Thursday, November 08, 2007

Moms: What Would YOU Do?

I don't typically ask for parenting advice from the Internet, because a.) Are you kidding me? There are a lot of crazies out there, and b.) I'm almost always perfectly comfortable with what I'm already doing (or planning to do). Oh, and c.) Lot of crazies.

But this time I'm open to suggestions. In fact, I'm actively soliciting them. From other moms, ideally. Who have experienced something like this, even more ideally. Or who, at least, can imagine it happening at some point.

It's official: Julia has a bully. OK, that's a little too simplistic. Let me explain.

Remember "Oscar" (not his real name)? The preschool classmate who knocked her onto the floor a week or so back? Well, a lot has transpired since then, mostly in the form of Julia being knocked to the ground and/or hit every day of preschool since then. So far, this child has physically attacked my child four times. So, what's going on?

I've talked with the teachers. They are properly upset by this child's behavior, and (after I made it clear that I want to be told by a teacher every time it occurs) they inform me daily what's going on. Julia's head teacher has told me that this child lashes out physically--out of the blue, without the slightest provocation--at other children too, not just Julia. She informed me that "Oscar" is currently being assessed for EBD (emotionally/behaviorally disordered)/special education status, and that one of the assistant teachers is currently assigned to be one-on-one with him throughout the preschool morning--although, obviously, it's not always possible to do that when the assistant is one of five teachers for 30 children in three different classrooms. And, clearly, it's not always possible to prevent "Oscar" from hurting other children even with this type of monitoring.

From what I can gather--and from what I've heard from another mom who witnessed one of the incidents--the occurrences are being handled appropriately: "Oscar" is quickly reprimanded and removed from the situation, Julia is immediately comforted and checked to make sure she is okay. She doesn't cry; after the first two incidents, she didn't even tear up. At first she was terribly shocked, confused, and somewhat worried about returning to school. Now she seems resigned and a little ho-hum about this boy, though also completely confused by him. Why would anyone run over to you and smack you as you sit quietly playing Play-Doh all by yourself at the clay table? Why would someone race up to you on the playground and out of the blue knock you onto your back on the mulch? (Why, indeed?)

So, moms. What would you do?

Anyone who has ever been a teacher, childcare provider, or pediatric mental-health practitioner knows that you can't always prevent a child from acting out physically, no matter what you do or how you feel about such behavior. Part of me is very angry, upset, and (mainly) sad for my daughter (if you knew her, you'd really understand how shocking this is; I don't think I'm being too biased when I say she's just about the most innocent, sweet-natured, quiet, well-behaved baby rose in the world). But part of me, also, asks, Well, what do I expect the school to do about it, really? Kick "Oscar" out of preschool? Move him out of the Tuesday-Thursday session so he can then go and hit other children, in other classes on other days instead? Yell at his parents? No, of course not.

But it also doesn't feel right to just take the daily report at preschool pick-up ("Julia got hit again today") with resignation and no apparent plan of action for making sure my child doesn't keep getting hit or knocked over every single time she goes to school.

Any ideas, Internet moms?


cathy hubbard said...

Hi Shannon,

We went through this same thing last year; I can't remember if I told you about it or not. A boy in Anya's class (who has since been diagnosed with Austism) hit her several times, leaving a mark at least once. She was, as expected, confused and upset and John and I were furious.

Now, however, she has a script, which we worked on together. She says - as loudly as she can - No! That makes me ANGRY.

This seems to make her feel more confident, and it also makes the teacher immediately aware that something has happened (her teacher can take about two full minutes to turn around sometimes; her reaction time isn't the greatest...) It also startles the boy and makes him back off, so it's effective.

Anyway, it's not much, but it was a simple phrase for her to learn, and she's used it on others (including me) since then.

Hope this helps in some small way!

Shan said...

Hey Cath, this is great advice. Thank you for it. I have tried to coach Julia to say "Don't hit me, that's not nice!" but so far while she will parrot it back to me when I ask her what she should say, she will not say it when the crucial instance occurs. I think she is too shocked at the moment (and it does sound like her teachers react immediately, thankfully). However, your comment makes me think maybe working with Julia on a shorter, louder phrase ;) and also having her practice it at home multiple times until she feels comfortable actually saying it, may be key. Thanks for your thoughts; I truly appreciate them.

Cathy said...

Shan -

I'm finding more and more that short, simple phrases work best with Anya. I tend to talk way too much when I'm frustrated, and so through her I'm learning to keep my words simple and to the point.

I wanted to add that because the boy in her class has behavior issues that are often beyond his control, I've been able to talk to Anya about the skills required to make good friends, and how lucky she is to have these skills, and how sad for this boy that he does not.

I don't want to excuse his behavior to her, but I do want to boost her own confidence as much as I can and remind her that she has a lot of strengths that the "bully" does not. That seems to help, even if she doesn't fully grasp why.

In re-reading what I wrote earlier, I mentioned that I've now given her the tools to use "I'm Angry!" This is used mainly when she's sick or tired and I won't read her a story until she brushes her teeth, or something along those lines. Not because I hit her. Just wanted to clarify!

Shan said...

Ha! Got it! I kinda figured. ;) Thanks also for these additional insights. Good point about helping a child understand that other children may not have all the skills ours do.

Elise said...

Oy. This is totally something I dread when Ellie starts school - just tonight, Fiona (her little best buddy) walked over and pushed her down, and thought I'm sure she wasn't hurt physically, she totally had her feelings hurt! Little miss outgoing? She was all, why would anyone push me down? Cathy's advice sounds perfect - empowering and attention getting at the same time. Also gives her self-assertion skills that will come in handy for the rest of her life. But still: YUCK for you and J that you have to deal with it. Keep us posted.

ShabbyDoll said...

I also agree with Cathy and the other posters. I think that it's so important to help our children develop resiliency and strategies for dealing with different - and sometimes difficult - social situations. Those situations are going to happen, and struggling to keep our kiddos sheltered from them won't serve them well, as much as we'd like to be able to keep them safe from all harm forever.

Helping your little one become resilient, as Cathy and others suggested, includes giving her the words to express herself - even if she doesn't get it at first, she will. Maybe even a little bit of playacting (without real hurting of course) or using puppets? Teaching those social skills (and as I'm sure you know, fending off bullies without getting too hurt is a social skill) can be explicitly done, just like sounding out words, or using the potty, or anything else. Putting those skills in place for Julia might take a little time, but she'll get them soon.

It's so hard to separate our own visceral reactions as moms from the lessons that we need to teach our babies, particularly in cases like this.

And I bet that Fiona didn't really mean to push Ellie. And she was really sorry.

Question said...

I don't have anything substantive to add here (except maybe something about a left hook), but I did see this article today about a related topic/campaign and it made me think of sweet Julia:
and here:

donna said...

I like everything that Cathy said. It's good to empower Juia with tools that she can use, but also to teach her compassion about others. That will also help J to understand that Oscar is not doing it maliciously.

I also want to say that because Julia doesn't seem to be too bothered by it, I wouldn't make too big of a deal out of it (or it will start to worry her).

Shan said...

These are great, helpful comments so far. Does anyone (or anyone else) have any insights about when/if the school has any responsibility to make sure my child doesn't get hurt every day at school? I have a good handle on what I can do/say with Julia to help her understand the situation and how she should react, but I'm less sure about if there is something else I can reasonably expect from her teachers. Especially if this continues or escalates.

donna said...

You should talk with the director of the school regarding your concerns. Find out what is their normal protocol for handling such behavior, and whether or not it's working. Also find out at what point they ask Oscar to leave the school.

While it is not your job to raise him or change his behaviors, because Oscar's behaviors are affecting Julia, it becomes an issue you need to be concerned with and it's entirely appropriate for you to discuss that with the administration.

(As the wife of a teacher and school administrator, I say,) please give the school the room to operate in the best interest of Oscar as well as the other children. Keep in mind that behaviors take time to change. I know that's easier said than done when you're worried about your child's well being and social development, too.

Try not to sell Oscar short of a the social education that he needs (by asking them to drop him from the program prematurely). If he doesn't learn appropriate behavior now, he may never.

E-mail me if you want to discuss this more!!

Shannon said...

i am remembering that my son's preschool had a sort of 3 strikes and your out policy. i can't remember the details. our son was biten twice by the same boy and there was to be some action if it happened again. not a permenant banishing, of course.

(another shannon)

Shan said...

I have to respond to Donna's latest comment to clarify that Julia's head teacher is actually also the director of the school. So she is well aware of the situation and has been the one in the most daily contact with me about what's been happening. I have not inquired into any kind of policy about removing a child from the school or class, because, as Donna also mentions, that seems premature (and an overreaction). And, as a psychologist, I am very much cognizant of the need for this child to be given a chance to learn, improve, and be included. But, as I said above, I AM concerned about the possibility of this issue getting worse and/or going on and on with no solution. Then, I start to worry about my own child, and to wonder how long she should be expected to put up with getting hurt at school every day.

donna said...

And that's why it's good for you to know about the school's policy - not so you can 'call them on it,' but rather, your own peace of mind - to know that you are happy with the way they are handling the situation. (Because, that's what I would want in this situation - to know that it's being handled in an appropriate manner.)

Shan said...

Yep--you're right. I get what you're saying, Donna. Makes sense. Thanks again for the thoughts and ideas (everyone)! Still open to other thoughts if anyone else cares to comment!

Jordan said...

Hi, I'm a bit behind on blog-reading and just read this. I am in agreement with what others have said. Namely:

1) empower Julia to speak up for herself as Cathy suggested (perfect strategy)

2) talk to the teacher/director about their policy and be sure you feel that they are doing all they can to ensure Julia's safety (which it sounds like they've done)

3) give him plenty of time to change, esp. if he's just being evaluated; I know you're not suggesting he be removed from the program but it happens to kids with undiagnosed special needs all too often and it's so demoralizing for the child and his family - absolutely a horrible thing to do unless the school doesn't have adequate resources to meet the child's needs and he needs to be somewhere else, but not just because of behavior;

And also, I would add that if "Oscar" is actually singling out Julia, chances are very good that he's singled her out as someone he REALLY likes and is trying to get her attention. It's not like she's provoking him, nor does she give him much reaction at all, so most likely he wants to be friends and doesn't know how. I'd tell her that, and would actually suggest to the teacher that sometimes they give Julia and "Oscar" opportunities to play as a dyad with a teacher facilitating play so that "Oscar" can learn how to be with her appropriately and Julia can see the positive qualities that are surely there.