Friday, February 18, 2005

Don't blame kids when child care gives them a label

***Hi all! I read this in our local paper the other day. Wow. Can any of you (all of you?) parents relate to this story about a bright young girl pegged as the trouble-maker -- and given lots of labels to boot?

Scripps Howard News Service
January 27, 2005

Karen Anne is a beautiful blond child with enormous blue eyes. She has an impish face that lights up the room when she smiles.

Karen Anne is in our kindergarten class because she learned everything our pre-school teaches. She can identify all her upper- and lower-case letters, write her name, count to 100, speak clearly in sentences and listen, and she knows a bunch about the world. Last week she answered this question correctly: "Who was born first, Noah or George Washington?"

But Karen Anne stands out. She was touted to be the worst child to ever darken the interior life of three of the most reputable day cares in the city. She was diagnosed as attention-deficit, hyperactive, oppositional defiant and bipolar all on one day when she was barely 4.

"Uh-huh," said our staff collectively upon hearing the news that Karen Anne would be joining us and that she had this nightmare rap sheet tucked under her arm. "A likely story," murmured Miss Rachel.

"Heard that before," noted Miss Molly. Mrs. St. Louis just grumbled. She does that when a child comes with an ear tag.

Karen Anne arrived. She nervously clung to her mother for about 30 seconds before she took off running. She played a good 30 minutes before she touched base with Mom again. She was all smiles.

In all the time Karen Anne has been with us, she did one thing one day that opened a real window of understanding. She hurt another child, perhaps by accident, perhaps in defense, perhaps just acting out. She threw herself on the pea gravel, weeping.

When Miss Rachel walked by, Karen Anne called out, "I'm going to kill you."

Miss Rachel, a licensed, experienced teacher retorted, "You and what army?"

Karen Anne's mouth dropped open; Miss Rachel never broke her gait. Karen Anne slipped away to hide behind a toy, peering from behind it, waiting to be dragged off to some person, place or thing.

That was a chocolate-chip-cookie day. Karen Anne slunk closer to the line of kids homing in for cookies. "Come get a cookie, Karen Anne, before they're all gone," called Miss Rachel.
Karen Anne took a cookie.

Karen Anne has been an exemplary student ever since. She is kind, thoughtful, interested, intelligent and dependable and one of the best children we have. So what gives?

The usual face of child care is one of confinement: too many children packed into too small a place with too few toys and too little care. Caregivers often come and go like a revolving door.

Intelligent children will balk. Balkers are treated as enemies by poorly trained staff. Karen Anne is not the first child who has experienced what we call "the purple grape in the apple bowl."

When children act out, it's easy to call them names. The child is lashing out, so pick a title: attention-deficit, hyperactive, oppositional defiant and the new best seller, bipolar.

Seriously look at your child-care provider before you blame your child. Remember that your child is like you. Now look around. Spend an hour. Spend a day. Wanna go back?

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702.)

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