Children and tantrums

As anyone who has ever been in a supermarket would know, children throw tantrums. Tantrums happen for a variety of reasons, but generally involve a child who has reached the end of their tether and for whom other forms of communication are not working. We’ve seen them, we’ve probably all been that child.

A few weeks back I blogged about it being my child. Things have since improved and it is unlikely that those tantrums will have a lifelong affect. Unlike this poor child. I don’t care who you are, you owe a child in a school duty of care and that does not include handcuffing them. Call the police if you must, although that does seem like an overreaction to what reads like a fairly standard tantrum. The behaviour I read about in the article was familiar. The consequences weren’t.

Salecia Johnson is six. How adult teachers can’t deal with a six year old, or call her parents without getting the police involved is beyond me.

Categories: education, law & order, Life, parenting, social justice

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16 replies

  1. My son was expelled from his first primary school within 6 weeks of starting Prep for similar outbursts. His second school, which had a special education unit on site, did better but still struggled hard. He would probably have inevitably been kicked out of there, too, if we hadn’t decided to homeschool, especially after the unit had their budget slashed and burned and most of their kids ‘mainstreamed’, which went over like a sack of bricks.
    To this day, he has violent outbursts, and he is 11. I live in terror that all too soon this story will be about him, and the world judging me for not being good enough a parent.

  2. I’m sorry I don’t have any easy solutions for you Jamie. In our case more sleep helped, but also a large adjustment to a new environment on our child’s part too. I wish you and your son all the best.

  3. While not suggesting for one moment that handcuffing a six-year old should ever be the right answer, my mother has been a school counsellor for about 30 years and has some horror stories to tell. She always says that kindergarten kids are the most difficult because even some neurotypical children can be difficult to reason with. It is also very difficult for teachers to cope with a tantrum of the magnitude describe in the article (and it sounds fairly extreme to me). They cannot restrain the child and you are correct that they can call the parents, but in some cases parents can take over an hour to arrive. A child can do a lot of damage to property, staff, other children and not least themselves in the intervening period.

    There are no easy answers sometimes. What for example to you do if a child is throwing projectiles at other children, biting and kicking their teacher or violently banging their head against a desk? Aside from the obvious and evacuating the classroom.

  4. Move the children to another area, if necessary taking them out of the room and calling in another member of staff. Teachers are trained to deal with this stuff. You can’t restrain them as such, but you can move to stop them hurting themselves or others. What Salecia did is exactly the same as my child did the year before she went to school at her daycare centre. The other children were taken out of the room and she was left with a carer. I was called, but the police were not. The situation was dealt with without needing police intervention.
    A school counsellor would see a lot of this, it’s part of their job after all. If kids are having tantrums like this then it is more than just the child’s behaviour at issue. It took a lot of talking with the staff at my child’s school but we worked out what the stressors were and how to deal with them. It wasn’t all my child’s fault, my child was reacting to what was going on in the classroom and I suspect that Salecia was too. To call the police is a stunning over reaction in my view.

  5. Sorry, I did not mean to imply that I thought the police should be called. I was mostly reacting to your suggestion that teachers or school is to blame for being unable to handle the situation. My mother has to deal with the mess one of the these events creates. She does counselling for staff and students afterward. You cannot blame a 5 or 6 year old child for their behaviour, but the reality is that they often leave some of the other kids frigtened by the violence and the teachers most often report feeling powerless in the situation.

    A tantrum of that magnitude is rare in school aged children (less so in preschoolers) and mostly occurs because the school is unaware there may be a problem. If the school knows, the children are managed to prevent such outbursts. And no most teachers are not adequately prepared for this reality. That is why so many teachers leave within the first three years.

  6. The police at the station tried to calm the child (after, you know, putting her in handcuffs and taking her to the police station – most six year olds would be freaked out by that, I imagine) and offered her a Coke? WTF? These police officers should not be interacting with children if their idea of calming down a six year old includes caffeinated soft drinks.

  7. It is getting better. Homeschooling was the best choice we ever made, and really, it’s a race between maturity bringing control and some incident happening that can’t be dealt with without Major Problems. He’s 11 now, and still has his moments, but I like to think we’ve done the best that could be, and we have amazing therapists with Minds and Hearts. 🙂

  8. Actually you can’t can’t always just “move them”. Technically staff aren’t allowed to lay a hand on a student in any way shape or form. If a child is in full spin out mode there is no way a teacher or staff member is going to be able to just move the child without actually picking them up or hanging on to them some how. And that isn’t allowed.
    Not that I am advocating calling the police. Or handcuffing children. Not at all.
    And also, teachers aren’t actually trained in this sort of thing. Not a single subject in my education course covered anything like this.

  9. @Hoot – I meant move the other children in the class, not the child acting out, sorry wasn’t clear there. I agree that moving the child during the tantrum won’t work.
    At my children’s school holding a child’s hand or patting them on the shoulder is okay, just a brief reassurance because these kids are still quite young and most are used to being able to hug their carers. I’m a bit concerned that classroom control wasn’t covered in your teaching course. Mine was in the late 90’s but I’m certain we covered it. Although that was for high school kids. This stuff is going to happen in the classroom so it’s a worry that student teachers aren’t being taught how to deal with it.
    @emgem – I think I wasn’t clear either. I’m not blaming the teachers, well maybe I am a bit, I’m just frustrated that the solution was to call in the police because there should have been other methods of controlling the situation available to the school without resorting to handcuffs. Although my experience is with Australian schools where there is generally a Principal on the premises who can come in as an authority figure, and one or two other teachers floating around to assist as well. Maybe this isn’t the case in some US schools?
    What I’m trying to get at is, although this behaviour should be rare, it’s going to happen and there should be strategies in place to deal with it.

  10. Something I thought immediately when I saw the photo of the child: would this have been done to any child? Or, hmm, does it have something to do with the colour of her skin?

    I read something somewhere (possibly in the NYT?) a few months ago about the enormous disparity between the way schools in the USA treat unruly white kids as compared to the way they treat unruly black kids. The police are far more likely to be called in for black kids. When I read that article, I thought they were talking about teenagers, which is bad enough. But a six-year-old? Sheesh!

  11. @Jo: I think race is a factor, absolutely. In fact I guessed before I clicked through that it was a black child, because I’m afraid I get the impression a lot of white Americans only know how to interact with blacks who are difficult via the police.
    On second thought, also true of many white Australians (John Howard) but I would hope it wouldn’t extend to six year olds.

  12. I did not mean to erase Salecia’s identity as a black child, I wanted to make the point that she is a six year old and handcuffs are not appropriate in any circumstances. My apologies if I have caused offence.

  13. Mindy: I didn’t think you were erasing her identity as black at all, in fact I suspect it may be easier for a lot of white parents to empathise if they don’t know the child is black. Sadly.
    I completely agree the core point is “six year old in handcuffs”. Anyone who changes their mind about the situation when they learn the child’s race is, well, racist. (I think that kind of colour-blindness is appropriate).

  14. Yes, I did wonder whether that would have happened if Salecia had been white.

  15. You can’t restrain them as such, but you can move to stop them hurting themselves or others.

    If a teacher is not allowed to touch a child or is too afraid to because they’re worried about lawsuits (much more a concern in the US) if someone gets injured then how does a teacher stop a child from hurting themselves?
    That being said I would have thought that the first phone call would have been to the parents and if they can’t get there quickly then perhaps call the police if they needed someone to physically restrain her to stop her from possibly hurting herself.

  16. Horrible. I don’t get how schools can just expel a student either. Where I live, you’ve got both the right, and the duty to go to school. (well, unless you home-school or some such). The school thus has a duty to offer you apropriate schooling.
    They can expel you, for a maximum of a week, but not “until august”. Hell, even if the child was 16 rather than 6 (and thus above the age where they’re accountable for their actions), the child might in extreme cases go to jail. But even then, they’ve still got the right to receive education.
    Sometimes a child really has extra problems with self-control, in some extreme cases you might even need a separate adult only for watching over this single child for a period. If so, you *get* that extra person, you don’t just send the child home.
    I’d say barring exceptional circumstance an adult should be able to deal with a 6-year-old throwing a tantrum. But offcourse it’s difficult if you’re the only adult, and responsible for more than a dozen 6-year-olds. In that case, dealing with the one child, means you’ve got essentially no resources left to actually offer teaching to the rest.

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