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Boy troubles

Sweet Boy is in a preschool class this year of 15 kids, 12 of whom are boys. This statement strikes fear in the hearts of most human adults. He's been with most of these kids for two years now, and although he'll tell you all the other 14 children in this class are his best friends, we have always had trouble with hitting. Sweet Boy hits other children, and other children hit him. It's hard for me to know who usually instigates -- I know my son is not a blameless, beatific bearer of beatings -- but I know him well enough to know that he'll play nicely until someone doesn't play nicely with him...and then it's on! Poor D. learned the hard way today when he took a puzzle piece from Sweet Boy and whacked him with it. This left my little guy with a good ding on his forehead, but apparently Sweet Boy has a mean left hook, which left D. with a bloodied nose. (Yeah, you shoulda seen the other guy.)

But I'll back it up a minute. This morning when I got to the gym to drop Sweet Boy off, one of the teachers met me at the door. "We are meeting one-on-one with the parents of the Brat Pack this morning to explain our new, stricter rules in the gym," she said. "They're not allowed to wrestle and carry on any more, and we'll be putting them all in time out when they do." OK. First of all, the Brat Pack? This offends me. I realize you think this is a cute little name for a rambunctious bunch of boys, but no more will you label my son or any other 3-year-old this way. Second of all, this is a new rule? You mean wrestling has been allowed up until now? I don't get it. How can you enforce the "hands to yourself" and "use your words" rules in the classroom when in the before- and after-care it's an every-child-for-himself Wrestlemania? I don't know whether to file this under D for duh, or A for about friggin' time.

So fast forward now back to the end of the day, when I had to sign the incident report in the administrator's office. I was truly shocked and upset to read that my child had not only been clocked in the head by another child, but that Sweetie clobbered the other child hard enough to bloody his nose. So I squatted down in front of Sweet Boy and asked him about it: What happened? How did it make you feel? What would have been a better way to deal with D. than hitting him? etc. Right in the middle of this exchange, just as Sweetie is opening up and telling me his side of the story, the administrator interrupts and says, "Well, you know it's a class full of boys. They're just more physical and express themselves with their hands instead of their words."

And that's about the time I had to use my words. Am I wrong in feeling that the lots-of-boys thing is just a horrible excuse? While I realize that boys are often more physical than girls and I think I'm pretty realistic in my expectations for children's behavior, I do not agree that just shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Well, they're boys..." is acceptable. Anywhere.

This brings to mind a much bigger problem that's been on my mind for months as I've been working on editorial and publicity for a book about teaching literacy specifically to boys. The so-called boy crisis in this country is alarming -- and it's something that all of us moms of little boys need to be aware of. According to Peg Tyre, author and journalist (and recent e-mail buddy of mine):
Boys get expelled from preschool at nearly five times the rate of girls; they get identified as being learning disabled or having behavior issues at four times the rate. They are twice as likely to get held back. They bring home more C's and D's on their report cards and according to the Centers for Disease Control, by the time American boys are sixteen years old, a full 14% have been "diagnosed" with an attention deficit disorder. Currently, there are 2.5 million more female undergraduates then male undergraduates, a gap that is growing by 100,000 every year. [Read more of this article here.]
Why does this happen, you ask? Because even as young as 3 years old, boys learn from the overt and implied signals of their parents, teachers, and caretakers that they are rambunctious brats who need to be put in time out every five minutes...or worse, medicated or excused or expelled. Teachers, who are generally female, don't really understand the how and why of boys' behavior, so they either dismiss the hitting and pushing as typical boy stuff -- or they punish the hell out of kids until they can't stand being at school anymore. And I'll be darned if I'm going to stand by for even one minute of this with my son! Not now, not ever.

I know my son is not blameless. I know he hits, I know he pushes, I know he can fly into a raging 3-year-old temper at the drop of a hat (or puzzle piece, as it were). But, I also know that he loves to run around chasing a soccer ball, he loves to tell wild imaginative stories about spooky spiders, and he loves to sing and dance and act silly. And I guarantee that some of the more frequent instigators among his classmates would respond positively to the same kinds of play. Why not get the before- and after-care faculty involved in more constructive play with these boys? How about organizing some games with them that engage their more physical nature without pitting them against one another or giving them reason to beat on each other?

The administrator assured me that they are having a staff meeting on Thursday to address all this and to discuss the new policies in the gym and playground before and after school. I am right now drafting my letter (complete with references and websites!), because I truly hope that they're not thinking about constantly punishing these kids instead of being more proactive. Because I really don't want to deal with finding a new preschool.


  1. Update:
    After I dropped Sweet Boy off today, into the hugging arms of his classroom teacher because Tuesdays and Thursdays are "little days" in which he does not have to endure the before- and after-care in the gym, I marched into the office to speak with the director (who btw is an intimidating woman and a neighbor on my block who doesn't take any baloney).

    I started off mentioning the Brat Pack thing, and her eyes popped. "WHAT?! That is unacceptable!" she said at once. And she continued on for a moment about stigmatizing these little boys, etc. OK, good, I thought, we're on the same page here.

    Then I expressed my concern about the crack down, that instead of offering constructive and organized play, these boys are going to be punished into submission. She looked at me for a moment like I had two heads. "Well, time out is completely appropriate and effective at this age..." etc. she went on. Apparently I wasn't entirely clear, and I didn't want her to think that I was afraid that my son would be put in time out -- cuz Lord knows the child needs a time out every now and then. So I tried to explain my thinking and my background a little more clearly, and I restated my concern and my ideas at least twice more before she seemed to understand. (At least she pretended to understand.) She wrote a few things down and assured me that she would immediately address the Brat Pack thing, and that she would talk to some of the classroom teachers to brainstorm solutions to the before- and after-care issues.

    I'm confident that at least one of my concerns will be addressed. And only time will tell how effectively the other is addressed. I'm really kicking myself, though, for not making more noise about this stuff before now, as the playground and gym time have always bothered me. Poor Sweet Boy has to endure my novice parenting, but I'm learning.


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