Michael Reisman, M.Ed.
Director, HCYMCA Early Childhood Education
I’d like to share a story from my past that has changed the way I look at children. The names have been changed.
Ashley and Michelle were close four-year-old friends, both in and out of preschool. For a time, their moms were friends as well. One day, Ashley’s mom called quite upset, saying Ashley had reported that Michelle was being mean. Obviously I was as concerned as Ashley’s mom, and assured her I’d look into it. I immediately asked the classroom teacher for her perspective. The teacher had not noticed any problems, and in fact, stated that the girls played together quite often. She also offered to pay close attention going forward in case the issue began to present itself. When I relayed the teacher’s response to Ashley’s mom, she was skeptical, warning that if Ashley continued to come home reporting her friend’s mean behavior, she would be calling again to “have you move her to a different class.”
I also asked the teacher to photograph the girls at play throughout the day, writing down what they said to each other. Four-year-old children LOVE dramatic play, specifically domestic role-playing, and these two were no exception. Sometimes in play scenarios, children take the opportunity to experiment with power. The appeal of being “mommy” or “daddy” or “policeman/woman,” is to experiment in the role of authority. They get to be the boss. Sometimes children can go a little too far and be haphazardly unkind during this play. I wanted the teacher to specifically watch for that behavior and document what she observed.
Curiously, she did not observe any of this behavior. The girls were getting along amicably; not quite besties, but not mean or hurtful. However, a few days later Ashley’s mom reported another incident and now accused Michelle of “bullying”. I explained what the teacher reported, and that she had provided documentation showing the girls playing and getting along. Ashley’s mom was outraged, “Are you calling my daughter a liar, Michael? Are you saying that when she comes home from school crying that Michelle is mean to her and she does not want to go to school, that my four-year old is lying to me?”
I felt caught between a rock and a hard place and I ultimately acquiesced, moving Ashley to another classroom. As I said, this was some years ago, and I know better now. While that move solved the immediate problem, it also created a list of unintended consequences that lingered for months.
As I continued to inquire into the stories and the relationships, I learned that Ashley’s mom and Michelle’s mom had a falling out prior to the children’s issues. As a result, the relationship between the two girls was a hot button for Ashley’s mom. For all intents and purposes, Ashley WAS lying, but not to hurt her friend and not because she was a “bad” child.
When Ashley came home and said Michelle was being mean, and because her mom had a strained relationship with Michelle’s mom, Ashley’s mom demonstrably reacted and Ashley had her full attention. Ashley quickly learned that “If I say this about Michelle, mom will pay LOTS of attention to me.” For young children, the number one priority is parental attention. For busy families, that comes at a premium. We’re all busy, and it’s easy to forget how important our attention is to our children. As parents, we need to be mindful of the simple fact that our children want our attention, one on one, no matter what.
Children will experiment with power, push the envelope, press the boundaries, even tell a lie. I wish I had understood earlier the reasons behind Ashley’s behavior. Instead of moving her, I could have addressed the real issue. Ashley’s mom was a loving parent and we could’ve worked together to find a resolution that truly met Ashley’s needs. If you have a child at the Hunterdon County YMCA Child Learning Center or Milford Preschool, you can trust your teachers and directors to be honest with you, to help you navigate the oft-troubled waters of modern family life. Reality is different for everyone, and every life is a challenge. We want to help you find what’s best for your child and your family. We are on YOUR team. Because in the end, we are the YMCA, for healthy living, youth development and social responsibility, above all else.
Michael Reisman, M.Ed. is Director of Early Childhood Education for the Hunterdon County YMCA. firstname.lastname@example.org 908-483-4623
For information regarding Round Valley Child Learning Center Programs call 908-236-0055, ext. 4605. For the YMCA Milford Preschool, 908-995-8107