrating Big Sister’s birthday and cake and ice-cream were eaten after dinner, so I assumed maybe that was the issue. 

Last night at bedtime (Tuesday, marking three nights in a row), he cried because his legs hurt and his arms hurt because he ate too much and he’s afraid of the dark.  He continued to cry when I told him to go potty one last time and nobody would turn on the light for him. 

“Come here,” I said. 

He walked over with his head down and tears running down his face (I swear if I could make myself cry as an actor like he can, I’d probably be doing some serious paid gigs). 

I reminded him he could turn the light on when he was three and now that he’s four, he ought to be able to turn the light on by himself. 

While he was in the bathroom my wife told me he’d exited the bus that afternoon crying.  Someone “grabbed and twisted” his ear.  The bus driver knew the perpetrator and responded, and an apology was given from the offender, but I’m worried about the excessive crying and its root (not that little boys shouldn’t cry, but the more a little boy cries the bigger a target he paints on himself), and I’m worried about returning to bullying in preschool.  Is the crying symptomatic of not wanting to go to bed because waking up represents going back to school where we’re not having as much fun as we thought we would? 

Is it simply symptomatic of not wanting to go to bed and a fear of missing out on all the fun mom and dad might be having without him?  

Is he just overtired as he falls asleep within seconds of opening the bedtime book?   

So I have some reading to do: 

For empathy:  “Another Preschool Bully” is an Indianapolis’ mom’s reaction and reader commentary.    And for possible exploration (I haven’t had a chance to explore the whole yet:  the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute’s website looks like it has some resources. 

Luckily, we are in a school now that is both accredited and within the public system, so the network of assistance we have available is vast as evidenced by the bus driver’s immediate handling of the situation.  I just want to find out more.

Bedtime Story

February 21, 2008

Sunday night, I decided to break out Just a Bully by Gina and Mercer Mayer for bedtime. I wanted to gauge the response from Boy. I hoped to mine his still developing brain for more specific information about his experiences in preschool. I’ve had better ideas.

When the bigger kid (crocodile) picks on Little Critter’s little sister, I stopped reading and asked, “Does anybody at school pick on other kids?”

“Yeah.”

“What happens?”

“That crocodile bein’ mean.”

“Yeah, that crocodile’s not very nice, but let’s see what happens.”

When we got to the sequence where Little Critter is bothered on four distinct occasions by the crocodile, I stopped again and asked, “That crocodile isn’t very nice, what should Little Critter do?”

“That crocodile bein’ mean.”

“Is anybody mean to you at school?”

“O – - – .”

“What does he do?”

Pointing to his forearm, Boy says, “He bite me on the armpit — like this.”

On the very next page, Little Critter tells the teacher about his bully. I said, “That’s good to tell the teacher when somebody’s bothering you. Do you know who else you can tell?”

“Um.”

Big sister chimed in: “You can tell Mommy and Daddy.”

Unfortunately, Little Critter doesn’t tell his Mom. In fact, Little Critter suspects Mom knows he’s pretending to be sick, “but she let me stay home anyway.”

Little Critter’s little sister advises her brother to give the bully a punch. Having had his project destroyed by the bully, the bully warns Little Critter he’ll get him later. And at the end of the day, Little Critter and his bully fight in front of the school as the buses are loading.

In 1999, at the advent of zero tolerance policies toward violence in schools, Just a Bully has a faculty member break up the fight, scold both fighters, and the fighters are free to get on the same bus.

After Little Critter’s little sister humiliates the bully on the bus, Little Critter and his sister ride home together on the bus, and as I close the book, I see Boy make a fist with his right hand and start hitting his open left palm.

“What are you doing?”

“I punchin’ the crocodiles.”

“Why are you punchin’ the crocodiles?”

“Them pickin’ on him.”

“What are you going to do if someone picks on you at school?”

“I going to punch them.”

“Son, I don’t want you punching anybody. What else can you do?”

“I going to point at him and say ‘I don’t like that.’”

Well, that’s something.

Yesterday, my wife had a parent-teacher conference at Boy’s school. She met with his last teacher, as Boy’s only been in his new classroom for a month. The teacher asked how things are going for him now, and my wife said, “We ask him every day how school was, and he says, ‘Good O – - – wasn’t there.’”

The teacher said, “Yes, for some reason they just seemed to butt heads.”

They just seemed to butt heads.

What a fanciful world we try to live in sometimes. Maybe by imagining these children are merely butting heads, one can imagine there are no problems at home. If children are butting heads, they just have a personality conflict and there aren’t deeper issues that need to be resolved. Regardless, I’m happy we got Boy out of that classroom.

Yesterday, my wife sent me a link, and I’ve seen it in my research, but I don’t know why I’ve not referenced it before. Boys Town sponsors http://www.parenting.org. A search for bully provides a number of articles — updated since the new year: “How to help the victim.” “The Bully, The ‘Bullied’ and The Bystander.” And “How To Deal With a Bully.” Much of the advice is directed to teens as they have the communication skills necessary to be able to make clear the problem. So when bullying is happening in preschool, I think the onus is on the parents and the school. The specific article my wife sent was “Biting, Bullies and Other Bad Behavior at Preschool.” The most important advice is directed at the teachers: Children who are bullying others should be closely monitored.” I’m glad we moved Boy from that classroom, but are there other kids still suffering?

 

Universal Preschool

February 14, 2008

What did you learn in Kindergarten? 

If you’re like me, that was a long time ago.  There are moments frozen in my memory, but what’d I learn?  I don’t remember.  Of course back then, the idea of a full day of kindergarten was unheard of.

The state of Indiana – the state in which I teach — is working on requiring full day Kindergarten, and the state of Michigan – where I reside — requires all students to attend Kindergarten.  With such laws, do they require preschool?  Of course not.  Nevertheless, I’m torn about preschool. 

When I was growing up, preschool was called play school.  We probably worked on colors, and if Mom’s reading this, she can certainly correct me on what we did and didn’t do.  I vaguely remember taking little trips to the post office to see how things worked and to the fire department to check out the trucks, and there was always reading going on in our house.  But it seems to me that preschool’s a necessary element to a child’s readiness for Kindergarten these days, and Emily Guevera of the Beaumont Enterprise helps explain why that’s the case. 

Seems to me that if we’re going to require students to attend Kindergarten, and if we’re going to expect children to be able to sit through a full day of school who’ve never had a schooling experience, that these states need to invest in stronger preschool programs.  But I’m not really just talking to the states here.  Senator McCain, what’s your plan?  Senator Obama, what’s yours?  Governor Huckabee, how will you support preschool programs nationally?  Senator Clinton’s got the Head Start plan, but is she also prepared to support moms and dads who need childcare/workplace assistance in assuring their children can attend preschool?  In 2003, 1/3 of at risk children in the state of Michigan were not receiving the services they needed.  With all the talk of universal health care, perhaps we should consider universal preschool too. 

   

    

Rated E for Everyone

February 12, 2008

Not that I’ve been overwhelmed with comments to date, but of those received, folks have been supportive of the situation we face here at the homestead and in Boy’s school.  There have been questions about the staff at the school:  Where are they when all this is going on, for instance.  And while I’m not saying I’m not asking those same questions myself, I also come back to the other child’s parents. 

A while back, I indicated the director of the program alluded to an earlier conversation with O’s folks, in which video games played a role.  Now we don’t have a gaming system in our home, so I’m not familiar with titles or ratings, but that’s just a personal preference.  I’m not one to judge what you’ve got in your home and what your kids play.  We just don’t have it in our house because it’s one more distraction that would keep the kids (and me to be honest) from doing what needs to get done. 

I bring this up now though because my wife pointed out to me a blurb in our recent Parenting magazine dated March 2008:  “You may not be surprised to hear that exposure to violent media is linked to youth violence (as strongly as poverty, substance abuse, or abusive parents, a new study shows).  But researchers found that violent video games may have the biggest impact of all.” 

There’s that poverty correlation to violence again. 

Desensitization to violence is a step to becoming violent.  Does it lead to violence?  I’d argue not directly, but I would say it brings you closer.  If I wanted to know why my kid is biting and hitting another kid and saying, “No you shut up m—-r f—-r,” I’d evaluate what my child is exposed to. 

Are the candidates listening?

January 31, 2008

I am a dad.  I am a student.  I also teach high school.  As such, while I can imagine what it’s like to have three children five years of age and under to be vying for your attention, and I can imagine what it’s like to seek the attention of a teacher, and I can imagine what it’s like to monitor and administer to the needs of 32 adolescents, I cannot imagine the patience I would need to occupy, teach and protect five to ten little ones in a pre-school setting. 

With the problems my son has faced in pre-school with what I suspect to be bullying, and the possibility that his bully may be expelled, I’ve dedicated much of my coursework this semester to looking for solutions.  How can I help my son deal with aggressive peers so he does not become a bully.  So he does not perpetuate his own victimhood.  How can I help the bullies in pre-school get the education they need and deserve just as much as my son?  How can I help parents of both victim and bully to become greater advocates for their children? 

USA Today published an opinion yesterday, and I’ve written about this before, that a study was released earlier this year indicating pre-schools with too few teachers and too many students witness higher numbers of expulsion rates.  Is universal pre-school the answer?  Oklahoma seems to think so.  “Oklahoma offers ‘universal’ preschool which means that parents of all incomes have the option of sending their 4-year-olds to a state-sponsored preschool, transportation included. The state also insists that all preschool teachers hold bachelor’s degrees, and they are paid the same as regular school teachers.”  My home state has yet to make kindergarten mandatory, so we lag a bit behind such an offering. 

Oklahoma’s policy is not mandated, it is an option, and I think its being optional is a positive, but what I like best about Oklahoma’s policy is the bachelor’s degree requirement and pay.  I’m curious though as to class size, and the article indicates there are dangers in states seeking to replicate Oklahoma’s success, and Florida is one example of how not to build a universal preschool program:  “Florida rushed its preschool system out the door with seemingly little attention to setting standards. Florida cosmetologists face stiffer licensing than preschool teachers, and preschool operators there are free to pursue a choose-your-own-curriculum policy.”

With early childhood education funding part of the current presidential debate, like my colleague Jeanette’s concerns with health care, where would the money come from?  More importantly, will it be done right? 

Cause for Concern

January 30, 2008

What is the problem?

How do you gather evidence that a three and a half year old is being bullied at pre-school?  It’s not like his memories are clear.  Getting accurate information from one that age is difficult.  Any reference on any particular day could be a reference to an event that actually happened that day, or the kid could be reliving the same event over and over again in his mind.  He threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash on one day, and when you ask him six months later what he did today, he threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash.   

 

But after this past New Year’s, when Boy returned to school from winter break on a Monday just fine, yet on Tuesday was so upset his mom had to take him home, I started to get concerned again.  A three and a half year old should not be afraid to go to school, but was he afraid?  Maybe he just had a great time at home on vacation.  Heck, it’s not like I was chomping at the bit to get back to work.  When mom picked him up on Wednesday, she found out Boy had nearly pulled a bookcase over on top of himself (where was the teacher, and what was Boy doing yanking on a bookcase), and then on Thursday it all hit the wall.  The ouch report indicated the kids were walking down the hall, holding on to their loops and O___ bit Boy on the hand.  There were no toys involved, so it was not a sharing issue. Admittedly, Boy has the power to annoy, but the kid bit him hard enough for me to see it six hours later when I got home from work.

 

Some folks we spoke with said, “Get him outta there.”  But why should my kid be the one who has to leave?  I want him to be able to learn how to deal with these kinds of problems.  I want him to be able to assert himself.  I also don’t want him to bite, punch, kick or “hurt him’s bones.”  At the same time, no child should be afraid to go to school.  If at three a child no longer wants to go to school, that’s an ugly looking 15 years on the educational road ahead. 

 

Is there a solution?

The next day my wife talked to the director of the preschool center.  They offered to move Boy to another class away from Biter.  He was in the 3-4 group, and they could move him to the 2-3.  Well, that’s something, I thought.  The director also indicated she’d meet with the other child’s parents.  Again.  Last time it seems there was a discussion about violent video games. 

 

The father said to the director, “Oh, you’re one of those people.” 

 

My wife got the impression that they would probably expel the other child.  What do those 15 years on the educational road ahead look like for a kid who gets expelled from pre-school?

 

What are you prepared to do?

When m – - – - r f – - – - r is spewed from the mouth of a child in a 3-4 year old classroom, there’s a problem.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said those words, and I’ve said them in front of my kids, but not as a part of my everyday vocabulary.  We have no video games at home.  But is that the solution?  Yeah, there aren’t any video games, but the kids have way more time in front of the television than I did as a kid.  I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I admit I’m not a perfect parent, and I don’t want to tell another parent how to raise their kid, and I don’t think the schools, county, state or feds should raise their kid either, but when your kid bites my kid and there’s clearly a problem, I want you to be willing to find a solution beyond criticizing the director of the center for hating on you because your kid at three or four enjoys shoot ‘em up video games. 

 

Were I the parent of a biter, and evidently an habitual one, I know I’d want to find out what’s going on.  In fact, that’s what I’m trying to do, and I’m taking steps to make the situation a little better for my kid.  What are you doing? 

 

It’s not like there aren’t options, though in early education some of those options are limited.  Look at it this way, if the other kid is at preschool as long as my kid, there’s 2 and a half hours of contact time for the teacher to have with the kid.  That’s not a long time to observe what’s going on.  Plus, when you’re lead teacher for 3-4 year olds, how do you watch a single kid for suspected behavioral issues when you’ve got 5-10 other kids working with permanent colors, glue and simultaneously wetting their pants. 

 

The reason I ask is this: 

MSNBC did a story yesterday morning showing correlations between bullies, victims and ADHD.  As an adult who didn’t know anybody with ADHD growing up, but as a teacher after the diagnostic boom in the early 1990’s I’ve been suspect of some diagnoses in the past, but I must say it’s an issue that holds more water for me.   Regardless, early behavior problems need to be monitored by the school and the parents because the earlier you can catch a problem a kid’s dealing with, the earlier you can help that kid and maybe make her life a little easier. 

 

See, according to the article, kids with ADHD symptoms are “four times as likely as others to be bullies.”  But it gets worse.  “[C]hildren with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms, according to the report in the February issue of the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.”  These aren’t American kids they studied either.  The study was done in Sweden, and I’ve got a hunch the problem is bigger in America than in Sweden.   

 

What does the study mean?  There’re a couple possibilities:  The ADHD kid may just be a jerk, or “it might turn out that the attention problems they’re exhibiting could be related to the stress of being bullied.” 

 

Linda Carroll interviewed Harvard professor William Pollack for the story, and while he doesn’t necessarily contribute anything a rational adult couldn’t figure out for him or herself, he does point to the urgency of the problem.  First, you have a hard time learning when you’re afraid.  I tell you, after some creep spit on me in middle school it got real hard for a long time for me to want to go to school.  Second, Pollack reminds us that bullied kids often turn into bullies.   

 

So what do we do?  Medication for ADHD, the story reminds us, doesn’t treat aggression.  It helps a person focus, it doesn’t deal with depression or anger.   

 

What am I prepared to do?

More than anything, the story starts to look like every other piece of parenting advice out there.  You’ve got to look for signs.  You have to communicate with your kid (and at three that’s a tall order).  You’ve got to look to the school for help and advice when they let you know your child is a problem, and if they won’t help you, maybe you need to find a new setting for your child. 

 

Nature vs. Nurture

January 24, 2008

There are any number of topics I care about that are urgent for me, and which have a certain urgency for various communities.  I’ve become particularly passionate about politics for instance, and with the primaries spread from January until May, there are and will be plenty of issues to discuss both for my class, and for the benefit of discussion.  For one, my frustration as a resident of Michigan and its treatment by the national Democratic party because of the arrogance, ignorance or ineptitude of the state’s Democratic party.  How one of the most suffering states in the nation in regards to unemployment (and I could go on) that happens to be a swing state with a large number of juicy electoral college votes could have been ignored by the party and two of its candidates makes one wonder why the state should go “blue” in the November election. 

I am also a public school teacher, and increasingly over the years both in my occupation and in my daily life as a consumer, I have noticed a culture of entitlement that is disturbing at best and epidemic at worst. 

Perhaps because of the culture and my habit of overanalyzing everything, I feel threatened as a parent by this culture that seems to be out to get my children.  I’m not stupid; I know the culture of America is about creating little consumers, but there are other cultural concerns I have regarding how best to raise my children.  As mentioned above, I am also a teacher, and my classes have just finished Fahrenheit 451 and Frankenstein, and both texts explore the cultural issues that concern me and parenting, respectively. 

I have mostly settled on exploring bullies.  Dealing with bullies and what makes them are issues with roots in both the culture and parenting.  I am a father of three young children.  Two daughters and a son sandwiched in the middle.  The oldest started kindergarten this year, and on the school bus before winter holidays, an older student expressed disbelief in the man in red with the beard.  This is not quite the bullying I intend to explore, as the aforementioned issue is one that has to be dealt with eventually by any parent whose child experiences life outside the confines of the homestead.  Such a discussion gets into issues of faith and hope and love which are good discussions to have with a child at any age. 

The youngest just turned one, and the only bullying she’s experienced is her own low grunting growl she’s developed when someone removes a toy from her reach or somebody pays too much attention to Mommy at home. 

It’s the boy that I intend to discuss.  Now three and a half, I’m coming to realize he is at a key point in his life.  Not to say that the others aren’t and I’m not worried about them too, but as a former boy myself, there are experiences I had that I don’t want him to have to know as directly as I did.  I have lots of questions, and I don’t know that I will have answers, but I invite you to join the discussion as it progresses.

Researching “Boys will be boys”

January 23, 2008

As a graduate student in Liberal Studies, one of my tasks this semester is to blog about our coursework.  See my About page for more information. 

There will be weekly blog assignments that a public intellectual can use and cite (the last entry for one on storytelling is an important tool to the effective blogger), but from what I understand there will also be a longer series of blogs about a topic of my choosing that is of importance to a community.  The size of this community depends in part on you and how effectively I create tags and searches and links. 

Currently, I subscribe to Yahoo news feeds and Google news feeds and Google blog feeds and Technorati feeds on the following three tags:  preschool bullies, preschool expulsion and raising boys. 

Right now, the information coming in is thin.  Maybe I’m not searching right, maybe I’m too prejudicial about what kind of information I want and what kind of information I don’t want, maybe it’s just too early or maybe there aren’t many people talking about my concern.  I notice there are lots of moms dealing with this problem in forums, educators dealing with this problem in forums, and the media is starting to pay attention, but there aren’t many dads.  Where are you dads?  How are you raising your boys to be decent yet able to stand up for themselves and others?  How do you teach a three year old those values?  

Despite my data collection concerns however, in the local newspaper last week there was an article that caught my eye (“Preschool expulsions examined” by Lori Higgins for the Detroit Free Press), and in light of the problems my son has faced in preschool, I have decided dealing with preschool bullies is an issue of urgency and a discussion worth having.  If you have suggestions for me, I welcome your comments, and if you want to participate in the discussion, please join in.    


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