A few days ago I posted this on Twitter:

Saw a young kid angrily flailing and hitting a teacher when I picked up Riley today. Jeeeeeesus.

I wrote that because I’d just returned home and was still thinking about what I’d seen. I’d been bothered by it, quite a bit. I didn’t mean my comment to convey any kind of judgment but in retrospect I can see how it might have come across that way—so much is left unsaid, right? Like, did I mean “Jeeeeesus, what an asshole?” I did not, but I suppose it isn’t even remotely clear.

At any rate, someone emailed me about my tweet. She wrote that she hoped the kid was okay, that the teacher understood, and that the community tries to understand. She mentioned that while she wasn’t sure how I’d meant it, she thought I should see a blog post in which a parent detailed a struggle with her special needs child, one where he had a helpless reaction towards some other children that included hitting. She included one of the lines from the original post, which read:

“I expected to see everyone gawking, looks of shock mixed with pity and a dash of “don’t get near that kid, freak-out might be contagious” tossed in there for good measure.”

I read the post she linked (I asked Mir’s permission to link it from here as well), and it about broke my heart. It was so beautifully written, so vivid. I was glad to read on and see that the incident had happened in an supportive environment:

“Instead I saw… a few glances of concern. Kids who’d turned back to whatever they’d been doing before. A couple of understanding, encouraging looks in my direction. The main teacher walking over, asking (my son) if it was okay if she sat down, too. The parents of the other boys involved speaking quietly with them about what had happened.”

Still, my first reaction to receiving the email was one of confusion. Maybe defensiveness. I thought back on what I’d observed outside of Riley’s school and couldn’t see how I was supposed to understand it. I’d seen a teacher leading a young boy—her hand was on the top of his backpack, which he was wearing—towards the area where parents meet their kids, while the boy thrashed and furiously swung his arms at her. His grandmother had approached, looking completely helpless, and he screamed something at the teacher that caused her to say “I won’t let you speak to me that way.” The teacher then told the boy that she hoped he had a good weekend, and she walked away with the rest of the class while he stood there fuming, still yelling, still red-faced and out of control.

I couldn’t understand it because I didn’t know what was going on, I had no idea why the kid was acting out in that way, all I knew is that it looked intense and awful and a little scary. My reaction was pretty close to what Mir describes as being something she was worried about seeing on that day with her own son: I was absolutely shocked, for sure, and I felt miserable for everyone: the teacher, the boy, his family. I wasn’t worried that his freakout might be contagious, exactly, but in all honesty I wanted that kid to be gone—or at least greatly calmed down—before Riley came out of the school.

If what I saw from that unhappy boy isn’t uncommon—if striking out with words and violence is a reaction he occasionally cannot control—well, what then? How do parents and fellow students learn how to handle that in the right way? Because I don’t know how to see something like that and not find myself staring, not feel shocked. I don’t know how to not be worried about the safety of my own kid.

I have no idea if that boy was just having a colossally bad day, if he needs more help than this mainstream school can provide, or if he’s somewhere in the massive gray area in between. The last thing I ever want to do is seem as though I’m judging a child’s behavior, especially if it’s something he simply cannot help. So . . . what, then? I’m thinking I probably didn’t need to blurt out some random OMG I SAWR ME AN ANGRY KID post on Twitter, but in the moment, what should I have done? What if it happens again? How do I be the protective parent and the understanding community at the same time?


84 Responses to “Understanding”

  1. Kelly on September 12th, 2011 10:33 pm

    I think we all have our knee-jerk tweet moments, and I really enjoyed reading your reflection after receiving the email… as a mom of one son with Asperger’s and another non-verbal son with autism, and 3 children without special needs (ha, who doesn’t have special needs, when you think about it??) I can see both sides of the fence.

    I have hauled my 9 year old with autism out of school kicking and flailing and attempting to disrobe himself (THAT’S always fun…) and praying that no one calls the authorities. ;) It’s not an easy situation. He’s an amazing guy and is sweet and tender and funny … or angry and confused and aggressive. I’ve cried with his teachers and had numerous people ask about the bruises on my arms from his pinches. There are amazing days and just truly horrible days.

    I don’t think anyone can see a kid that has lost control of himself and not be shocked. It sort of takes your breath away. You want to help, you don’t know what to do, and you want your kids to be safe and protected from things that might confuse or scare them.

    It’s not a bad idea at all to have a conversation with your own kids about the things they see and encounter at school. Any public school is going to have kids with special needs, ranging all over the place on the spectrum. As much as we want to protect our kids, we also need to prepare them for people with differences, and do our best to help them understand. It’s a wild world out there, and we won’t always be there to shelter them.

    Thank you for your very honest post. You didn’t sound offensive at all. Just a mom, like any other mom, loving her kid.

  2. shriek house on September 12th, 2011 11:07 pm

    Great post, and I love the thoughtfulness with which you processed Mir’s email. It’s too easy to be dismissive or flip when (even gently) questioned on our thinking or attitudes.

    I saw some things in my kindergartener’s class last week that were truly horrifying. I didn’t stop to wonder about the possibility of them stemming from special needs at all. Call it irony, karma, whatever: today I learn that *my* child has special needs, and how many booby traps a typical classroom environment contains for a kid like him. I think of some of his behaviors at home and imagine them playing out in public for all to see and be shocked by. It definitely makes me want to be less judgy and more compassionate.

    BUT/AND the flip side of that coin is to not demonize ourselves for wondering about behaviors that are outside the bounds of acceptability. The act of wondering and questioning helps us better understand each other, rather than judge each other. I think your questions are good ones, and fair. I wish I knew the answers.

  3. Joanne on September 13th, 2011 3:43 am

    I’m glad you posted about this, I was a little confused about the tweet, I admit it. My son is six and and has autism, he is largely non verbal but has never been aggressive, although it’s something that I worry about, oh, all the time. My son attends an ABA therapy school, and I am always wondering when we should send him to public school, if ever. It seems like every time I think maybe we’ll do it, I read something that makes me think maybe I won’t. Like, a few years ago, an autistic boy darted through the parking lot and was hit by a bus and killed. Or, a teacher in our district gave an autistic boy a candy bar with peanuts in it in the hopes that he would get sick and not be able to go on a field trip, since he was a ‘behavior problem’. There are many stories about children who have been restrained by teachers who don’t know what to do with them, so they belt or tape them to a chair.
    These are the things I worry about when I think about sending my son to public school. I also have two typical daughters, and while I worry about where they’ll go to school, or what they’ll do, it’s not as big a worry. If I want to send them to private school, I can. I don’t have the same choice with my son, he has to go to public school because private schools aren’t legally compelled to take him.
    He’s never hit anyone, or pinched anyone, or done anything. He has had some meltdown behaviors, he yells and cries and might fall to the ground. It looks upsetting and scary to me, maybe it looks worse to others because they don’t know him. I am resentful and angry when I think that someone might have a judgment about me or my son in that moment, but it’s the least of my worries that someone would think I was unfriendly or unable to deal with my sonic a way that others find acceptable.
    I know everyone is worried about their kids. I don’t think any of us are more or less concerned when our kids go out in the world and we can’t be with them. But when you have a child with special needs, specifically a communication issue, you have to worry about more – not just another kid and what they might do, but the adults and what they might do to your kid, that your kid might not be able to tell you about.
    As a parent of a son with autism, I’d like to ask for no judgment on my son and no judgment on me. I feel like that’s impossible, truly, because I can’t do it for even a minute. I guess maybe what we can hope for is some understanding after the initial judgment, and some compassion and kindness in the form of being aware that we are all parents, we all love our children and are doing the best we can.

  4. Hannah on September 13th, 2011 4:48 am

    Well. I have an autistic son, who is the quietest person on the planet. He does not get violent EVER, he wont even step on an ant if he sees one. But he has his own special issues and of course, is in Special Ed with children who DO get violent. I am torn daily with what to do. I am understanding, of course, but dont want my gentle kid getting hit. I struggle with this daily,but I just have to have trust in the teachers to maintain control.

  5. Meg on September 13th, 2011 5:20 am

    Oh, wow, Linda, great post, great comments.

    I have a 6 year old with autism, and I’ve cried a bit numerous times during this, for various reasons (bad and good!).

    What I try to do generally with my kids — and I’m offering this as a suggestion, not at all saying it’s the best possible thing for all parents to do with all kids — is to stomp as firmly as possible on them beginning to judge. So I’ll take the attitude of oh, dear, doesn’t that suck, that kid must be feeling horrible to do things like that, he(?) shouldn’t do it and the teacher has the right to stop him, but we and the teacher shouldn’t hate him for it, everyone loses control sometimes.

    I’m not saying I stand there and point at kids misbehaving while I loudly discuss the situation with my kids! I mean if it comes up. I also stomp very firmly on people making rude/tactless comments about others in public, or staring at them. It’s OK to be a bit worried and to have questions, but it’s not OK to make other people not feel like people.

    I’m very carefully steering clear of some issues and some questions that have been raised, because I absolutely am not an expert and I absolutely do not have all the answers. I just feel for everyone in situations like this.

  6. Mir on September 13th, 2011 5:27 am

    FWIW, I want to clarify that I wasn’t the person who emailed you (at least one of your commenters seems to think I was); I saw your tweet and actually didn’t think much of it. It’s startling to see a kid flipping out, for sure. I wasn’t offended by your comment.

    That said, what a lot of these comments are reminding me of is that compassion is often tempered in our society by “worthiness.” And it’s so ingrained, we don’t even know we’re doing it. I do it, too, if I’m not careful. Do I want you to have compassion for my special needs kid? Yes, please. But am I tempted to think “that kid is just being a jerk” when I deem them as neurotypical and therefore not deserving of a pass? Absolutely. And therein lies the problem.

    Compassion isn’t something earned. Compassion just IS. And what my path as a special needs parent has taught me is that compassion is for everyone (in the theoretical; still working on this in the practical, of course). I don’t get to decide which kids are worthy of my patience. They all are. It doesn’t matter if that kid has special needs or not. There is no such thing as a kid who’s “just a jerk.” From my own autistic son to the child who mercilessly tormented my daughter all through her first year of middle school, all kids (all people) deserve compassion. Some of them can’t help it; the rest have been raised up in circumstances that left them damaged. No one is an asshole if they’re happy.

    So: Compassion for all. You just never know what’s behind the curtain. But also: Your first responsibility is to the protection of your own children. So no, you don’t let some violent kid beat up on your kid. You make the choices that put your family first, of course. But the trick is to do it without rancor, without judgment.

    This year we moved my son to an alternative schooling program, and he’s gone from being the “most troubled” kid in the room to probably the closest to “average” he’s ever been in a school setting. I could completely hijack Linda’s post here to talk about the million ways in which his behavior and life have improved, but instead I’ll tell you that now he’s in with some kids with even more significant behavioral challenges than his. And it drives him BONKERS and yes, he’s even gotten hurt a couple of times. Because of who my son is, for us this is an acceptable trade-off to have him somewhere where he’s not constantly being judged, and a great lesson for our entire family in truly living the compassion we hope others will have for us.

    Bottom line: Feel whatever you feel. But assume any unpleasant situation needs your kindness, and behave how you’d want to be treated (or how you’d want your kid to be treated). It’s pretty simple.

  7. Nik-Nak on September 13th, 2011 7:24 am

    I would like to throw in one other side….

    Assuming this child isn’t going to go all Rambo and hurt another child in that situation anyway (because let’s face it, your child’s safety is most important to you at thmoment OBVIOUSLY)

    Yesterday I went to pick my 8 year old niece up from middle school. This was a first time experience for me.

    As we were walking out of the after school program there was a little girl sitting beside the door screaming and crying. It very much disturbed me that she was alone and that, obviously, she did this alot since no one was trying to quiet her down. It broke my heart because I could just imagine she hated being there and she just only wanted her mommy to come get her.
    When my niece and I get outside I asked, “Who was that girl crying? Does she do that alot?” Thinking maybe I could ask my niece if she ever offered to go talk to her or keep her company to make her feel better. My niece replied with, “What girl? I didn’t see that.”

    I mean, the only thing I could assume at that point was out of a bajillion kids, a few are going to act up and probably niece has learned to accept that and move on about her day. I’m not really sure where I am going with this other than to say that it made me a feel a bit at peace with the fact that when my little girl gets to school age, she won’t try to mimic every single behavior that she sees. Maybe she won’t even notice some of them.

  8. Jo on September 13th, 2011 7:40 am

    Man this stuff is ALL HARD for everyone. When I saw your comment I took it to mean what I would have thought (doesn’t everyone do that no matter how hard they try not to?). What I would have thought is pretty much what you wrote. What I would have been feeling is that I wish my baby wasn’t grown up enough to be exposed to others losing control in a scary way without me being able to provide comfort. Everyone loses it. It’s scary for everyone when it happens. We all learn that. But it still sucks. I don’t know whether the child was special needs or not and it seems like that is a little irrelevant to the sentiments at issue. To me it seems as unrealistic to expect people to have no reaction to witnessing a child in a tough situation as it is to expect a child not to have a crazy meltdown at some point- special needs or not. That’s probably because I’m an insensitive whore.

  9. Carrie (in MN) on September 13th, 2011 7:59 am

    I’m going to finish reading the comments in a sec, but wanted to say –

    There was nothing wrong with your tweet – it was a natural reaction to an event that was shocking to you.

    My kids are older school age now, so we’ve had quite a bit of exposure to kids who have special needs who are mainstreamed in the classroom. Also, I should say that my son has ADHD, and although he has outgrown most of the symptoms now, there were years he was disruptive simply because he talked out of turn, etc. I’m sure he was a pain in the ass.

    We’ve also been on the other side many times. There were several high-functioning kids with autism over the years, and our kids figured it out. We often talked through it, encouraging empathy, talking about how their brains were “wired a little differently” that sometimes the chaos of the classroom was too much for them, etc. and again, encouraging empathy. It would be shocking to a kindergartner to see that sort of outburst, but it wouldn’t do Riley harm and sooner or later he is going to be exposed to lots of behavior that you’re going to find undesirable – that’s a fact of school and society in general.

    A different question in my opinion is how to react when your child is at risk of physical harm from another child. It’s not true that there is no risk of a child physically lashing out at another child, and when that happens there has to be a point at which needs and rights of the special needs child must be secondary to the safety of the other children. We had a situation when one of my girls was in first grade. She had a classmate who had a diagnosis of Emotionally and Behaviorally Disturbed (EBT). We again counseled empathy, and encouraged our daughter to be understanding and try to be his friend. But when he picked up a chair and tried to throw it at the other kids, had that chair wrestled away from him by the teacher, crossed the classroom and picked up another chair to throw at the other kids and was again stopped by the teacher who got hit in the process – we went to the mat to have that child removed from the classroom permanently. At that point, the safety of the other children trumped his right to be in a mainstream classroom.

  10. Michelle on September 13th, 2011 8:12 am

    I also think we’ve gotten a little too PC but from a different angle. Why should we automatically assume this child is special needs? What if this kid is not special needs? What if he’s just misbehaving? Is there no longer a place for societal disapproval of bad behavior? At some point kids do look around and start realizing that when they act out the adults and even children around them are not encouraging their bad behavior. I’m not suggesting we have to say something to the kid or even openly frown or scowl. But smiling and acting like bad behavior is okay, looking on kindly while a child acts out isn’t the answer either.

  11. Amy on September 13th, 2011 9:50 am

    My boys wig out in public sometimes…but not special needs, just especially annoying at times. I think living in this day and age is hard on all of us. The good thing is that we have more access to discuss, research and learn. It will never stop us from staring in shock or being stared at if it is our child who is causing the ruckus. I think discussion is the answer. If you have concerns, learn more. We are our children’s advocates….it is our job to ensure that they are safe. My older son had a particularly agressive child in his first grade class. I was horrified at first, but then learned of the abusive situation he had been living in, the therapy he was going through as a result. I discussed it with my son (on a level he could understand) and it helped so that my son was more understanding when this child acted out. He learned not to tease or gang up on him and make the situation worse. The child eventually left the school for one that was a better fit (stuffy catholic school wasn’t a good fit for us either), but my son learned some tolerance and compassion at a young age. I am grateful for that.

    and thanks for sharing the post about Monkey. I sat here with tears streaming down my face hoping that his first day was ok.

  12. ew on September 13th, 2011 11:27 am

    Sooo… we’re supposed to mind our own business, not interfere, not ask questions, but jump in open arms into a situation we don’t understand, and react perfectly without any tools or knowledge with which to do so. That’s what a few of the responders here are saying. Look, you can’t have it both ways. If you expect those of us who DON’T understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes, you’d better accept that a) we’re going to ask questions and b) we may resist from jumping in without knowing what to do to make it better.

    Many of the responders took the time to explain what their normal is. In doing so, you help those of us who have NO idea what your life is like.

    For those of you on your high horses shaming us for not understanding the different behaviours your child exhibits, how about a little compassion towards those of us trying to learn so that we may, in turn, understand your child better and appreciate them for who they really are.

  13. Rachel on September 13th, 2011 12:30 pm

    Of course there is no way to tell if the boy has special needs or is just an insufferable brat but either way you can do this:

    Try not to react, try to keep a neutral expression. Whatever it is that is causing him to lash out, minimizing your reaction means not inadvertantly raising tensions, or giving the child fuel for his meltdown. Later you can ask the teacher or child’s family if everything is okay and if there is anything you might do in the future to help. That gives them an easy opportunity to share or not as much as they want. If you show that you are tring to understand and have compassion, most people will appreciate it, even if they don’t want or need assistance.

    If Riley is around and you see a child acting out, you can oh-so-casually put your body between his and the other child just to make yourself feel better. Really though, I have never seen nor heard of a child (either with special needs or neurotypical but out of control) running up and attacking a stranger. Those tantrums are always (from my experience working with kids and adults with special needs and kids who are neurotypical but at-risk) directed at someone with whom they have a power imbalance relationship (many, many reasons here, but if you think of instances where your kids have tried to punish you with their behavior, you’ll get it).

    If you want to talk about it with Riley (and later Dylan) you can talk about giving kids who are really, really angry or upset their space to calm down. You can talk about what Riley needs when he gets really upset and how other kids sometimes need the same thing and some kids need something different. If he wants to help the kid feel better, then once the kid is calmed down he can ask the kid if they want to play, or share a snack or just sit together.

    I don’t think I’d worry about Riley though. Young kids have really good instincts about each other’s meltdowns because their own meltdowns are so recent, even if they are of a different scale. Riley knows from recent experience that sometimes you can’t help freaking out (and that sometimes it’s embarassing to have freaked out).

  14. Hannah on September 13th, 2011 12:32 pm

    Man, the comments continue to be so insightful, I love it.

  15. Meredith on September 13th, 2011 3:06 pm

    As a mother with an autistic child, I just want to say thanks for thinking about this topic in depth. It is easy to be scared and defensive. It is not so easy to be honest and searching about how you want to react and the values you want to pass on to your kids.
    Children like yours are going to be a life saver for kids like mine. Your understanding, honesty and questioning about integration, “normal” and “different” go a long way to making his life one of dignity. Thanks

  16. Jessica on September 13th, 2011 3:10 pm

    I too have found the comments amazing and thought provoking. I have a cerebral palsied older sibling and when we were growing up my sibling was bullied. But the real damage was done by the adults in his life. The human race has a discomfort with people who don’t appear “normal” – but what really matters is what folks do with that discomfort. All this talk of compassion for the child who does not appear normal makes me feel sad – the one thing my sibling hates more than anything else if for someone to feel sorry for him. To whisper and stare. We have a joke about the disaster of the “well intentioned” people. How we would take visible haters to those who condescend. I’m not pointing fingers at Linda or any of the amazing people who have posted comments. I guess I’m just saying the subject is complicated. And I always appreciate a place where we can all talk about it.

  17. Veronica on September 13th, 2011 3:21 pm

    I love posts that evoke such great discussions. Thank you Linda, I’m earning SOOOO much from this one. Our oldest just started Kindergarten too and the school is such a foreign place for me (as a parent). These comments are fantastic because you never know when it could happen to you (or when your child might be the one reacting in the same fashion as that little dude).

  18. Sarah on September 13th, 2011 3:39 pm

    I came back because I couldn’t stop thinking about my initial response. I was typing it while my kid was harping on me to play. :( Not such good parenting there on my part. I should have just come back later. Instead my post makes it sound like “normal” or typical kids hit other people and that’s okay. And it’s not. So very not. I laid awake in bed last night thinking about it. And then I saw your tweet and Gah. I’m sorry.

    Six months ago I couldn’t have imagined my sweet boy hitting anyone and now that he’s a few months past 3, he’s tried to hurt me with his body (hands and feet) for things as simple as being asked to come inside after playing. He’ll say that “we don’t hit.” That I never hit. But he still says he is trying to hurt me. It’s so distressing, for him and for me, and man I hope he’s not going to attempt to hit a teacher one day, and especially not another kid.

    The boy has also been on the recieving end of some physical stuff at school and the things I work on with him in relation to that is the same stuff I use when he’s gone a bit nutty at home: “Stop. You aren’t allowed to hurt me. I won’t let you.” And then I physically separate myself from him but not as punishment, just for safety. R could do the same — remove himself to find an adult to help.

    I hope this all improves for you soon. I can imagine it doesn’t help you feel good and adjust to sending him off into the world.

  19. JMH on September 13th, 2011 3:42 pm

    As a 15 year veteran elementary teacher and a former special needs teacher, I just want to say that I TOTALLY agree with Jessica (2:40) and Jonniker (2:58). Well said ladies!!!

    And Sundry-Your reaction was just a reaction-there is no “right” or “wrong” in it. Of course you felt uncomfortable in that situation because it WAS an uncomfortable situation.

  20. josefina on September 13th, 2011 6:57 pm

    Linda, this post made me feel a bit sad because I’ve been mulling over this issue since first encountering similar behavior at my children’s school. My kids are now homeschooled, but when they were in school it was a huge issue in our house. For me, it helped to get involved as a volunteer at the school, get to know the other parents when I could, and get to know the children who were acting out. This helped me better figure out what my response should be and how I could help my children deal with the situations as they arose. Sometimes I even got very helpful advice from the school staff. In the end, my older son was better able to cope with children acting out than was my younger son, who found it very disturbing and upsetting no matter how we tried to help him. The whole situation broke my heart because I wanted the best for all parties involved, and it’s so hard to know what that would be, really.

  21. Michelle G. on September 13th, 2011 7:07 pm

    Great post. It reminded me of a story that the head of HR for my school system told us at substitute teacher training. When she was a principal, there was a boy out in the hallway yelling at his teacher calling her an “bad name”. An adult not familiar with the situation walked by and commented that she was appalled that such behavior was tolerated. What this adult didn’t know is that said behavior was actually an improvement over the previous week where he would have added an expletive in front of the bad name. She reminded us that we don’t know the histories of these children and we should be compassionate.

    While I think your response is very honest, I wonder how much you really need to protect your child in these situations. Could something possibly happen at school – sure – but it can also happen at a playdate, birthday party or the grocery stories. Likely – no – possible yes. As far as your children witnessing such behavior – I think that kids witnessing such behavior and seeing how adults deal with it – is a great teaching moment.

    I just think as a society we could be more compassionate and understanding instead of rushing to judgement (commentary on society – not your tweet!)

  22. JMH on September 14th, 2011 2:46 am

    One more comment…I realize that several people have said that you should ask the teacher about the child and offer help. As a teacher, I want you to know that we are NOT allowed to discuss other students with parents (unless there is a need, like your kid and another kid got in a fight) Privacy laws apply to kids as well. Asking the teacher will just put the teacher in an uncomfortable situation. You would be better off asking the parent directly.

  23. kristylynne on September 14th, 2011 8:16 am

    Honestly, the mama bear in me would react the same way you did. Out of control kid = threat to my own kid. Period. It’s sad if the child has ongoing behavior problems or special needs, but I would completely freak out and demand the school do something if my kid were ever on the receiving end of the hitting and yelling.

    Nothing you could or should have done in this case; the teacher and parent/grandparent were the ones who had to handle that problem. But if Riley knows that boy, or if he’s in his class or grade, I would find out if the flareups happen regularly, and if they do, tell him to get away and ask for adult help if that kid ever gets angry at him.

  24. Linda on September 14th, 2011 8:28 am

    You guys, I can’t thank you enough for all the thoughtful comments here. I appreciate this level-headed discussion so much.

  25. Brian on September 14th, 2011 9:43 am

    I’ve struggled since yesterday with what to write here. I really love reading the comments as well as your original post, it is very enlightening.

    My son struggles with aggression issues, and has most of his life. We don’t have answers. As his dad, I am struggling as well, in a huge way, to find a solution that not only works for him but for his school and siblings.

    I thought about saying something about ‘walk a mile in my shoes,’ but honestly I would never wish this experience on anyone.

  26. Anonymous on September 14th, 2011 9:45 am

    I have an autistic nephew and understand about special needs. My family has lived with the struggle AND the joy of that incredible boy. But I was amazed how many parents here jumped in and automatically assumed this child was special needs (and some then promptly gave Linda a spanking, which I thought was rude). There is no reason to make the kneejerk assumption that this child is special needs and no reason why Linda can’t express concern for a situation that she (and WE) didn’t have the information to fully understand. We don’t know this child is special needs, and I am not sure why we have to jump to the conclusion that this child and his parents needed some extra compassion that Linda and others aren’t able to summon up. People, don’t be overly sensitive to someone who has shown repeatedly on her blog that she has compassion, lots of it. Save it for those who truly need to be educated (and I agree there are a lot). Frankly, this could have been a neurotypical child acting like a brat. And I think it’s perfectly fine to have a “holy shit, why is that child acting like that?” response, especially when your kid first starts school and you just want to protect him from everyone and everything.

  27. zb on September 14th, 2011 11:32 am

    I’m glad you published this and started a conversation, even at the risk of the “spanking” (though I think the comments here are fairly respectful, even if they think you’re wrong).

    I am like you and krystylynn; my initial reaction would be to consider what the behavior means to *my* kid and how to best protect them.

    Now my kids are not especially affected by out-of-control behavior, and can probably even take a bit of hitting. They’ve both been hit at school, both by kids who had issues with aggression. But, it only happened once (to my kid). Because my kids don’t seem to be wildly affected, my mama bear instincts don’t have to come into play. I can see the aggression as one of the knocks they will occasionally have to take as they move out of mama bears arms into the world in which they will live. But, if my kids were affected in more than a transient way, if they felt anxious, afraid or unhappy I would expect everyone to figure out how to make the aggressive behavior stop

  28. zb on September 14th, 2011 11:35 am

    PS: Yes to the commenter above who is in awe of the teacher. I am, too. And, many teachers who can do this, who can deal with the child’s freak out, or ten children hanging off of each of their fingers (because every kid wants a piece of the teacher), or crying and yelling and hugs take their superpowers for granted. Yes, it’s just part of your job, but it’s also a tremendous skill you should be proud of. Maybe more of us could learn it, but you could learn how to program a circuit board or solve differential equations if you tried, too.

  29. Frannie on September 14th, 2011 3:01 pm

    Some kids have a bad day. It’s the first days of school, and some kids may need to adjust to the structure, schedule, time/hours in school. It could be different from their homelife or some just act out because they are adjusting. There can be so many factors. I just hope that teacher does not single him out as the “bad kid.” It probably won’t be the last time you see behavior that go out of bounds, behavior-wise. That’s just the way it is. In school I remember a boy who still had separation anxiety and would cry for his mom, and a boy with special needs who ripped a necklace from me. As far as I recall, these were all taken care of quickly, and professionally. My mom didn’t freak out when the mother of the child called to apologize for her son, etc. My mother also explained that I shouldn’t judge them or treat them differently. I just hope the teachers and parents involved are actually that-involved, professional and concerned in helping them. I don’t like the label or treating kids like they’re bad-just sets them up.
    There is a hidden curriculum, besides just knowledge that we gain from school, positive and negative. Thank you for bringing up this subject.

  30. lisa on September 14th, 2011 9:48 pm

    I am a Kindergarten mom, and also a teacher at a big, huge, gigantic school, and I have seen this sort of scene more than once. First of all, I don’t think you did or said anything wrong. This kid might have been special needs, or a problem child, or maybe just really tired/hungry/stressed out. Whatever. All of those factors change the way we understand the situation, but not the way that we should react to it. In ANY case, flailing and hitting is not okay. I think the WORSE thing that we can do is try to ignore it. If a kid is freaking out or getting violent, all adults around should stop, watch intently, wait to see if the teacher needs assistance, and provide a stern (not mean, but stern) atmosphere to reinforce how unacceptable this behavior is.

    I think we fall in a trap these days, because we are more aware of special needs children, to over-analyze child behavior. Even if the child is special needs, you can bet that the teacher has the same behavior goals for that kid as they would for a general ed kid–they just know it will take longer to reach those goals.

  31. lisa on September 14th, 2011 10:14 pm

    Also, because I can’t just shut up:

    Kids need to be taught how to deal with seeing other kids behaving badly (or strangely, for that matter).

    I’ve found that kids want to understand four things: 1)Why is that kid acting that way? 2)Is it okay for the kid to act that way? and 3)What is being done about the kid acting that way. 4)What can I do when that kid starts to act that way?

    For my 5 year old, this is very basic: “That boy is having a bad day and is very mad. It is not okay for him to act that way, even when he is mad. His teacher will help him learn how to act when he is mad. If you see him being mad like that, you should tell a teacher.”

    For my fifth graders (who do have many interactions with special needs kids, emotionally disturbed kids, and kids with the run-of-the-mill ‘really bad day’) I start with the same basic script, then expand it with role-playing.

    Kids need to understand that some kids process information differently, so they understand that these outbursts aren’t personal. However, they also need to be reassured that those kids are not being excused for their bad behavior.

  32. Barnmaven on September 15th, 2011 3:08 pm

    Its neat that you made a connection with another blogger that moved you. As for asking what you should have said or done, I offer you this: Nothing other than what you did. People are going to react the way they’re going to react. Some will take it one way, some will take it another. Some will think you’re the devil and some will sing your praises. Just say what comes and see what happens out of it and take the word “should” out of the picture.

  33. Sonia on September 17th, 2011 9:17 pm

    Brigid, YES! This….”Smile. Make eye contact if it’s appropriate. Let the teacher know she’s appreciated. Let your kids know the world is made up of a lot of different people, and teach them how to be gracious instead of fearful whenever possible.”
    GREAT COMMENT!!! That right there, is what I hope for people to teach their kids.
    Also, Mir….couldn’t agree more with your comment.
    As the mom of a special needs kiddo, I can tell you that in a tough moment with my kid, I don’t often know the best way to react. I certainly don’t expect other people to know how to help. I have learned to offer whatever I can, in a situation. For example…..I was walking into Target a few months ago, and there was a caregiver struggling to get her disabled client/friend/family member into their van. Physically, she was struggling to help him, and he wasn’t able to do more than he was while she was trying to get him into the seat. I watched 5-6 people in front of me walk by without looking. Maybe they didn’t see this struggle? Maybe they chose to ignore it because they were uncomfortable? I’ve been the person in a struggle who needs help, so I walked up and asked them if I could do anything to help. The caregiver told me exactly what I could do to help her position the man, so she could pull him into the van. She had tears in her eyes when she thanked me. I know what that feels like, and it broke my heart to see someone else going through it. 11 years ago, before my son was born, I would have been one of the people that walked by.
    What is unbearable, is being ignored, and seeing my son be ignored. I’ve made it my business to ask if there’s something I can do to help, whenever it’s appropriate.
    Linda, in the situation you explained, it sounds like the teacher was handling things very well. I don’t know that you could have reacted any differently than you did. My kid has issues, and I’ve had the “WHOA! WTF?!” look plastered across my own mug when startled by *different* behavior from other people. If Riley had seen it, I agree with the commenters above who say that it was a learning opportunity. It would have likely opened up a discussion between the two of you, and I have no doubt that you would handle it with compassion, while making sure Riley understands what to do if caught up in something like that. My son is very gentle, and mostly nonverbal. I’ve worried many times that he would be targeted or somehow hurt in the bustle of an outburst from another kid. I feel very lucky that my son has the teachers and aides he has, because they know exactly how to handle these moments. There have been a couple of incidents where he was shoved down or hit by a projectile toy from another child. The teachers and aides contacted me immediately to inform me of what happened, tell me what they’d done to deal with it, and ask if there were other measures they could take to reassure my son.
    All this to say that I appreciate your thoughtful post Linda, and the discussion that opened up here in your comments.

  34. Tina on September 30th, 2011 4:00 pm

    My son is 9. He is the very child that will lash out with anger and agression. We are in counseling, he is on medication, and we are in behavioral modification/anger management. It’s very hard and I cry for my son daily and worry about his future. Sometimes he can help it, sometimes he cannot. As a mother with a child this way I worry constantly how he will be judged and treated. I’m learning ways to cope, as is he…but it’s an on-going situation. Where did this come from? I don’t know. How to correct it? I’m trying to learn. But I will say that it is so comforting to see other mothers teaching there children about differences. And just FYI…a compassionate look or a smile can send me from sheer embarassment to knowing that all will end up ok.
    Thanks for this post!

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