That tiny roar

My daughter is at home today. The last two days have been crashing defeats at school, and we’re at a loss to figure out what to do next.

On Monday, her teacher called me, frantically, right as I was walking in to teach class. Expecting death and destruction, I was somewhat relieved when she said that St. A was fine, but that “there had been an incident”.

(Incident, my foot, I wanted to say. Don’t call me with 911 in the message unless you want me to send in the National Guard and Doogie Hauser).

Apparently, St. A was asked to pick up a paper towel on the floor of the bathroom. It was not her paper towel. When asked, she became angry, clenched her teeth, and growled, stomping her little foot in defiance.

Yes, people, this is a Code Red in Kindergarden terms.

“We need to nip this in the bud,” said the teacher, “can you come down here and talk to her?” I stared openmouthed at the phone. Is she kidding me? I have to teach Grammar right now, not deal with growling. Fine, fine, I thought. So, leaving my class in the hands of a free teacher, I scooted on down to St. A’s school, where she sat, alone, in the classroom doing seat work. She blubberingly explained to me that she got angry because it wasn’t her paper towel. I told her that we had to be helpers, and be kind to Ms. H, and try our best to not show anger, even when we feel angry. At least not to growl.

When St. A went to the bathroom to wash her face, Ms. H came over to me and explained in no uncertain terms that she felt that St. A’s reactions were “developmentally inappropriate”, and wondered if something were going on at home. “She’s scaring the other children,” she worried, “and that’s not good.”

Someone please tell me: what is a “developmentally appropriate” way for a 5-year-old to show anger? Seriously. I want to know. Because if clenching one’s teeth and stomping one’s foot are signals of a Unabomber in the making, then I’d like to know.

Apparently, the same thing happened on Tuesday in music class. The music teacher emailed me later on, asking for my “insight” into why St. A would have clenched her fists and stomped her foot when asked to sit apart from her BFF. Ummmm….I might stomp my foot a little in that case, too…

I’m not sure if there’s a problem with her expression of anger. There have been no major changes, nothing happening to make her more angry than usual. I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for a Kindergardener to be unable to express anger in an adult way (through biting sarcasm and the well-chosen expletive), but I wonder if R and I are allowing her to express anger in a way that acknowledges her feelings, but is under control.

Has anyone dealt with anything like this? Any ideas on how to deal with the Wrath of the Five-Year-Old?

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21 Responses to That tiny roar

  1. WorkingMom says:

    Insight on dealing with a five-year-old’s temper tantrum? Um, that’s part of being a FIVE-YEAR-OLD!!! Unfortunately, part of every teacher’s job is now dealing with issues they didn’t have to deal with to the degree they do nowadays, but REALLY?!? Could the teacher not have used it as a teachable moment and THEN followed up with you as an FYI? She didn’t kick or hit anyone or yell obscenities, right?

    I hate to say this, because it just perpetuates the whole “helicopter/defensive parenting” scenario, but the best defense is a good offense. Ask for a team meeting with the guidance counselor, an administrator, the teacher and the music teacher. Note to them you’ve been addressing this situation at home, but need more feedback from them, daily in fact. What preceded St. A’s outburst? Was another child being disruptive, and perhaps she was acting out from fear? Play their game. Ask for examples of how St. A should react to something she doesn’t like. Use phrases such as “advocating for herself”, “in what way were the children scared”, “how should she vocalize her displeasure at your request”. We did this after two incidents with the Middle Child, and they backed right off. You don’t want to be too aggressive, but let them know this is their JOB. You will be surprised at how fast things become non-issues if they are asked to document it daily.

    Good luck!

  2. If that is developmentally inappropriate, then I’m surprised Calvin hasn’t been sent to a specialist! At his school, behavior like that gets a time out and then a talk about what went wrong and how to do it better the next time….the talk coming after the child has been removed from the situation and cooled down. It’s that simple. I like the suggestion above. If you make them do a lot of extra work to help you, it will suddenly become a non-issue. Five year olds throw tantrums. Mine did it in a way that would scare the pants off of this teacher of St. A’s. The less of a deal that is made over it, the less likely it is to become and issue. Talk to her about it at home, about what she was feeling before the tantrums and about how her teachers’ reactions made her feel. Then just be sure not to reward tantrums at home and to help her learn better ways to express her anger…not that hers were AT ALL developmentally inappropriate. As long as she isn’t hurting other kids, she’s doing pretty well, I’d say.

  3. antropologa says:

    Well that sounds like quite the overreaction. I can’t believe they had you skip your JOB for that. It’s not like she was biting people and pulling fixtures off walls, jeez.

  4. Jane says:

    Count me in as another vote that the teachers are overreacting. Sounds like perfectly normal 5-yr. old behavior to me. If it isn’t? Then I’ve got three very abnormal kids at my house, too.

  5. cynthia says:

    Wow, is this teacher new? She couldn’t deal with the stomping and growling on her own and had you miss work to talk to St A. Come on! Surely, she could have at least waited until you picked her up to discuss the incident.

    My 4 y.o. gets very, very upset when he feels that he hasn’t been treated fairly. He sometimes responds with a “but I didn’t do it, mommy” if I ask him to clean up mess that he didn’t create. If I say, “Oh honey, I know. You’re such a good helper. Can you help mommy out this time?” he almost always complies. But some days, I’m just not as patient and take a more dictatorial approach which never ends well and we end up having a battle of wills.

    Children are beginning to get a strong sense of fairness at this stage. I bet any money that St A wouldn’t have gotten mad had the teacher (1) acknowledged that St A didn’t make the mess and (2) asked St A in a more positive “hurray for teamwork” sort of way.

    But how do you tell a teacher to consider that perhaps she needs to change her approach and to expect that some children will stomp and growl when angry?

  6. les says:

    Wow. I think that school may be the poor child’s problem. I’ve never heard of such a thing–that an elementary school teacher has to actually force a parent to come down to school (a parent at WORK, no less) to handle a minor matter like a temper tantrum. That is well within the realm of what a teacher is trained to handle on their own! And truthfully, I’d be a bit peeved about picking up someone else’s dirty paper towel. Your daughter has the right to assert herself–not to be turned into someone’s doormat and hide all of her feelings.

  7. Leslie says:

    I am a mommy who used to teach elementary school, so maybe I can offer a teacher’s perspective. First, I will start by saying i do not think that St. A’s reaction is uncommon for 5 year olds at all and the fact that you were called to leave work to handle it was quite extreme. My prediction is with it being so late in the year that both teachers and students are getting a bit worn out, counting down until summer. If St. A has not acted like this for her kindergarten year prior to these incidents, it’s quite possible that it freaked the teacher out and she didn’t know how to handle this unusual behavior from a normally compliant student. Teachers are human and by this point in the year, their fuses are pretty short and they don’t want bad behaviors to become “contagious”. I myself once had a 3rd grade classroom that fell victim to the disease of random outbursts of anger and crying that seemed to affect only the boys during the months of April & May. Did I call some parents at my wits end? Probably so. Did I demand their immediate presence at the school? No. I did however ask them if they would like to speak to their child on the phone, and all of them agreed. For the most part, this plan worked beautifully.
    I would definitely suggest a face to face meeting with the teacher so that you can express your concerns while at the same time come up with a plan for handling this behavior should it happen again (perhaps a phone call pep talk instead of a trip to the school). It sounds to me that St. A is a bright girl who wants to be heard before she feels she can rightfully submit, which she will learn to get a better handle on as she matures. Good luck!

  8. I have been called and asked to speak to my kindergartner on the phone when she was upset. I think it was poor judgment for them to ask you to show up in person at the school when you had a class to teach. Maybe the teachers are projecting their own short fuses and needed help to get their own emotions in check. I guess you could be sympathetic with them at this point, but also ask them to make calling you a last resort.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I think it was a bit extreme for you to have to go to school for this situation. If St. A had been physically violent or yelling, then I could understand your presence, but in this case a phone call or a note home should have been enough.

    I agree with WorkingMom. Have a sit down with all of the parties involved and ask how St. A should express her displeasure with a request and advocate for herself (I’d be angry, too, if I was asked to pick up something in a bathroom). Ask how the other children were scared and what steps were taken before you arrived at the school to address the “outburst.”

    In my work with elementary children, her response was totally age appropriate and normal. I even asked a couple of the children’s therapists I work with and they thought this was normal, too.

  10. I have to say I’m flabbergasted. I don’t know kindergardeners yet, but I know 4 and 5 year olds, and this seems really age appropriate and, honestly, socially advanced. Controlling her anger, showing it in ways that are acceptable pretty much all the way through elementary school, and articulating why she’s angry? Um, I don’t know if *I* could have done as well.
    I understand that teachers need everyone to comply and do exactly as told without any incident. But that’s a completely unreasonable expectation. These are small people just learning the rules. And it seems as though St. A has learned the rules very well. Don’t scream, don’t hit, don’t kick, don’t bite, don’t talk nasty, on and on and on. What’s left? I wouldn’t pick it up, either. Someone else’s germs are someone else’s business. Like the adult in charge.
    (Seriously, I’m fighting back expletives. And I’ve been at this nigh on 40 years. So I think stomping and growling is pretty awesome for an angry 5 year old.)
    And calling a parent in? I don’t care if you live next door and have nothing to do but write your novel. It’s their job during school hours. If they don’t have the skills to trick a 5 year old into complying without coercion, they need new careers.

  11. Mrs.Mayhem says:

    I have no teaching experience, but as a mom, that sounds like typical five year old behavior. Have you spoken to your daughter about the events?

    It’s a shame that the teacher couldn’t handle the situation. It does sound as though she must be overwhelmed. As another commenter mentioned, I wonder if the teacher is fairly new? All of the teachers I’ve known have had an established list of consequences for not following rules. And failing to pick up a paper towel can not possibly be a broken rule.

    Good luck.

  12. Sorry that I didn’t have any suggestions other than blaming the teacher for handling the situation so poorly. Your post was clearly also a request for suggestions…I can recommend The No-Cry Discipline Solution, Unconditional Parenting, and Siblings Without Rivalry as my go-to discipline manuals of choice, but I don’t know enough about how you already parent or how you want to parent to know what to suggest. Her explanation of her own behavior seems reasonable to me. You could brainstorm with her other options and ask her which seems the best choice to her, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t say she’d do it all the same next time.
    I just wanted to offer support on what seems like a situation where you’re told your daughter is an emergency of bad behavior—it seems that the problem isn’t with her but with the characterization of her by the school.

  13. evenshine says:

    nap- thanks for your thoughtful response. We actually did do the “visualize alternate scenarios” activity, which seemed to work. The more I think about the situation, and hear the comments from all of you, I see that my instinct was right- that she was expressing anger in a completely normal way. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is the last time I have to deal with it…famous last words, perhaps, but still…

  14. evenshine says:

    Mrs M- yes, we’ve spoken about it, and worked through it as best as I can…she does get frustrated easily, though, and that’s what I need to work on with her. Thanks for commenting!

  15. Ink says:

    I think the teacher may not have a strong understanding of what IS developmentally appropriate for 5 year olds! My goodness. I’m speechless. And really mad that you had to go down there. *shakes fist at sky*

    FWIW…”At least not to growl.” = I know plenty of adults who still need to learn this lesson. 😉

  16. Gibby says:

    Um, I wouldn’t pick up someone else’s garbage in a bathroom, either. Gross. But that’s beside the point.

    I do not think St. A’s reaction is developmentally inappropriate at all. She’s FIVE. I haven’t had the same exact scenario, but I have had teachers call me for various reasons. I always used to take the passive/apologetic route, but lately I have been asking the teachers how THEY handled the situation and why they chose to handle it that way. If I think they handled it fairly, then I take the situation home and talk it through with my daughter. If I feel they handled it unfairly, then I state it. (Politely and PC, of course.) Many times it helps if I give them an insight to my daughter’s personality. It amazes me that some teachers haven’t picked up on traits in my kids that I feel are so obvious. But then again, I guess when you have 20-some kids in a room, it can be hard to get to know each child fully.

  17. faemom says:

    There’s not much to add. But then I’m not muonch help because my son is “socially immature for kindergarten.” Because he fidgets and doesn’t understand personal space. Ok, the second one might be a problem.
    So good luck and let me know how you handle this if it happens again.

  18. I am obviously late to this party, but it’s too good not to jump in!

    My biggest problem with this whole thing (other than the fact that you were called out of work to deal with a paper towel issue) is the label “developmentally inappropriate.” Growling and stomping because you are being asked to do something that’s a bit unfair and kind of gross (I’m with Gibby on that point)? I’m 41 and I think *I* would probably do that.

    Miss D. has ADHD and is a fidgeter. She gets distracted. She sometimes talks out of turn. And yet, I’ve never been called to the school to “deal” with her behavior, nor has her hyperactivity ever been deemed “developmentally inappropriate.” This is just ridiculous!

    Yesterday, my 4 year old popped her sister in the nose. Because “she wasn’t listening to me.” Not looking forward to next year…

  19. evenshine says:

    TKW- yeah, that phrase rankled me, as well. Since the post, she hasn’t had any problems. Fingers crossed…

  20. ck says:

    I’ve been thinking about this situation since you first wrote about it. I didn’t comment then because I was so surprised by the teacher’s reaction that I didn’t know what to say. (This doesn’t happen often.) Anyway, I hope you are feeling better about the situation and that the teacher has since lightened up. A lot. Because seriously? Stomping and growling? I’d trade in whining and crying for stomping and growling any day.

  21. incognitomom says:

    I’m speechless. “Developmentally inappropriate”? Really, seriously? Making a parent leave work to handle something the teacher really should have been able to handle right then is ridiculous. Maybe she’s not “developmentally” ready to be teaching.

    If this is how teachers handle things now I guess I better make sure I don’t leave the school parking lot when I drop Shorty off for kindergarten because based on his anger issues and the problems I’m dealing with recently as he navigates preschool I’ll be asked to come in every day to handle his behavior.

    You are a much better woman than I am because I might have lost it if someone said that about my child after such a minor incident.

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