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There’s been a situation brewing for the past few months that finally came to a head today. It could be looked at in a variety of ways, flipped and spun to accentuate the positive or the negative – or looked at from a multitude of sides – children… parents… figures of authority. Quite simply, my daughter has her first nemesis – an enemy of the smallest form – but only at times, and it’s a situation that could’ve been defused a lot earlier if the adults involved were better communicators, and less combative. The first step? Admitting openly that your child is no angel. Mine certainly isn’t, and I have no problem telling you that outright.

IMG 9790My oldest daughter, Addie, is just over three years old – 40 months if you’d like specifics. She’s had the benefit of a parent at home with her at all times since birth, never been placed in daycare or left in the hands of a sitter. Although there’s kids here in the neighborhood, there’s a bit of an age difference, and since we want her to develop some social skills before entering preschool, we enrolled her in a “Terrific 2’s and 3’s” program at the park district. I’ve been taking Addie to parent-tot activities at the park district since she was old enough to walk. While we’ve had many adventures over the past few years, “2’s and 3’s” would be her first activity where she’d be dropped-off and left to experience her first “classroom” setting, with a small group of kids in her age group, led by a pair of “teachers.” From Day One, she was loving it. With no hesitation whatsoever, Addie said “See you later Mommy and Daddy!” as she became enthralled with the different activity stations in the classroom. No separation anxiety, and that was a relief. Since September, she’s been attending for two hours a morning, two days a week. In-between, I still take her and her five-month-old sister to an unstructured “parent tot playtime” once a week. The first few weeks of class were uneventful, and seemingly pleasant. Addie would emerge each day happy and eager to tell us about what activities they took part in, and she’d give us a rundown of what the other kids (all by name) did – good and bad.

IMG 9880Then we started noticing a behavioral shift.

For the first time, Addie hit. She told us that she hit because there was a girl that had been hitting her. Then, each day we’d hear a different story – “Today she hit me.”; “Today she pulled my hair.”; “Daddy, she pushed me.” All of a sudden, the “defense” became “offense,” and Addie was occasionally hitting Mommy or Daddy, and in very rare cases, another child. What was irritating is that neither of the “teachers” (I use quotes because I don’t know if they’re “officially” teachers since this is a park district program) informed me that there was a problem until I asked. As a parent, I expect to be informed – especially when there’s a situation that might be going beyond the “Well, it’s just that age they’re at.” stage. Three-year-olds don’t know right and wrong all the time and they need to be taught. One of the “teachers” told me “We’re not disciplinarians,” which to me indicated a lack of enforcement, but I later found that they were doing some little things to guide the “use of words” and “kind hands.” We do a “naughty spot” version of “time out” here at home, never using hands/spanking/etc. in our discipline, and I wanted to make sure that “wrong” was being emphasized in class as well. Then, I continued getting regular reports as long as I asked. Eventually, information started being given to me without having to ask for it. In the meantime, Addie’s behavior continued to become more aggressive -bossy – and she’s been having an issue with listening. Sometimes, she’ll respond by making a silly noise instead of real words, as if she’s telling someone to “F-off.” Indeed, despite all the cute pictures you’ve seen here on The Rock Father (or my Facebook), sweet little Addie has developed an attitude problem since attending “2’s and 3’s.” Fortunately, she’s still that sweet little girl that most of you are familiar with, probably 80% of the time right now. I think that  there’s a bigger problem in the situation – and that falls squarely with the parents that think that their kids are perfect, or that it’s strictly other kids that are the problem. This, despite the fact that we’ve collectively witnessed probably every kid in the class acting out or throwing a tantrum at one point or another.

Funny thing is, Addie and her nemesis aren’t enemies 100% of the time. 

While the two girls fight constantly in class, they’ve also been known to hug and hold hands. There’s always that strange possibility that they could grow up to be best friends. The other girl is about 8 months younger than Addie, and I’m told “doesn’t use her words very much,” while Addie is “very verbal,” a fact that we’re aware of, as her speech is a couple of years beyond her age level. That communication barrier is likely the root cause of the issue, and it’s also a big part of the problem on the “adult” side of the equation.

The “Adults” don’t communicate…

In fact, most of the parents I’ve been encountering don’t appear very friendly at all. We all drop the kids off and pick them up at the same time. There we stand in the hallway, in near silence every day. I’m just as guilty, as after a few times of saying “hello” met with non-response, a half-nod, or in some cases, a douchey reaction, I just stopped trying to be social. It’s just weird to see a group of no more than a dozen parents standing there without interaction. Sure, there’s some on occasion – but it’s mostly quiet – and often standoffish. I’ve even wondered if I look intimidating at times – a big guy with a long goatee (often with a week’s worth of unshaven beard) – but I try to be friendly, and I have an infant in a baby carrier, so hopefully I’m not that threatening.

So the parents don’t talk to each other… the “teachers” only give info when pressed… and in the meantime there’s fires starting to burn within the circle of kids, and no one is talking about it. 

I’ve exchanged a few words at times with the other girl’s mom, who for the most part seems really disinterested. I think I’ve only seen her smile once, and probably the longest sentence I’ve gotten out of her thus far is “My daughter doesn’t talk much, but she sure talks about Addie.” I’ve tried to discuss the progress that the girls have been making in getting along, but then again comes the apparent disinterest – peppered with the occasional report on what MY daughter did, with no blame placed upon her child. Fess up, both girls are being naughty. I’ve seen my daughter flinch when the other girl gets near her, and I’ve also seen the other girl slap a little boy during the class Halloween party that parents were invited to attend. On the flip-side, I’ve seen my own daughter get aggressive with some other kids, both verbally and physically. If I see it, I remove her from the situation and let her know that it was wrong – regardless of who got aggressive first.

So today it came to a head…

Turns out that the interaction between the two girls – Addie and the other girl – has ticked off a couple of the other non-communicating parents, and rather than create an open dialogue about the situation to potentially remedy it, they pulled their children from the class. There was mention of these other kids (a boy and a girl) getting “caught in the crossfire” between Addie and her nemesis. Apparently, someone “felt uncomfortable,” which makes me wonder if it was the kids or the parents that were the ones lacking comfort in the situation. Addie has been in this program for three months, and it’s just today that I’m hearing about “possible” issues with other kids. How was I informed of this? We had our first visit to “the principal’s office” – or in this case, the head of the park district’s educational program – where I was given the rundown on the two girls (both of whom had their files out on the desk), and informed that the other girl’s mom had gone to the office about the conflict between the two girls, rather than talking about it more with me or the “teachers.” In response, they’ve added a third adult to the classroom setting, and are implementing a program (with some acronym to describe it) that will emphasize “positive behavior” in the classroom. I’m all for that, but I have to wonder why two adults couldn’t handle a class that now has only six students. Will three be able to cut it? Additionally, instead of the kids being released from class one-at-a-time as they had been, all of the parents are invited into the classroom, where we get a rundown on the day’s incidents. Today was the first with this, so we heard about one boy that kept climbing something he wasn’t supposed to; a girl that fell and needed ice; some other kid slapping; and finally, that Addie and the other girl were actually alright for the most part. The other girl had both parents there to pick her up, and I gave them a smile and a thumbs-up upon hearing that the girls were good. I didn’t really get a response.

I’m disappointed that my daughter has been difficult at times, and frustrated to have to un-do whatever tossed her behavior out-of-whack. While those are things that seemingly go with the territory of raising a three-year-old, I’m really irritated about this situation with the adults – all the way around. After begging for information for three months, I’m just now pulled into the office after a group standoffish parents that can’t even speak to one another, expect that their “2’s and 3’s” are going to magically interact without conflict.

In the meantime, our children are learning to rage against the machine… but the machine is now us.

I’m not really convinced that our little ones are true enemies, but I think that I now know my own enemy – and it’s these annoying parents – especially the ones that say nothing, but then just disappear. 

As for Addie, my wife and I will continue working to correct her outbursts, though I see a lot of me in her. I’m not a big fan of authority, and I can actually think of a couple outbursts of my own as a kindergartener. I once stood up in class and said, ” I have an announcement to make: No one hits me, and I don’t hit them.” I think I was five. I see Addie as an outspoken, future leader – but we need to harness her power for good, not evil… and we need to start now.

Tonight, as I went back-and-forth on this blog entry, Addie said something to my wife and I that was heartbreaking: “I don’t want to go back to school, ever again.”

To be continued… 

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