Posts Tagged ‘Raising children’

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.

Clarity and indecision

August 19, 2008

This event happened nearly three weeks ago, but it still haunts me.  The event haunts me and my immediate response haunts me because of what each represents.   

My parents live just north of Michigan City, Indiana in Long Beach.  I grew up and attended elementary school in Long Beach, and all the time I lived there — about 11 years – I never saw the kind of behavior I witnessed August 1st. 

My wife and I and our three children visited my parents for a final beach excursion before summer ended and I had to start teaching.  As big sister and I tested the shallows of the sandbar I saw a boy on the beach swing a paddle from the ground into the air and run to his friends shouting, “Did you see that?” 

Behind him I saw a flash of white.

“Did you see that?” he called again proudly.

The flash of white became a gull.  The upswing of the paddle was a return from a downward swing.  The boy had clobbered a seagull on the beach with his paddle.  The gull stood and stumbled and tested its wings.  No luck.  

I swam big sister back to her mother and asked if she saw what I’d witnessed.  The boy made similar inquiries among his peers as they made their way to a beach house. 

My wife had not seen the event, but she watched the wounded bird with me, as I scanned the other families on the shore, looking for another inkling that there was another witness.  As I agonized over what I was to do about this, my wife and I watched the bird hobble about the beach.  How strange that my decision making probably took longer than the boy who actually hit the gull.

The bird was not going to be flying anytime soon, and I appeared to be the only witness.  While gulls can be annoying, this one could no longer care for itself.  Escaping a predator would prove as difficult as foraging for food.

Was I to confront the boy?  Was I to ask for his guardians at the home?  Who was responsible for this boy?  Why did I feel so responsible for this gull?  What would I do if he actually killed it?  Would that be, somehow, better?  Should I call Animal Control?  The police?  Isn’t there a law? 

Two grown women came down to the beach from the same house and threw rocks into the lake as I imagine they contemplated what to do themselves.  They watched the bird, threw rocks, and talked.  I felt some relief to believe there was an admission of the crime in the house, but I wanted to know the punishment.  This bird was now tied to them.  They watched him hop on his one foot and flap his useless wings as they chatted with neighborhood friends.  Then two young boys on a walk decided to add injury to injury by throwing stones at the gull.  The women said not a word. 

I had enough and laid into the two boys who did not necessarily know they were throwing rocks at a wounded animal, but who ought not to throw rocks at animals, period.  All this time I felt I was watching the slow development of three sociopaths.

And all this time I was frozen with indecision.

And all this time my children were watching me and learning. 

I called the police.

I was told there wasn’t anything the officer on patrol could really do. 

As I watched the gull hop his way south, I convinced myself I’d done all I could. 

I see now there were other options.  At the time I knew there were other options. 

Why can we see with clarity what we should do, and why can’t we always do what’s right?

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. 

A bully update

February 11, 2008

It’s a bad weather day.  No school for Boy, Big Sister, or me. 

I do, however, have an update on Boy’s plight.  He’s in a new classroom, with a new teacher, and he’s making new friends.  Same school though, so that means Boy and O (his friend that bites and hits even though “friends don’t hit”) have lunch together.  I figure there can be safety at lunch, because all the adults are present watching over the little table. 

Then again, just last week, according to my wife (who I trust not to fabricate stories of this nature), O grabbed a beater from the counter (yes, the kind you would find attached to a mixer) and hit a younger kid’s arm with it as she and Boy were hanging up his coat.  O is evidently still not suspended or expelled.  But if he is, what happens to him? 

Some folks probably wonder why I should care.  A lot of folks have wondered what the deal is with the preschool itself, but I keep coming back to this other kid’s parents. 

I recognize that one solution is communication.  But for a lot of preschoolers I keep hearing parents and teachers demanding that these children – bully and victim — “use their words.”  Clearly they don’t have these words that we want them to use.  And have you tried holding a conversation with one of these kids?  Do you recognize how easily persuaded they are?  How easily you can get them to say what you want, or how easily an idea can be put into their heads?

Until the kids are old enough, you’ve got to work on educating the parents and continue teaching the kids as best you can until they’ve reached the developmental milestone that helps them control their own behavior. 

There have to be programs out there, and I imagine there’s funding through grants that would support bringing programs in, but how do you make parents attend?

Though how hard would it be, really?  If you’re a private school, make it a condition of enrollment.  If you want your kid to go to our preschool, you — the parent – have to participate in our sessions.  At http://amy34.livejournal.com, there’s the tale of a co-op preschool that requires its participating parents to attend various seminars.  One such seminar she attended was on anger and bullies, I’d love to have all parents where Boy goes attend that one.  But the ultimate solution the seminar had for bullies saddens me as much as it does the author.  Sometimes you just have to hit back.  Amy’s not the only one to make such a suggestion either — not that she makes the suggestion as it came from the presenter of the seminar.  A famous children’s book author’s suggested the same, and at one time I was appalled, but I’m not as strong in that conviction anymore.               

Shared concerns

February 5, 2008

Over at blog.baby-wise.com, there was an entry a couple weeks back that I just picked up over a Technorati search on preschool bullies.  The question posed there is:  How does your preschooler behave in school?   

 Well there’s the rub, eh?  How do you know how your preschooler behaves in school?  I assume I’m like most parents in admitting that I really don’t know.  I hope my son’s teachers will tell me when he’s been out of line, but otherwise, I believe that he’s going to behave at school in much the same way he behaves at home, and for some reason I believe maybe he’s going to behave a little better.  I have no reason to believe this.  I’ve not watched a session of him at school. 

I’m acting on a warped system of faith here. 

Anyway, the concern over at blog.baby-wise.com was linked to the ABC report on the Yale study  from the Detroit Free Press on preschool expulsions that I discovered in a South Bend Tribune piece. 

ABC’s report is eye-opening.  I’m not surprised with its case of Janine Butler who was threatened with knives, scratched and hit.  I was a camp counselor for special needs adolescents for several summers and had a young man scratch my wrists with his fingernails until he was pulled off.  His mental capacity was probably along the lines of that of a toddler, so there were no hard feelings until he came back the next day and tried it again. 

What are you supposed to do in a situation like that?  “Author Walter Gilliam, director of the Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, told ABCNEWS.com that he didn’t set out to study preschool expulsions. But when he was analyzing publicly funded prekindergarten policies at 3,898 schools in 40 states, he found expulsion rates three times higher than for older grades.”  That’s a problem, no?  Who’s to blame?  The headline of the piece suggests parents, schools and poverty as potential culprits.  What say you?

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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers