articles / Family life

Don’t label a child when you don’t know

I don’t even know where to begin…

This morning a 4-year-old made me cry. Not kidding.

I took Josiah to school this morning and when we walked into the classroom, one of his classmates — one of his friends — walked up to him and said, “Josiah, my mom and dad told me to stay away from you because you’re mean,” and then walked away. Josiah has JUST walked into the classroom. The teacher hadn’t even said hi. Josiah looks up at me with a confused look and the teacher got onto the student while directing Josiah to center time.

Josiah's school pic. Honestly, does this kid look mean?

Josiah’s school pic. Honestly, does this kid look mean?

I signed Josiah in and barely got to the car before I burst into tears. Aside from the obvious rejection (and hormones), why did this upset me?

Josiah started preschool in April. By July he started having a lot of issues at school. He was getting in trouble for pushing and disobeying. He couldn’t sit still and listen. He couldn’t stand still in line — he couldn’t even stand in line with out “pinballing” into other students.

At the end of August he started having meltdowns. If he got into trouble or when it came time for nap he freaked out. He started screaming and crying hysterically and would flop and flail around like someone was trying to beat him.

Since August he has been in the principal’s office at his school daily — sometimes two or three or more times a day.

Since the beginning we’ve done everything we know to do. We’ve prayed constantly about it. We started taking away TV and toys if he got in trouble at school. Spanking did not work (I am 100% for spanking, but it just wasn’t working in this situation). We started a rewards system. Every time he got in trouble at school he had to take responsibility and apologize the next day. Still, nothing was working.

For those of you that know my family, know my son and know that we are no-nonsense parents, you’re probably thinking, “Wow! Really? Josiah is doing that?”

The thing is, Josiah acts like a normal 4-year-old at home and places where there’s only a few people.

We finally decided after much prayer that we’d call the pediatrician and see what we could do. He recommended and referred us to a child psychologist to test for behavior issues. We’re on a waiting list just to get an appointment — not much help.

Josiah’s principal suggested we have him tested through the co-op. The co-op, which is a state service, will come in a test for developmental, speech and other things that could cause issues such as this.

First of all, my child has no developmental delays. He certainly has no speech delays — he has a very good vocabulary and speaks clearly (most of the time). At one point his principal said, “Well [his teacher] got him to sleep quickly the other day by holding him tightly and that seemed to calm him down. Maybe it’s a sensory issue or something.”

At this point this has been going on for several weeks. We’ve dealt with daily notes telling us that he’s been in the principal’s office or he’s accidentally hurt someone. I’ve cried on the phone to my mom, dad, aunt and a few others that I confide in. We’ve been doing everything we can and it’s still not working. Josiah prays out loud daily on his way to school asking Jesus to help him have a good day.

At the mention of sensory issues I started searching the internet and scouring over countless articles.  To make a really long story just a little bit shorter, after all the research and speaking with an Occupational Therapist (who happens to be a family friend) — Josiah has a Sensory Processing Disorder. He has a hypo-sensitivity, which basically means he feels things differently than we do. I’ll go into more detail in future posts, but basically he craves and needs extra sensory input that other children don’t need. The top book on this disorder says it’s like having seven senses instead of five.

When he’s “pinballing” off of other kids or climbing on things or being overly rough and rambunctious he’s trying to get that extra sensory input that he needs. He’s rarely, if ever, aggressive. When he’s hurt someone it’s never been intentional on his part. When he’s trying to run around the classroom or play with toys when the teacher is talking, he’s seeking that input.

He doesn’t understand what his body is doing. The book says that it’s like a traffic jam in his head; his brain cannot process all the extra signals he’s getting and he doesn’t understand why he can’t behave. He wants to be good, but for the most part he can’t at school. All of the people and noises and transitions associated with school overload a child with sensory issues when they aren’t being treated.

My son is not a bad kid. He’s certainly not a mean kid — actually he has a very tender and loving heart. My son is intelligent and articulate and he’s really trying. He’s not autistic. His senses are misfiring and his brain can’t process it.

He was tested last week and we will know the extent of the diagnosis sometime this week (there are different types of sensory issues and different degrees of it). He will hopefully start occupational therapy within the next week. After a year or two of therapy he will be perfectly fine. Basically his body has to be taught how to respond to sensory input properly.

Going back to my nervous breakdown this morning. I cried for 20 minutes before I walked back into the school and took Josiah to his Granddad’s house. This momma just couldn’t handle the rejection of my baby over something he can’t control. Yes, he will go back tomorrow (my dad just happen to have the day off).

I understand that a few parents might be concerned, but the teacher and principal have reassured them that everything is OK and the issues are being dealt with, but they can’t explain to the parents anything further than that. Like I said, I understand the concern, but you cannot tell a child that one of their friends is too mean to play with and not expect them to go and tell that child first thing. If you don’t want you child around someone, mention it to the teacher.

The parents impression of Josiah is that he is some mean kid who isn’t being parented. The thing is, they are dead wrong. They are being judgmental about my son’s actions and intentions (there’s a whole other post on that). They have no clue that I’ve cried weekly for three months. They don’t know that we’ve had him tested and we have a diagnosis. They don’t know.

I used to be one of those that would silently cringe when a kid was having a meltdown at the store. My first thought was that the parent needed to do their job. I never said it out loud where someone could be hurt by it, but the thought was still wrong. I don’t know whether that parent is doing their job. I don’t know what kind of things are going on in that child’s body and mind. And neither do the parents of the children my son goes to school with.

I just want to keep Josiah at home and never make him go back to school. He hates going because he’s in trouble all the time. I hate taking him because I know he’s going to get in trouble. I feel bad because I feel like if I were at home with him he wouldn’t be having this problem. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time and the comment of a 4-year-old was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Do not fall into the trap of labeling a child. Children are not bad, they make bad decisions. An overly rough child is not a mean one (there are bullies yes, but that’s different). You don’t know what’s going on in a child’s life so don’t try to judge their actions or the actions of their parents.

Although Josiah acted relatively unscathed by the comment made this morning (and it surely won’t be the last ugly comment he ever receives), no child should have to hear that an adult thinks they’re mean or they’re a bad kid.



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