When my son was 4 years old and in preschool, he was sent to the principal’s office a few times. Part of me was confused that a toddler could even be sent to the principal’s office, but another part of me was really, really worried. As an educator, I knew that, sometimes, children can be set on a path very early on, and that path can be difficult to break from. Since my son was on a negative path, I was worried that he was being set up for many years of struggle in school.
One day, when I was talking with him about some of his behavior in school, I asked him why he had done something he had done. I can’t even remember now what he had done, which is important, I think. But I do remember his response because it was extremely powerful. He said, “Because I’m the bad kid.”
And my heart broke.
Recently, a study from the Maine Children’s Growth Council reported that children as young as 3 years old are being expelled from school for behavior issues. Part of me was shocked by this. I thought this must be a joke. Of course, 3 year olds have behavior issues. They’re 3!
But, according to this piece in the BDN, this is a serious issue. The survey found that behaviors like hitting and pushing are found in 92 percent of pre-Kindergarten classrooms, and this is resulting in some children as young as 3 being expelled from preschools and child cares.
Obviously, this is really bad news for children and families. With all we now know about the importance of early literacy, it’s critical that children and families have access to the support they need. And, obviously, we need to find different solutions for the children in our state.
One thing I’ve learned from being a mom and teacher for nearly 20 years is that there’s always a reason for “bad” behavior in children. It could be stress, lack of sleep, need for attention, pain of some sort, and, sometimes, just hunger.
With 1 in 4 children in Maine being food insecure, I can’t help but wonder if some of the behavior issues being reported are related to little kids being hungry. And, as the report noted, a high number of the children being expelled come from homes with family issues that include domestic violence, homelessness, and substance abuse. I mean, of course, these kids are acting out. Wouldn’t they be? Shouldn’t they be?
I’m certainly no sage when it comes to all of these issues, but in my years of working in and studying issues in our educational system, I’ve found that our system does not allow very well for difference or struggle, and, overall, when these issues come up, we don’t handle things very well.
We need to understand that children are not little adults who can express their emotions clearly. Sometimes, most of the time, things come out sideways. And, at the same time, we need to remember that children are little human beings with perspectives and feelings that need to be valued and heard. “Because I said so” is not the best answer, and neither is punishment.
I’m hopeful that this study will result in some better training for teachers who are struggling to deal with these issues in their classrooms, but I think something bigger needs to happen as well. As a culture, we need to realize that our children are struggling; we need to do better in getting them access to the resources they need. Cutting them off from resources by expelling children from school is the worst thing we can do.
Our family is fortunate. After one more year of trying a school setting with our youngest son, we decided to homeschool. Within a couple of weeks of removing our son from what was certainly a stressful setting for him, we saw his overall behavior improve significantly. We were able to show him he didn’t have to be the “bad kid,” and, as such, I’m sure we changed his path in this world.
For our kiddo, the stress was coming from school, but many other children face big stresses at home as well. We need to do everything we can to keep school from being another stressful place in children’s lives. We need to make sure children in our school system do not feel like they are the “bad kids” for having struggles or behavior problems. We need to make sure families, children, and teachers, who are on the front lines, have the resources they need to make a difference for our children, especially the ones who are really struggling.
And I think we need to remember that there’s always a reason.