Tagged behavior management

Star Wars Blog

10 Parenting Lessons Learned From Star Wars

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So, not long ago, in a galaxy all too familiar, there was a rainy day, and restless siblings at odds with each other. A decision was made to join the rebel alliance, and begin the Star Wars experience.

Star Wars Blog

Since then, There have been moments of great despair, a night of confusion when the kids find out the relationship of Darth Vader and Luke (I’ll never forget the looks I got that night, as if all father’s were now suspect), there were times for parents to cringe (J.J. Binks), and times to rejoice for all.

But what we didn’t expect were the major parenting wins.   Important themes and life lessons frequently met with eye rolls when coming from the mouths of my wife or myself, but suddenly appreciated and heard thanks to new friends in a galaxy far, far away.

  1. Use The Force.
    Perhaps long ago, midi-chlorians were necessary to access the all-encompassing Force. Thankfully today, we have the knowledge of, and power to use Conflict Resolution. We all have the ability to solve problems, calmly with Jedi-like zen – and not let fear rule our lives and decision making ability. And we know “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
  2. Choices made in anger are usually not our best choices.
    How many times did I use my Yoda voice in my head when my middle child revolted putting shoes on, instead slinging them to the other side of the room. “Mmmm… much anger I sense in you. Anger is the path to the dark side.”

This actually helps me from becoming angry and to use the FORCE to solve problems. And that’s just for my benefit. Hopefully my daughter will eventually learn that it’s much harder to build up your block tower when you’re angrily throwing blocks at the tower. This also leads to…

  1. Problems are best solved when we are calm.
    Young Padawan learner, “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

So in other words, when you’re brother takes your toy, and runs away, find a way to make peace, not scream, cry and chase with harmful intent.

  1. Conflicts are going to happen.
    I love the squabbles of C3PO and R2D2. They are connected to eachother through all the movies, but they also drive their hard drive’s batty sometimes.

Much like the relationships of … well anybody in the household. We love each other, we are dedicated to each other. And we will drive each other crazy.
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  1. Size doesn’t always matter.
    From birth, our oldest daughter has been in the bottom of the percentiles for weight and height. She’s petite and likely always will be. But she has this longstanding dream of being “the biggest kid”. Friendships have been cast aside because a friend (truthfully) told her that she was the shorter child.   So when our kids got to watch Yoda do battle with Count Dooku, my wife didn’t hesitate to point out that Yoda was physically smaller than his nemesis. Yet, not only did he hold his own, he clearly is a great warrior with a smaller stature. Therefore, it’s ok to be smaller because:
  1. Hard work and perseverance are the way to achieve your goals.
    You may be angry, you may be sad, you may be scared, or you want to give up. Your ship may be deep at the bottom on a swamp in the Degobah system. But if you stick with your work, with your training, you can be a magnatile jedi, or a math jedi. Learn from your failures, and continue to push forward.
  1. Even when things seem darkest, there is always reason to hope.
    Maybe this one is more for us as parents. Even when your kids didn’t nap, and have been fighting for an hour, and at your heels with every move you make, you know that bedtime is coming. “Mmmm… sleep they will.” I say to my wife, “I am not afraid!” and she responds back: “You will be, you will be.”
  1. “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”
    You see it with Jengo Fett/Boba Fett, the climax with Darth Vader saving Luke from the Emperor, and even when Shmi Skywalker lets her only son go with the Jedi, there’s a feeling that these movies are a lot about relationships between parents and their kids. Our kids think a lot differently than we do – and that is an amazing thing that we should all appreciate.
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  1. Silly Jedi, Mind Tricks are for all of us.
    Obi Wan might consider this an abuse of power, but my wife and I were pleasantly surprised how we can use The Force to our advantage over our kids. “You do not want to stay awake, you want to go right to sleep.” OK, that worked 0 times.
    How about when we pass the $1 bin at Target, you just wave your hand and say: “These are not the toys you are looking for.”
    What Jedi Mind Tricks do you think your kids may be playing on you?
  1. Love wins. Always.
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What role do (non-parent) adults play when a child misbehaves?

The Role of Adults in Child (Mis) Behavior

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Number eleven had apparently forgotten that he was playing soccer. He more closely resembled an MMA fighter.   Recklessly and relentlessly, he swung his elbows at our players, kicked at their shins, and sent them to the earth with extended forearms. What role do (non-parent) adults play when a child misbehaves?The referee, a well-meaning but inept father from the other team, blew his whistle when our players were thrown violently to the ground, but he never issued a warning to number eleven, nor did he explain what eleven had done wrong. It was extremely frustrating on many levels.   The ref during the first half of the game (full disclosure—it was me) had kept control of the players on the field. Kids were playing hard, but not in a dirty manner. Secondly, and more to the point, number eleven pummeled and punished our players without a single comment from his coach. Had one of our players displayed even a fraction of the savagery that eleven showed, Emil, the head coach, or I, the assistant, would have pulled him off the field with an explanation as to his misdeeds. Eleven’s coach, however, watched the proceedings without comment.

Eleven’s behavior became increasingly bad as the game went on, and Emil and I considered pulling our boys off the field to keep them safe. Blessedly, the referee blew his whistle signifying the end of the game. We had won handily, but I felt no joy- still outraged by eleven’s style of play, and the adults who had let it happen. I replayed the first half in my mind. There had been no hard fouls, only a couple of blatant off-sides penalties. They were easy calls, but the opposing coach hadn’t thought so. “One of our parents will ref the second half,” he called threateningly.   At the time, the plan had seemed fine. It seemed fair that one of their parents would officiate the second half as one of ours had officiated the first. I should have been more concerned however, but I was blissfully unaware of the overly aggressive play to come.

So, who was at fault? Number eleven holds some of the responsibility, obviously.   He did perpetrate the shoving, elbowing, kicking, pushing and hacking. However, he is a child playing on a team coached by an adult who did nothing to stop the egregious behavior during a game officiated by an adult who did nothing to alter eleven’s style of play. What a disservice to number eleven (not to mention to the many bruised and battered boys on our team). I considered saying something to eleven post game. In retrospect, I would have approached him, complimented him on his aggressive mentality, but given him suggestions how to do it cleanly. At the time, I chose not to say something. Eleven probably would have misinterpreted any such communications as criticism (and who could blame him). It is not, after all, the job of an unknown adult to advise him how to behave. It is the job of familiar adults: coaches, referees, parents. Sadly, none of those adults did their job, and it is likely that number eleven will play as recklessly and unsafely when we have our rematch.

One can view the opposing coach as a parent who lets his child scream and bother others at a restaurant without taking any action. The parent was not doing the yelling, but the problem starts and ends with him. We are, after all, ultimately responsible for our children’s behavior. The opposing coach did nothing to address his player’s misbehavior so it persisted much in the way that a screaming obstreperous child will continue unless addressed by a parent. Calming such a child is not a herculean task. Talking to the offending child in a patient, soothing voice and really listening to what it is that is bothering them will frequently dampen the fire of his irritation. Not doing so, will fan the flames of his tantrum. One could view the referee (a parent who presumably knew number eleven) as a non-stranger adult who should have helped as well. A calm comment regarding number eleven’s transgressions would probably have curbed them. The lack of such a comment led to greater and greater transgressions.

 

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.

Ring the alarm: The Phone is on

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I’m calling it CPADD – cell phone attention deficit disorder and I’m guilty of it. Are you?

I like to think I am pretty good at being present. I’m a good listener. I can shut the world out and focus on a task. I play with my son. I do yoga. I read. Books and articles start to end. I do breathing exercises while sitting in heinous traffic jams.

So why can’t I put down the phone when I’m at home? Why do I need to bring it to the park? It has a camera right? For safety, ah ha. Why do I need to have my phone in my line of vision for 80% of my day?

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.

 

In my city, using a cell phone while driving is illegal. Distracted driving comes with a fine of $400, a potential court fee, a potential fine of $1000 if you receive a summons or fight your ticket and three demerit points applied to your driver’s record (we have a total of 6 points). Our governing bodies have had to police hand held use in vehicles yet every day you can see people using their phones in their car. What is it about our nature to want to be everywhere all the time? Why do we feel the need to respond to emails/texts/call immediately? What is it about the present that is so daunting that we need to escape it?

Something that resonates with me from my travels in Northern Canada is the idea of sitting silence. To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, Paul Andrew, “learning to sit in silence and be with yourself is a great challenge, but offers great rewards.”

We all have tasks and needs that require our attention, of course. But since I’m not in a profession that demand that I be ‘on call’, why can’t I put away my phone when I’m parenting my son? Why can’t I be present in extended moments of time with the people I’m closest to?

Since I’m the only one who can change my CPADD as I’ve yet to hear of a law for distracted parenting, I’m putting myself on a challenge and calling out to others who want to join me in opening even just a small part of the day to be cell-phone free. There’s a basket that sits in our front hallway that acts as a catch all for keys, mail, lip balm, sunglasses. And it’s now officially been made my free zone. The place where I drop my phone when I get home that allows for two things: one, my phone has a place to be out of my sight and reach and two, I can be present with my family for the precious hours in the day we have together.

It’s a challenge, for sure. But just when the urge to reach out and see what is going on ‘out there’ creeps in, I tune in to a softer inner voice, that of Paul reminding me of the rewards to sitting silence. Of being present, of parenting as best I can, in play and in guiding, in the sound of wind or music or laughter and tears in the playground or at home that need nothing more then my acknowledgment and being. Hands free.

How to help your kids find joy everyday.

Joy in the Journey

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I have long marveled at how my own two children approach life in so different a manner. One, is enthusiastic when giving gifts and eager to show the recipient the gift they picked out. This child is also the one that squealed with joy at a new dress her grandmother got her and said “I have wanted this for my whole life, thank you!” The other child is less joyful in giving and less grateful in receiving.

How to help your kids find joy everyday.

So, if they are being raised the same, it must be based more internally. I pondered gratitude and how to get my children to see the joy around them and cultivate that for others. It is going to be our fall project. I want to daily highlight the things we are grateful for, but not just list them of in a sanctimonious way. I think to truly be more grateful, you have to find the joy in the little things. Not every day brings celebrations, cake and presents, yet I am grateful for each day none the less. My children do have advantages in life that others do not and I want them to notice the difference and to be called to action. This fall our family will undertake to find more joy in the simple little things in life, and to cultivate joy in others’ lives.

Our habit at the dinner table is to share highs and lows or a favorite thing from the day. I love to hear the highlights of my family and what they remember at the end of the day. I plan to help us recognized our joy filled experiences at that time and to plan out how we can inspire others.

As with all new endeavors I am not sure how this will go, but I will see what we have learned next by month. Maybe we will be experts in spreading joy, and recognizing our own abundance!

Coming to Terms with ADHD

Coming to Terms with ADHD

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Okay. I’ll admit it. Prior to having children, I didn’t really believe in ADHD.

Coming to Terms with ADHD

I thought that ADHD was either grossly over-diagnosed or that it was simply children’s reactions to being placed in unnatural environments with unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate expectations. After all, many schools limit recess time to 20 minutes a day. Under the pressure of testing, public schools have largely pushed academic learning and a more sedentary lifestyle on children at younger and younger ages. At home, children spend less time playing outside and more time indoors watching television or playing video games. In my naïve view, children, deprived of an outlet for their energy, would naturally act out.

The news media often corroborates this notion that ADHD is either a product of our current society or a syndrome invented by the pharmaceutical industry rather than a true neurological difference. In a 2014 Guardian article, Dr. Bruce Perry claimed that ADHD was not a real disease. “Part of what happens,” he A mom who confronted her ADHD skepticism.stated, “is if you have an anxious, overwhelmed parent, that is contagious. When a child is struggling, the adults around them are easily disregulated too. This negative feedback process between the frustrated teacher or parent and disregulated child can escalate out of control.” In the Psychological Today article, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” Marilyn Wedge discusses how French psychiatrists, unlike their colleagues in the U.S., view ADHD as having social/emotional causes rather than neuro-biological ones. As a result, the French treat ADHD through psychotherapy rather than medicine. Other articles point to diet as a cause for hyperactive behavior. Many commenters on blogs or editorials view ADHD as the product of an undisciplined generation of children. They claim that if parents simply disciplined their children more or spanked them, then those children wouldn’t act so out of control. Finally, even psychologists, who believe in ADHD, question the dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with the syndrome after pharmaceutical companies began heavily advertising ADHD medications on television, radio or in magazines.

Thus, I too questioned the prevalence of ADHD. I viewed the syndrome as more of a behavioral problem than something stemming from neuro-biological differences. Then, I had my son, Sam. He was a happy, fat, wonderful baby (of course, all babies are wonderful). I breastfed him until he was over a year old. When he started eating solids, we limited sugar and fed him primarily whole foods. Except for plane or car trips, we didn’t allow him to watch television or play video games. Because we live in a moderate climate, he played outside almost every day. Yet, at 22 months, my son, like most toddlers, started having behavioral difficulties. Unlike most toddlers, my son didn’t grow out of many of the challenging behaviors, and those challenging behaviors seemed more extreme than those in other children. I attributed his behavior to the terrible twos and threes. Because I also blamed myself for Sam’s behavior, I read almost any kind of parenting book available about strong-willed and spirited children. However, none of the advice I read in therapists’ books really worked with my son. When Sam was four years old, I had an easier time parenting him, but he was still more challenging to raise than my younger son. Most people described him as having a lot of energy.

A mom facing her ADHD skepticism.After a tumultuous first semester in a traditional kindergarten, which I documented in my first blog post, I decided to take Sam to a specialist. After two days of extensive testing, including brain scans, the neuropsychologist diagnosed Sam with ADHD. In our follow-up appointment, the neuropsychologist spent over an hour describing how ADHD affects a child’s executive functions and how the frontal lobe develops differently in children with ADHD. My husband, who also attended the meeting, said that the neuropsychologist could have been describing him as a child. However, because psychologists did not diagnose children as having ADHD at the time, my husband was simply called “stupid”, “bad”, or “un-teachable.” My husband, who completed a master’s degree in his second language, obviously does not have any cognitive deficits. However, he does have problems with following directions, planning activities, listening, sitting still and solving problems. He has many strengths, but he also probably has undiagnosed ADHD. In some instances, ADHD helps him to hyper-focus on things he likes to do, but it also hinders his abilities in other areas.

Listening to the neuropsychologist, I also began to think about my mother’s first cousin, who was always described as a “wild child.” I only knew him as an adult, but he had boundless energy, couldn’t sit still, talked very loudly and with a lot of profanity, and slept very little. He was also a very intelligent, sweet and caring man, who became a wonderful father, husband, entrepreneur, and outdoorsman. His path to adulthood was not easy, and he had a very strained relationship with his parents throughout his adolescence and early adulthood. I started thinking about all the children, who were deemed troublemakers as young children, and the effect that those labels had on them. Even though people sometimes claim ADHD didn’t exist when they were children, kids with ADHD-like behaviors and neurological differences have always existed. Parents and teachers just didn’t have the tools to deal with the behaviors. I don’t think any child wins when that child has been pigeon-holed as a bad child at an early age. That kind of labeling only exacerbates situations rather than ameliorates them.

Finally, ADHD affects so much more than a child’s ability to sit still in class. My own son, when interested in a topic, can sit still for hours or hyper-focus (also a symptom of his ADHD). He can listen to audio-books for hours, build elaborate lego creations, and draw. However, during hyper-focus, he cannot pay attention to anything else but the task at hand. Unless you touch him on the shoulder and look him in the eye, he won’t hear his name being called. He also won’t stop what he is doing to go to the bathroom. At school, he has difficulty sitting criss-cross applesauce in a group, walking silently in a line, concentrating in a normal-sized classroom of 22 children, and following multi-step instructions. His ADHD affects his visual tracking and focus. His optometrist told me that whereas only 5% of the population has problems with visual tracking and acuity, 80% of her patients with visual tracking problems also have ADHD. Other studies show that children with ADHD concentrate better when they move, as opposed to neuro-typical children who become distracted by movement. In short, children with ADHD are simply wired differently.

If you've ever doubted an ADHD diagnosis, read this.

In many ways, I am grateful for the ADHD diagnosis, because there are a lot of research-based methods proven to help children with ADHD. I also realize how mistaken I was. All of the things that I thought might cause ADHD (schools with limited recess and emphasizing rote learning, poor diet, excessive screen time, lack of outdoor time, etc.) were not present in my son’s life. Yet, my son still had ADHD. When we moved my son to a wonderful school with an hour and a half recess, project-based education, small student-teacher ratios, and tactile learning, my son’s ADHD didn’t disappear.  He still struggled. However, the teachers at this school were willing to implement accommodations to help him succeed.

As far as parenting, my husband and I have attended lectures and therapy sessions to learn how to parent our son better. Because psychologists have been studying ADHD for over 50 years, we have benefited from their research and findings. My son is a creative, sweet, thoughtful, passionate, energetic and smart little boy. Like my husband, ADHD both helps him in some areas and hinders his abilities in others. I would much rather live in a society that gave these kids the tools to succeed than a society that penalized these children for being different. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that scientists blamed autism on the autistic child’s “frigid” mother. As for the claim that French children don’t get ADHD, research reveals that approximately 3 to 5% of French children have ADHD just like the rest of the world. ADHD may still be over-diagnosed in the United States, but I think the next generation would benefit much more from a society that helps kids with learning differences succeed. No one wins in a society that refuses to accept the fact that some kids are wired differently and may need different tools and accommodations at home and in the classroom.

Helpful Links

ADHD Resources from the CDC

ADHD Myths

ADHD Blogs

Collaborative and Proactive Discipline

 

 

Kindergarten Bullying

Kindergarten. Bullying in the Age of Clip Charts and No Child Left Behind

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Kindergarten Bullying

Here is where I will begin: a No Place for Hate march at my son’s school. The children stand on patchy grass and hold Styrofoam plates sewn together with yarn as improvised tambourines. They wait for the teacher’s cue to begin, and the dried beans inside the two plates slightly rattle. The head teacher yells, “Okay, let’s go! No place for hate.” The children chant after her and bang the tambourines at random. The parade snakes back to the school building, and it is over in less time than it took the children to get organized. Along with a few posters on the wall, this is the school’s response to bullying. It is also indicative of how the school addressed most issues, making some noise and appearing to tackle a problem while actually doing very little.Kindergarten No Place for Hate

 

Our family began my son’s kindergarten year the previous August at a dual language public school in central Austin. My children, half South American/half North American, spoke Spanish and English fluently due to the fact that they had grown up in a dual language household. We applied to get my son into the school after attending a school tour, where the principal promised a positive behavioral approach to discipline, a focus on project-based learning, an integration of drama into classrooms through puppet shows, and social/emotional learning incorporated into the curriculum. The school also had an organic garden, a turtle pond and chickens. We were all excited. Neither my son nor I cried that first day of school. As someone who loved books, my son was most excited that the school had a library.

In a very short time, we realized that the reality was a far cry from the tour. Within a week, I learned that the positive behavior reinforcement was actually a way for the teachers to publicly shame the students into behaving. Like many public schools, my son’s school employed a behavior clip chart with the numbers one through four. When the student behaved well, he remained on a four. If the student misbehaved, the student had to move his/her clip down a number. While I didn’t mind the number system, I didn’t like the fact that it was displayed prominently in the room for all to see. My son began to refer to the other students by their behavior number. Within a short time, my son became known as a one or a two.

Kindergarten Behavior Management FolderEven worse were the green folders. In these folders, the teacher wrote down every single infraction that the child committed during the day without mentioning anything positive. In my son’s case, these included minor incidents like saying he wanted to kiss one of his friends (“a boy,” the teacher wrote), to getting out of line, to things I would want to know about like hitting another student. From a management standpoint, I thought this was a horrible idea. Can you imagine going to work and having your boss write down every mistake you made during the day without commenting on anything you had done right? The technique would make you discouraged at best, angry and disengaged at worst. Even though I disagreed with the school’s discipline system, my husband and I, wanting to support the teacher, talked to our son about his behavior, took away privileges like television for days that he misbehaved and instituted rewards for the days he behaved well. In our house, giving positive feedback for good behavior, taking away toys or giving timeouts for bad behavior had worked fairly well.

Kindergarten nearly broke my son.

Kindergarten Teacher NotesAfter a month of being in kindergarten, my son made several heartbreaking statements. While reading Beauty and the Beast, my son stated that he didn’t think he was beautiful inside because he couldn’t behave well in school. He planned a soccer game for his friends and asked me to invite his teacher so that she could see that he was a good person. A friend of mine also reported that she overheard my son’s classmates taunting him and calling him bad. I talked to the teacher about the incidents. She offered to work with my son, applying different teaching approaches, which involved putting him in the corner all day to complete his work and sending him to the preschool class when he didn’t behave. I brought a behavior chart, so that she could place a star on desired behaviors, but the teacher abandoned it after one day. We also asked her to report on the positive things he did during the day, so that we could praise good behavior. She refused, telling us to ask our son to report the good things he did.

At home, my son began to throw fits after school. He said that he would rather be homeless than go to school. Talking to a parent of an older student, I discovered that multiple students had had problems with this teacher. I also found out that the teacher did not use many of the kindergarten staples like centers or manipulative materials for teaching. Instead, she relied heavily on the overhead projector and worksheets. We immediately began the process of moving my son to another class. We also began therapy to address some of my son’s behavioral issues in school.

His new teacher was a godsend. Trained in special education, she had a number of tricks up her sleeve to work with all kinds of students. However, the publicly displayed discipline system and the green folders remained. My son, because he had problems following directions and listening to the teacher, began to get teased. “Look, he has bugs in his ears. He can’t hear what the teachers are saying,” the children said. To make matters worse, he had another teacher, who taught Language Arts and simply could not deal with him. My son told me that she instructed the students to write a sentence. My son, who was only in his second month of kindergarten, said, “I cannot write a sentence. I can only write my name.” Even though the teachers hadn’t even taught the entire alphabet at that point, the teacher replied, “That’s not good enough. You need to write, “My name is ________.” Unable to do the work, my son began to put himself in the class’ “peace center,” a glorified time out area in the classroom, where he remained all day, every day until I picked him up.

Navigating the 504 process.

Upon the advice of our therapist, I met with the assistant principal and asked the school to conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment, so that their school counselor could observe my son in class, discover the causes for his behaviors, how the teachers were responding, and recommend some accommodations for the classroom. The school refused, saying that I would need an outside diagnosis. His pediatrician and therapist could not diagnose him with anything, but gave me the numbers for several neuropsychologists and pediatric psychiatrists. I took the soonest appointment possible for a neuropsychology assessment, but we still had to wait another month.

Because I thought the school might have refused to do the Functional Behavior Assessment due to costs, I arranged for someone from my son’s therapist’s office to do her own evaluation of my son’s behavior in class. I notified the teachers of the upcoming observation. My son’s therapist spoke with the school principal, informing him that someone would be coming to observe my son in class the following day. When the evaluator came, the principal sent her away, citing a concern for the other students’ privacy and a need to get the evaluator approved by the district. While this may have been true, the principal should have informed my son’s therapist when he originally spoke with her. Still wanting to work with the school, I attributed the event to miscommunication and talked with the school officials. They promised to get the evaluator approved and to email or call us when they had approval from the district.

We had multiple teacher conferences. The teachers brought out the Texas Essential Knowledge (TEKS) standards and my son’s test results. Even though my son could easily count to 20 or more, was starting to read, and came home from school and dictated stories to us so that he could create his own comic books, the school rated him as only being able to talk in complete sentences. We brought this up to the teachers, and they replied that even though they knew he could count to 20 (one of the requirements), he didn’t count well enough to meet test standards. When discussing his ability to dictate stories (another requirement), the teachers replied that he could only dictate a story that he found interesting or one that he created. The teachers said that they weren’t interested in his ability to create stories or talk only about stories that interested him. He would have to repeat the story that the test chose. In other words, the school wasn’t interested in his ability. They were interested in how well he could perform on a test. The teachers further discussed the need for students to separate fiction from non-fiction and to start to create a rough draft. Listening to the teachers rattle off the TEKS mandates, I felt the list sounded developmentally inappropriate and somewhat arbitrary. I wanted my son to develop a love of reading and to expand his notions of reality, rather than limit concepts through categorizations of literature at such a young age. The teachers said that unless my son could master all of the Texas Essential Knowledge and do well on the tests, they would have to recommend holding him back. In another meeting with the assistant principal, where she refused again to do any kind of behavior assessment or to offer my child any accommodations until he got a diagnosis, the assistant principal echoed the teacher’s belief that we should simply have my son repeat kindergarten.

My child was almost left behind.

In the meantime, my son began to call himself dumb on a daily basis. He said that he wanted to die, because he couldn’t behave in class. He hated being publicly demoted to a lower number in class, but the demotion did nothing to change his behavior. It only made the other kids call him bad. The new teachers sat him close to them. They tried some accommodations, such as behavior charts and fidget toys to keep my son in circle time. While some of the accommodations worked, the teacher abandoned them because the fidget toy broke or they simply forgot to use the behavior charts. My child also began to run away from his language arts class. While the teachers cited this as simple misbehavior, a friend informed me that she saw his Language Arts teacher yelling at him in the hallway, asking him if he wanted to get a “0.” I asked my son if he understood what getting a “0” meant. “It means my teacher doesn’t like me,” he said.

At that point, it dawned on me that my child was essentially the child being left behind by No Child Left Behind. We did not face any serious economic problems. We had read to my son every day since he was only a few months old. My son hadn’t watched television or played apps until he was almost four years old. Although he now watched television, we limited his television time to below the American Pediatrician’s Association’s recommendations. Furthermore, I spent ample time with my children and cooked them a well-balanced meal every day. We never ate fast food or processed food, and my children went to bed at 7:30 every night. Yet despite all of these facts, my child could not succeed in school. His homeroom teacher was wonderful, but she could not compensate for a developmentally inappropriate curriculum, ineffective classroom management, and an administration that preferred to fail students rather than figure out the causes behind a student’s classroom struggles.

My family is lucky. We have the resources to look for other options. However, not all families can afford private neuropsychological testing or therapy. Many families also might not have the time or resources to navigate the bureaucracy of the public school system. We withdrew my son after his first semester and put him in a small preschool that includes a kindergarten. Within a month of attending the other school, my son began reading, could count to 100, and started doing simple addition and subtraction problems. More importantly, he stopped calling himself bad and dumb.
We also received the results back from his neuropsychology test. My son has ADHD, which explains his behavioral difficulties. Academically, however, he was exactly where he should be. Therefore, holding him back in kindergarten would have been a mistake. It also would not have solved his behavioral problems.

No child should fall through the cracks in Kindergarten.

I return to the No Place for Hate march on that beautiful fall day. A single march and a few anti-bullying posters will not do anything to solve the complex problem of bullying, especially in a school with a discipline system that highlights the negative and publicly shames students. Standardized testing and No Child Left Behind will not cure social inequalities. In my opinion, educational funds would be better spent on teacher training and lowering class ratios. There are many public schools that are doing a phenomenal job, but no child should be failing kindergarten. Kindergarten should be a year when a child falls in love with learning. Despite my son’s negative experience, we’re lucky he did not lose his interest in learning. Many families are not so lucky. Too many children simply fall through the cracks in a system that places more importance on state mandates than on the well being of a child.

In case you were wondering, when we withdrew my son from the school two months later, the principal still hadn’t followed through with our request for professional observation of the class. Additionally, the day after we decided to remove my son from his public school, the school’s name appeared on a list of the worst public schools in Texas.