Friends, I need your help/wisdom. I’m having a bit of a dilemma.
Before I tell you the situation I have to say up front that we ADORE Owen’s school. Everyone from the administrators to the teachers to the assistants to the parents have been wonderful. This dilemma is NOT a criticism of the school or intended as finger-pointing. In fact, the school has been incredibly helpful in understanding and dealing with tons of other regular old toddler issues that could be problematic (aka BITING). I love their philosophy and I appreciate their tendency toward positive reinforcement rather than negative punishments, and letting kids explore the world around them as much as possible without limiting them.
So. Here’s what happened.
Over the last few weeks Owen has started a new (highly annoying but very normal) behavior. Screeching. Oh, screeching such that only dogs should be able to hear. Except people can, too, and it’s excruciating. I actually think this is a healthy development, because it seems to be taking the place of hitting/punching/pushing/biting when Owen is frustrated or not feeling heard. So I’m pumped he is beginning to figure out how to regulate his body and let his emotions out through his voice. However, not surprisingly, this screeching gets a rise out of people VERY quickly (I, for one, absolutely cannot stand it and despite my best intentions to ignore, redirect, discuss, etc., it just snaps me), so he learned really quickly that it is an effective technique. At least to get attention, if not exactly what you want. (Not from me, mind you. I may yell over his screaming, which is not my finest moment, but I never cave to screaming. Ever.).
At home, he usually does one really loud screech, gets a serious look from me, and he quiets immediately. Then we talk. It hasn’t been a huge issue at home. He gets that it’s not ok, and I only hear it VERY rarely. But apparently at school, screeching is, like many bad behaviors, contagious. So he screeches and someone else screeches and before the teachers can do a damn thing about it, they’ve got 10 little toddlers screeching their heads off. I get why this is a problem. Believe me. I do.
So apparently last Friday, Owen needed a diaper change. His teacher called his name and he didn’t listen. She called him again and he didn’t listen. She called him a third time and when he didn’t listen, she went and got him. (Exactly what I would have done, too, by the way). But then, either on the changing table or after he was done, he started screeching to express his discontent (with diaper changing, or being carried to the changing table, or whatever). Usually diapers are not really an issue for him, either, so I’m thinking there were other issues at play (more to come on this later). Anyway, then it was naptime, but apparently Owen didn’t stop screeching. The teacher said, and here’s the thing causing my dilemma: “You cannot have your lovey until you put your scream away.”
That, of course, made him angrier/more upset, so he screeched some more (likely because he could tell it was making her frustrated and because he knew she couldn’t actually stop him). Eventually he stopped, got his lovey, and fell fast asleep.
When the teacher told me the story at the end of the day, I almost cried right there in front of her. I don’t know why it felt so personal to me, but the thought of withholding Owen’s lovey… the one thing we have taught him to use as a tool for self-soothing and self-calming, seemed like an abuse of power to me. It hurt my heart to think of him crying for his lovey and screeching because he couldn’t find the words to tell her what he needed. (Side note: Lovey stays in Owen’s crib or nap bag at school all the time — he’s never used as a soother when it’s not naptime or bedtime, but I have never, not since the first time Owen slept with him, taken him away or threatened to do so).
I know she didn’t mean it like that. I know she was likely grasping at straws and trying to think of a bargaining technique that would make him stop screeching so everyone could nap. But I also know that it was minutes before naptime, on a Friday, after a long week of school. He was exhausted and probably teetering on the edge of that overtired cliff that has always been the root cause of the few and far between tantrums I have ever seen from my little guy, who is usually cool as a cucumber.
So as she told me the story I just nodded and thanked her for letting me know, and talked with Owen about how screeching inside is not ok. And that he needs to listen to his teachers. End of story.
After thinking about this all weekend (literally, it has kept me up at night), I’m certain that I need to have a discussion with the teacher tomorrow to let her know that I would rather she not use lovey as leverage. However, I feel that I need to offer her another suggestion of how to deal with this screeching or when Owen isn’t listening. I can’t just say “don’t do this, but I don’t have a solution”.
Neither school nor I have instituted time-outs so far. He’s two. I try to “honor the impulse” and understand that almost everything he’s doing is exploring and testing. It’s exactly what he should be doing, and, in my opinion, ruling with an iron fist will only add a lot of stress to both of our lives at this point. That said, I have started to direct him to “go in the other room and calm your body” and “let me know when you’re ready to try again without screeching”.
So, what would you do? Do you think using lovey was an ok way to show Owen that screeching is NOT ok? Am I overreacting? Can you think of a way that his teacher could positively reinforce NOT screeching rather than punishing screeching? Or do you think it’s worth disciplining now so that it doesn’t become a bigger issue?