Shocked on the Sidewalk

I just overheard a very disturbing conversation. I couldn’t stop listening, and I imagine my mouth was wide open as I heard 3 mothers talk about their children. “When he does that I put hot sauce in his mouth,” one said, to which the other responded, “Well, you know you can use Ivory soap, that’s okay.” Then they all laughed. I was not laughing. It is not okay.

I was dumbfounded. I still don’t exactly know what to say. I am going to try to pull myself together and make something of this.

I know this happens. Children can be challenging, especially when they are learning independence and how to communicate. When children misbehave, there are a variety of reasons for the misbehavior. Generally adults are pretty impatient, and expect children to behave like miniature adults.

When I was in kindergarten I acted out a lot. I broke my teacher’s special heart-shaped pencil. I put a whoopee cushion under my teacher’s chair. By her standards, I was probably labeled a “bad kid.” Truth of the matter is, I didn’t have enough to do, and I was trying to get some attention. My desire to have time with my teacher and to be cared for by her manifested itself in these misbehaviors. I might as well have been screaming “PAY ATTENTION TO ME, I NEED YOU!”

Adults often have their own agendas for children and inappropriate expectations. Children act out, and they are punished instead of getting to the root of why the child acted in a certain way. The most appropriate way to handle a child’s mistaken behavior is to look into why the child behaved a certain way and then what the adult can teach or model so that the child responds differently next time.

It takes a little more time than grabbing a bottle of soap or winding up for a spanking, but no child should ever suffer like that.

1 thought on “Shocked on the Sidewalk

  1. Jenni Jacobs

    When it comes to guidance and discipline, it’s always a hot topic and is certain to drum up intense feelings in adults, whether in or out of the field of early care and education. I suppose that I have several reaction to this scenario.

    My first reaction comes from the viewpoint of being a child advocate. If adults don’t stand up for children and advocate for respectful treatment of all children, then who will? Just because a certain action was done to us as children and we survived or doesn’t appear to cause any physical harm, it doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable behavior. I think I could probably write an entire research paper about this….but I’ll move on to my next reaction.

    Of course, my primary reaction comes from that of an early care professional. Best practice would indicate that adults provide guidance to children, not punishment. I always marvel at the fact that when children don’t know how to do something, our typical first reaction is to teach them. When a toddler doesn’t know how to put his socks on, we teach him. When a preschooler doesn’t know which name card is his, we teach him. When a child doesn’t know how to put on his coat, we teach him. Yet, when a child doesn’t know how to behave…..why aren’t we teaching? Why is the answer to that one generally to punish? The answer is that teaching is precisely what we should be doing.

    RIchard Dreikers suggested that children misbehave for one of 4 reasons: attention, control, revenge, and feelings of inadequacy. When misbehavior occurs, it’s essential to find out why it happened if you ever hope to curtail the behavior. It’s sort of like getting a headache. If the headache is happening because you need glasses, no little fix is ever going to make it go away completely. You have to take care of the original issue and get glasses. So it means that when children begin to misbehave, we have to look at the reason, and the find a way to meet the child’s needs, and then teach the child how to get their needs met in more appropriate ways. Punishment just teaches a child what they shouldn’t do (or teaches them to avoid getting caught)….it doesn’t teach them how they should behave.

    As early care professionals, we have a duty to children everywhere to understand best practice, and to help all adults understand the importance of treating children with dignity and respect.

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