She Says… Abuse of Power or Good Idea?

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?

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24 responses to “She Says… Abuse of Power or Good Idea?

  1. I actually think it’s ok to withhold the lovey. I also think he’s probably old enough for time outs. Chloe spends a lot of time in time out and will even put herself there when she knows she has done something we don’t like. These things are tough and I remember feeling a similar way about Lilly and her binkie when she was about Owen’s age. I remember feeling hurt that someone would dare do that to my child but in retrospect it was the right choice. Lilly will be 6 next week and will NOT get rid of the binkie BUT it still works as leverage for her. There is no right or wrong but if it feels bad to you then you should talk to the teacher. You certainly have that right. I wouldn’t let it keep you up at night … there will be things that are a lot worse for sleepness nights! 🙂 This too shall pass (I hate when people tell me that but it’s true) … I will add that Chloe doesn’t care what we take and if she knew the words F U she would probably use them on us! It’s easier to have a kid that adores something and you can use it for good instead of evil! Chloe doesn;t give a crap!

  2. Yikes, as a former lovey owner myself (mine was called Blankie), I had a strong reaction as well. It’s not the right bargaining tool. In this case, I think positive reinforcement or an incentive can be paired with “punishment” while you’re trying to extinguish this behavior, and then the positive reinforcement can continue as the punishment is less necessary. You could try something like “Until you can have a calm voice and calm body, I can’t help you with _____ and we’re not going to do ______ (play with our friends/do this activity/get this toy, etc). If there is another less emotionally-tied object or activity, you could take that away. Then when he does calm down, always praising him for stopping the screeching and noticing whatever he did instead. I do think it’s very important to follow through with whatever the expectation is, so he will understand that his behavior is not getting him anywhere.

    I don’t think this was an “abuse of power” at all, rather, as you say she was grasping at straws so the kids could nap. You can’t think of an alternative and neither could she in the moment, so you’re kind of on the same page. I’m sure if you talk with her, you can figure out another punishment/incentive between the two of you. Good luck 🙂

  3. I’m sort of conflicted on this. On one hand, if he was tired and frustrated a few minutes before nap time after a long week, I bet the teachers were, too. Like you said, she was probably grasping for anything to make the noise stop. It’s one of those things that we regret later but in the moment, can’t think of another alternative.

    On the other hand, I’ve never withheld or threatened to withhold Ryan’s lovey either. We tend to be pretty firm with Ryan on his behavior, but when it comes to lovey, I am a softie. There are times when he is very frustrated that we are putting him to bed and he throws lovey over the side of the crib. You should see the look of terror/panic the kid gets on his face when he thinks we may not give it back (we have a “you throw it, you lose it” rule for anything that isn’t a ball). But I always give lovey back. Because how can I expect him to sleep if I’m denying the thing he needs most to be soothed? And because he’s two and sometimes it’s better to be kind than it is to prove a point. In the end, if you’ve thought about it this much, it obviously bothers you, and I think that’s really all you need to know. Follow your instincts.

    Of course, you still have the dilemma of what to do instead. Could you try a modified time-out? They don’t do traditional “go stand in the corner” time-outs at Ryan’s daycare, but they do take them over to a quiet area and sit them on a couch and talk to them quietly about the behavior and what they would like to see differently. It’s not so much “punishment” as it is “take him out of the situation and give him a chance to calm down with one-on-one attention.” In the case of aggression toward another child, they’ll then walk them over to the other kid to apologize, and they teach the other kid to accept the apology (usually with a hug).

    Sorry that was so long. We’ve been having daycare issues of our own, so it sort of struck home.

  4. As a teacher, I kind of have an issue with you describing this as an abuse of power, honestly. Withholding an object until an unwanted behavior stops is an absolutely acceptable disciplinary technique. The teacher did not threaten to withhold snacks, mommy, daddy, or doggie. The teacher did not use mental or physical abuse. Those would have been abuses of power. Telling Owen that until he stopped a poor behavior he would not receive his lovey is not an abuse of power.

  5. IMHO–If he stopped screeching as soon as they said they would hold back the Lovey then I say GO FOR IT! Desperate times call for desperate measures…NOTE*This comes from someone that has never used a lovey and may not understand the emotions that come with said lovey. Also, it may not continue to work…the screeching could just escalate.
    Also–it is more complicated than that. If you do not feel it is right for them to do that, then it is not right for them to do it. You are the boss. 🙂

    Everyone is going to have a different opinion on the matter. I am a bit about tough love in my house. We do use time outs (Super Nanny style) with great results. I also use Magic 123(works awesome!!!) for my 2.5 year old. I also am a SAHM and don’t have to deal with daycare issues. Also, my child is very verbal and uses words a lot. This helps. For now…

    Although, there is always a chance of backfire– if said child continues to scream and then you have to give the lovey to stop the screeching. That is where the power struggle is. If the worker is not prepared to hold back the lovey and let the screeching continue (which it does not sound like they or you are then it is not a fair tool)
    . I.E-say what you mean, and mean what you say.

    P.S Love your blog-you are a very open and honest writer and it sounds like you guys are doing a wonderful job raising your son.

    P.P.S I hope my comment does not come off as me knowing everything about parenting….I can assure you I am clueless like everyone else!! Ha-ha.

    Good luck! 🙂

  6. Not an abuse of power, but it is hard for a mother to see her child diciplined by other people. Dont internalise it. It takes a village 🙂

    A teacher does not have the emotional connection with Owen like you do, so their persuasive skills are limited, as well as the fact they have a whole room of toddlers to manage and they having raised more children than you and have most likely gone through proffesional training on behaviour management and brain development, really do know best.

    Although positive reinforcement is preferable I am pretty sure now Owen will think that if he does not screech, he will not lose the comfort of lovey at school. He is learning life skills this way, you do the wrong thing there is a consequence. I do not feel that it is an abuse of power at all, its just hard for mummy who never wants her baby to feel deprived of anything.

  7. As a teacher, I also take issue to your description of “abuse of power.” He is old enough for a loss of privilege or a time out when he chooses to continue shrieking. His teacher was firm, not abusive.

  8. I do not think it is okay to use the lovey as leverage. It is different if he hit someone with it. But if it is a calming tool for Owen how is taking it away going to help him calm down?

    We have used time outs with Logan since he was 12 months when he started a very bad hitting/biting/kicking phase. We just sat him on his butt for a minute at our feet and didn’t give him attention but stayed near by. With consistency it was the only that worked of all that we tried to stop (or at least reduce) the behavior. We only use time out for physical aggression or safety issues, and he always gets a warning or two first. It has worked for us. I had mixed feelings because I knew he didn’t have the words yet, but that is why I stayed close by him. And after I would say “we don’t —. I love you. Kiss and hug.” He is 19 months old now and gets the idea. We use them much less now and do everything to encourage him using his words first (or simultaneously) like when I pick him up after hitting saying “I’m mad. I wanted to —.”

    I do think a conversation is in order though. I would be very upset if our daycare used Logan’s blankie or pacifier as leverage (also only used for nap/bed).

  9. I’m a mom (to a 4 and 7 year old) and I was also a Pre-K Aide who worked with 2 year olds. Like someone mentioned, the staff at Owen’s school does not have the same emotional connection to him as you do. They also have X amount of kids they need to get to sleep, and that is nearly impossible to do if one of them is screeching. We didn’t do “time out”, but we did have the “calm down chair” and we used it as such. Whenever one of the kids got too crazy (if they or someone else was in danger of getting hurt, or if their behavior was really inappropriate), then they had to sit in the chair for a minute or two to calm down. It worked really well in our classroom.

    I like to use the natural consequence approach with my own kids. If my 7 year old is giving me a hard time/not listening/being fresh, etc, I’ll say something like, “You are acting like someone who is tired and needs extra rest. I think you will go to bed a little earlier tonight so that you can be a better listener tomorrow.” I know Owen is nowhere near that level of understanding now, but I believe there can be natural consequences to inappropriate behavior even at his age. Each child is different though, and only you will know what will work best for him.

    I don’t think the teacher abused her power at all, but as a mom I understand exactly how you feel. Try not to lose sleep over it though. As one of my friends (a mother to 2 teenagers) always reminds me, “Little kids, little problems. Bigger kids, bigger problems.”

  10. I’m a mom of a 5, 3, & 2 year old, and I think withholding the lovey is acceptable. It was normal to Owen to continue screeching at first… he was pushing back on the boundary, but when he realized it wasn’t going to work he stopped screeching and received his lovey. It’s not an “abuse of power”, the teacher was kind and worked well within your son’s developmental age. You might ask her to refine her approach a bit, asking Owen to stop screeching because it hurts her/disturbs others…. then move on to withholding the lovey. I warn you to becareful though… good schools are hard to find and if this is your first “run-in” with the school its relatively minor… With my oldest I complained about a minor issue and found myself looking for a new school at the end of the semester because “They just didn’t have room for more than X in their class.” They got rid of all the gripey moms. I would say catalog this, but don’t bring it up unless further issues surface. JMHO.

  11. I’m a big fan of your blog! I have to say – it sounds like the issue here is that you are dealing with a new parenting stage. Up to this point, discipline hasn’t been necessary. You’ve been doing admirably with positive reinforcement and such. However, you’ve reached a stage in Owen’s development where positive reinforcement just isn’t cutting it – it’s time for punishments. Owen needs to learn that actions have consequences. No parent ever wants to make the leap to punishment – and no parent ever wants to BELIEVE that their kid is in need of punishments – but they are necessary. Withholding lovey until bad behavior stopped was a perfectly acceptable punishment in this situation. Also, as you pointed out – it worked! Owen stopped crying and settled in to his nap.

    I do think you’re overreacting for this reason – I highly doubt that Owen was as upset by this as you were. This was not traumatizing by any means. And feel free to discuss this with Owen’s teacher, but be considerate of classroom norms. If the classroom norms have been established, and one of them is that objects (certain toys, comfort objects, etc.) will be withheld until ideal behavior is demonstrated) it would be unfair of you to ask that the teacher change their established classroom rules for Owen – and detrimental to the other students in Owen’s class. Just remember that what works wonderfully for you when you deal with Owen one on one is not necessarily proper or even possible when dealing with a room of ten children, all of which the teacher has an obligation to. And also remember that while Owen may not display behaviors that need punishment with you, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t push his boundaries when with other children and with a teacher (which is completely natural). If you were with Owen at daycare, you might see him exhibiting behaviors that you would deem punishment worthy, as opposed to the behaviors that you see at home that can be corrected more through discussion and positive reinforcement.

    I think you handled things with Owen perfectly – talking about it and reinforcing the teacher’s authority – which could not have been easy considering you didn’t agree with the teacher’s method of discipline.

  12. I used to work at a pre-school for students of exactly this age, and we had very similar issues. It is not only annoying to listen to, but eventually, it does catch on and it becomes a “go to” for kids, who think that it is an automatic ticket to getting what they want (more snack, to be picked up, etc.).

    I’ve found that this works very well (and now I teach 7th grade, and it STILL works). When a child would screech, or whine uncontrollably, I would tell him/her nicely and calmly that I can’t listen to them or give them what they want when they are choosing to communicate like this. When they are ready to calm their body down and try again, I’d be happy to listen. Case closed. You made your point, you’ve given him direction, and now it is up to him. If he chooses to continue to screech, you will choose to continue to not listen. Eventually, he will realize that this is an unsuccessful method in getting positive OR negative attention, and he will know that it is not something that he can rely on to get what he wants.

    Of COURSE it is better than hitting/biting/etc. but he can make a choice to use self control before screeching and think of a more productive and effective way to access the situation….two or twelve, it works.

  13. I understand you’re probably frustrated because you feel that the school overstepped their boundaries. If it were a smaller day care and there would be an emotional bond between Owen and his teacher, it would be okay to maybe mention how you do things at home. Unfortunately, it sounds like there are too many kids in the class to allow that one-on-one emotional bond. I wouldn’t say much this time, because as someone said, good schools ARE hard to find. Let Owen know why he couldn’t have his lovey at that time. There’s only so much they can do to not necessarily “punish” him (I hate the word punish)- but more or less, get him to stop. If they start withholding things such as a snack, food, or drink, then I would make it a point to say something. ( I don’t think that’s legal, lol). But for this one instance, make sure Owen knows why they did it, and hopefully he’ll remember and not “screech” in the future at school 🙂

  14. Oh so tough. Just a devil’s advocate thought process…positive reinforcement: he gets the lovey for good behaviour. So instead of thinking of him NOT getting it because he’s screeching, teach him he IS getting it when he’s quiet and in control.

  15. I think Owen is old enough for time-outs. It was not an abuse of power by the teacher and I agree with others that you ate overreacting. His teacher is his caregiver for most of the day and knows him/cares about him and used what she thought would work best. Owen is very smart and verbal and understands that screaming is NOT okay but did it anyway. Maybe next time he will think I’m not going to scream because I want my lovley and will calm himself.

  16. I am also a teacher and can say from personal experience that it is really stressful when a child is screaming while everyone else needs to be quiet and calming down. In this case, I don’t think it was the best decision to take Owen’s lovey away, since it’s used to calm him down. Where I work, I have other teachers working with me (or at least an assistant) so when a child is screaming, a teacher will take that child in the hall (or just out of the room) to be calmed down. That way, he isn’t upsetting everyone else; he’s removed from the situation that is obviously upsetting him. And especially if he’s tired, threatening to take away something that he NEEDS to be calm will just upset him more, while taking him to a less stimulating environment will be better.
    Withholding toys during play time is completely appropriate during PLAY time. However, nap time is a completely different story. Owen should be calmed, not punished. A lot of my students get cranky before nap time because they are so tired but don’t understand why they feel so tired, so the only way they know how to respond is by crying. I hope this helps and your handling Owen’s screaming perfectly at home!

  17. I don’think the teacher was wrong in the slightest, and if it worked I think it just proved that. It’s hard to have others dicipline your child and some things can seem more expreme looking at it through the ‘mom lense’.
    I also disagree about time-outs. My kid will be 3 in a few months and I don’t know what I’d do without time-out. We started time-out when he was about 2 1/2, and it does the trick. Sometimes all I have to do is tell him that he will get a TO if he doesn’t stop.
    If you don’t want them to use the lovey as leverage then, yes, I agree, you should present an alternative because it’s not totally fair to say ‘don’t do this’ even though it seemed to work fine without suggesting an alternative.

  18. My little one is only 9 months, so I read your blog as kind of a “this is what is to come” deal. I don’t think you are overreacting, but I also don’t think the teacher was abusing her power. A big thing at the nursery school I used to work at was the concept of “inside voice vs. outside voice” I would teach Owen that screeching is an Outside Voice and not okay to be used inside… Also terms such as “I can’t understand you when you talk like that…” “Calm your body…” “If you want to screech you need to go outside…” “Use your words…” I think the teacher was just trying to get him to calm down, and she used what she thought would work. You can always say to the teacher that you understand why she did what she did, but that as his mom, and knowing the connection he has with his lovey YOU felt bad that it was made into something used to try and control his behaviour. Ask the teacher if next time he doesn’t stop screeching if he can simply be removed from the room and explained to him that he can’t use his outside voice at that time. I had many a child hang out in the office while they needed to calm down, or remember how to behave in class.

  19. Hi Kate,

    I wrote a comment already but I think i came off too harsh. I followed your link to lovely love and now understand how you feel. It is obvious that the lovely reminds Owen of saftey, security and most of all You. I can understand that you wouldn’t want it taken away as punishment. If its something you would never do other people watching Owen should do/not do the same. You know him better than anyone.

    I do think you should have a quick talk with his teacher if you still feel like it in the morning. Just tell her the lovey is very important in your family and it shouldn’t be taken away as punishment. Ask the teacher what punishments/dicipline she thinks would work best because you would like to implement it at home to be on the same page. Just a suggestion…

  20. hi kate-my daughter has been screaming a lot too-she’s Owen’s age and she just starts yelling or screaming to get attention. It’s really annoying, at times embarrassing and I tried to just ignore it. It happens in the car, at home, and when she isn’t getting the attention she wants. I just walk away when possible but I know this can’t always happen. Also, I’ve been doing time outs. I don’t make her stay a full 2 minutes but it has been sorta working when she is purposely doing stuff she shouldn’t. (Like throwing her food, purposely spilling her juice box, etc.)
    It kinda hurts to hear about the lovey. my daughter has a blankie she takes everywhere and she has one at school too. She loves her blankie and it soothes her a lot and we have to remember, they are only 2 years old! They are not 4/5 years old and able to say what everything that they want w/o getting so frustrated. I don’t think the teacher was necessarily wrong at all but I think sometimes we forget how young they are, and before a nap, he just wanted his lovey and withholding it probably just upset him even.

  21. I am on the fence about whether or not Owen’s lovey should be used as leverage. I’ve never taken Eli’s away or withheld it, but I don’t think I’ve ever run into a scenario where it was an option or I felt it was possibly going to be a viable solution to do so. That being said, I don’t the teacher was abusing power… she probably doesn’t know the strong feelings that reside behind lovey. I think it would be perfectly fine to mention to her what lovey means to Owen and suggest that she maybe not use it as leverage, unless she feels it is absolutely necessary.
    We have been using time outs with Eli for awhile now, and for the most part it has been very effective. We are very calm about it and we don’t set a timer or anything like that. Eli must sit on a chair in the corner (because if it is anywhere else he pretends that it is a boat… sheesh!) until he is ready to change his behavior… example: Eli, you need to sit in time out until you are ready to follow directions and put your shoes on. Sometimes he sits for 10 seconds and sometimes several minutes. Given Owen’s advanced communication, I think that he would definitely be ready for that.
    Discipline at this age sucks, doesn’t it?!

  22. Wow lots of anonymous comments on this one! lol I completely understand your worry and thought process here. While we are reaching the age where discipline starts to enter the stage a bit more, if necessary, in my opinion, the loveys serve a greater purpose and shouldn’t be a bargaining in the best case scenario.

    I also think it’s okay if you don’t KNOW what the alternative should be and I find it can be positive if you ask THEM what they think. They are training professionals (many of them also mothers) and I usually respect their choice for dealing with situations, but sometimes they might not always see things the same way. If you explained your concerns the way you did here in a non-confrontational way, and ask them if they might have any other suggestions on how to deal with this issue at day care, they might be more willing to walk away from the conversation feeling positive and not “oh this Mom has special rules.” I bet this teacher didn’t quite realize Owen’s perspective at that point, just like you said.

  23. So, I don’t think it was an abuse of power by the daycare person, and I do think it seems like a reasonable thing for her to have tried. However, that does not mean you are wrong in feeling like it’s not the right thing to try with your child. That’s a false dichotomy. It doesn’t have to have been Wrong of her for it to be wrong for your child.

    I also think that you don’t necessarily have to have an alternate solution to suggest to the teachers before you can talk to them about how you don’t want the lovey used as leverage and why. I’m willing to bet that if you explained to them about you having developed it as a source of self-soothing just like you explained it to us, they’ll understand. And, perhaps, together your child’s teachers and you can figure something out. They are, after all, professionals and might have some other suggestions.

    Also, several of the suggestions here were some good places to start. I particularly liked taking him to a separate place “because it looks like you need a minute to calm down” and “because you are upsetting your friends”. It’s what we and Miss A’s teachers did/do with her. It’s not clear to me from your description how the screeching works with Owen. With Miss A, it was clear that once she was worked up, she was beyond her own control and so reasoning with her (like ‘no lovey until you calm down’) was useless since she was beyond reason. Classic toddler emotions, really. So, letting her be upset and calm down on her own was good for both her and the adults helping her (who could use a minute of their own when she got that way).

    Not related to screeching, I will just quickly add that we started using timeouts when she was two and felt that they were very useful.

  24. Ha ha ha. I just read Angie All The Way’s response and see I said almost exactly what she did. heh

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