Monday, January 7, 2013

Toddler Bullies And Zero Tolerance

Many of you know, I work in a child care center. 

Now, I guess all of you do.


I get emails from people interested in our facility---they ask about enrollment, fees, wait lists, the usual. 

Sometimes, I get strange emails.  Emails that lead me to believe that some people are a little off (that's nice talk for batshit crazy).

It happened the other day, as a matter of fact.

I got the first email, requesting info.  No biggie:

Crazy lady:  I would like to know approximately how long your wait-list is as well as your current tuition rates.
Me: Attached is our tuition rates for 2013.
What is the age of your child/children?
(Already, a teeny little flag flew----why wouldn't you indicate the age of your child?  We don't have "a spot" available, any spot we would have would be very specific:  "we have a spot in our infant room", or "Little Johnny would have to wait until Spring for a spot in our Pre-K classroom".  This isn't a crane game situation, where we just chuck 'em in, and let the older ones sort it all out.  We are a SCHOOL.  Not an overhead bin in an airplane.)
Crazy lady: She is 19 months old. Does your center offer potty training or just diaper changing services?
Me:  (Wha?  Where would she send a child, where it would be expected that, one day her little angel would just arrive in panties, instead of diapers? am I over-thinking this? Are my teachers working too hard?  Or do they potty train out of laziness, not wanting to deal with diapers?  Flags are a-flyin' at this point.  Now, I want to meet her just out of curiosity.) Each age group works to potty train, with assistance from parents. Currently, our toddler room is full. However, spots do open up from time to time, so please fill out the wait-list if you are interested, to get your place in line. Attached is the wait list, you can email it over. Our Infant/tod program director is Ms. (redacted) , she is cc'd in this communication so she is aware you are interested, and so that you have her direct email for inquiry.
Also, you are invited to stop by at any time for a tour to see our program.
(The tour is where they get to decide if we are for them, and, sometimes most importantly, are they right for us.  I would rather have a family NOT enroll and potentially lose that money, than deal with someone that throws up red flags.  Not enrolling a potential problem for my staff is ALWAYS prudent.  No amount of money compensates for a crazy parent that expects perfection from group care.)
Crazy lady:  Ok great. What is your policy on bullying and violence? I stopped taking my daughter to her a home day care because there was another child, aged 2.5 that would viciously attack her.
Me:  (WTF?????  Viciously attack?  Are we talking full WWE moves?  Or, some sort of random violence thing where there was zero supervision?  Or, is this mom referring to a scratch or bite from a peer?  My inner CRAZY ALERT in bangin' like crazy---who gives this information over email?)
Instead, I wrote:
Zero-tolerance policies do very little to curtail undesirable behaviors, and as a learning facility, we work very hard to help teach children appropriate responses to all situations, social or otherwise.
While I understand that you have a very personal reason for feeling black and white on this issue, I have never, in 20 years, felt the need to dis-enroll a child over a behavior we ultimately will be able to assist with curtailing or eliminating.
Perhaps a one-on-one care situation would better suit your needs.
(I DID type it angry though.)
Crazy Lady: Yes I do have a personal reason and it's not against hitting, kicking, or biting which I know can be eliminated through socialization and behavior modification techniques. My daughter's eyeballs were severely cut from continuous scratching and gouging which thankfully didn't damage her vision. That is the type of violence that I will not tolerate. Thank you for your time.
Wow.  Okay.  I GET that she has a very strange, specific, negative experience in her history with care.  I DO get it.  But, here is why this person is not right for us:
  1. People that go into this kind of depth with a stranger are made of crazy.  They leave gooey crazy trails everywhere they go.  They often tell you things in line at the grocery store, better left for close confidants: " that is why I still buy adult diapers!  SUCH a good idea, right???"  I don't have time for the numerous meetings this parent will initiate.  Most will surround whether her little angel is getting exactly 23.4% of the teacher's undivided attention, or why she got less corn at lunchtime. Drama?  Already stocked up, thanks.
  2. Typically, parents come in for a tour. Especially people that work 2 blocks away and have been offered the opportunity to pop in at lunch really quick. Why is all this happening over email? 
  3. Zero Tolerance?  Mkay.  No.  We are dealing with children from the age of 6 weeks.  They spend up to 12 hours a day with me and my staff.  We are not waiting for little Susie to pull someone's hair a second time, then kicking them to the curb because of a "behavior management" issue. Kids bite.  Hit. Scratch.  Push.  Poke.  Use projectiles.  Truly, they are rotten little animals, that need guidance (I really DO say this with a shit-ton of love in my heart, REALLY). All these things are undesirable, but also "teachable moments".  I have NEVER, in 20 years, dis-enrolled a child for "bad behavior".  Kids do all these things for a reason.  Sometimes we just don't know what that reason is.  We WILL, however, do our best to figure it out, and work with the family to curtail it.  It's a learning experience, for all of us.
I GET that bullying is bad-it's awful, bad things happen, sometimes administrators ignore serious incidents.  But this is Pre-school.  Toddlers do not have the capacity to intimidate, coerce, or abuse others (Unless spit-up is a form of abuse.  Actually, now I may have to rethink my policy...) Toddlers don't make shivs out of plastic-covered safety spoons, in order to get more graham crackers, or a better spot in the sandbox. Toddlers don't push their friends up against the slide and say, "If you don't give me that paintbrush, I will make SURE your mom has more than one piece of you to pick up later today". 
These are young children, trying to learn social rules, striving to communicate ultimately without hair-pulling or biting.  They are testing limits, working to establish connections, and work through their days as little scientists.  They enjoy making things happen.  And pulling someone's hair makes something happen.  Your peer cries, a tall person will give you an unhappy face.  It's a process.  Ultimately, most children learn the results are not enjoyable, and the action will end. 
This is what we do.  We do not go into any relationship with a family, anticipating the need to have a "Zero Tolerance" policy about anything.  Each child is unique. 

Yes, we have bullies in the world.  People that use coercion to get a desired result.  People that use humiliation to get what they want.  People that treat others like shit, to bring them down to their level.  I know it's a problem.  But in order to truly be labelled a bully, there needs to be intent.  Maybe I am silly, maybe I know nothing about children (although all the fancy paper on my office wall says otherwise).  But as Mr. Rogers as my witness, I do not believe I will ever be in a situation where I feel that a child, under the age of 6, has even the capacity to bully.  Additionally, we work with children to help them achieve all the desired results for each age and stage---this includes NOT using coercion to get the last pink crayon.  Problem-solving is taught, children are encouraged to work their problems out, with each other, knowing a helping adult is nearby.  When there is conflict, a solution that pleases all parties (at least to some extent) is usually reached.  That's just how learning to be human works, folks.

So, No, CrazyLady.  We DO NOT have a Zero Tolerance Policy on bullying.   We do, however, have a Zero-Tolerance policy on crazy.  I have forwarded your wait-list to my least-favorite competitor.  You're welcome.

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