After school program supervisor grabbed my son by the arm
November 22, 2017 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday, when my wife picked up our 6 year old son from his after school program, he was crying and shaken up because the supervisor of the program had angrily grabbed him by the arm and scared him. He had been playing with a toy that he had received in the previous period as an academic reward from his teacher. The supervisor informed my wife that they'd been having problems with our son playing with toys in the program, which is not allowed, though this is the first we've heard of it.

I would like to address this situation and make it clear we don't want her to touch our son like this. I plan to address her first in person, and ask her not to handle my son again. I am dreading this, as she has never been very friendly and always seems to be angrily harried when I see her at pick up. I haven't found any information regarding the after school's program's policies, and the only contact information I can find is the email of the supervisor herself. There is a PTA committee attached to the program, but no names. My son really enjoys the activities through this program, and I believe his exposure to the supervisor is only before and after the activities began, signing kids in and out, so I don't want to take him out of the program.

How would you proceed?
posted by OrderOctopoda to Education (19 answers total)
I would ask the school principal who is the administrator over the after-school program supervisor. Then I would tell that administrator my story and ask for their help to ensure your child isn't scared like that again. It sounds like this supervisor isn't well suited to her job.
posted by summerstorm at 9:01 AM on November 22, 2017 [11 favorites]

Whatever you do, write it down. Emails and letters, recap emails after meetings or phone conversations. You will need it all if you have to escalate to the PTA, etc. James Comey is your role model here.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:08 AM on November 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

You are right to be upset I would meet with the program director, take notes, and be prepared to hear the teacher's side of the story. Grabbing a child is fine if you're getting them out of a burning building, otherwise, this person sounds like they need a lot of training.
posted by theora55 at 9:16 AM on November 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

6? REALLY ? 6? Zero tolerance for touching.
posted by Freedomboy at 9:23 AM on November 22, 2017

The fact that the supervisor even brought up "problems" with your son when your wife confronted her with grabbing his arm is a huge red flag. It's completely irrelevant whether or not your son has been problematically playing with toys, for God's sake. She grabbed him out of anger.
Your wife already talked to her. The response was self-righteousness. Go right to the principal now. Unacceptable.
posted by velveeta underground at 9:43 AM on November 22, 2017 [24 favorites]

We've had a situation like this with our son. We ended up pulling him out because we accidentally saw a disturbing incident where the teacher angrily shoved another child for throwing around toys. I guarantee you this was not an isolated incident - your supervisor is quick to anger and doesn't know how to self-soothe, just like her charges. So I have to agree with everyone that this is a conversation to be had with the offender's supervisor and not the offender herself. A person with a hair-trigger temper is simply not suited to work with children - full stop - and talking to her will be of no use because people with temper will never show or admit to it around those who have some power (as she's already demonstrated by blaming your child for playing with toys, ugh). You can also try talking to other parents on the down low... it's ALWAYS the missing stair problem, in my experience. Lastly, small children are really bad at telling you about their teachers' inappropriate behavior - you need to watch out for signs such as crying or hiding when it's time to go to school, etc.
posted by rada at 9:45 AM on November 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

Is the afterschool program licensed by an agency? If so you should report your concerns to the agency. In some states CPS has jurisdiction over things that happen at schools. You might try calling your state child abuse/neglect reporting hotline to see if this is something they might want to investigate.
posted by Saminal at 9:56 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

This coming from the supervisor? I would consider pulling him out of the program.
posted by slidell at 10:22 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a first grade teacher. I would only grab a child by the arm is he was putting himself or others in danger. The supervisor seems to have greatly mishandled the situation in a moment's frustration and the interaction sounds totally inappropriate. She also seems to not enjoy working with children if her general demeanor is "not friendly" and "angrily harried" every single time you see her.

That said, children's account of things can sometimes differ greatly from reality, not because they are lying, but just because children's brains process things differently than adult's. (I once heard children in my class telling other children during recess that one of my colleagues yelled at me and made me cry. I have no idea how that rumor started, such an incident never occured.) Maybe, to get his attention, she touched his arm and firmly told him to stop playing with his toys. Such a reprimand could be really scary to a six year old (especially if he is not the main adult he interacts with during the program) even if the interaction was fine from an adult's perspective. Is this the first time he has had a negative interaction with her? Ask him about that. Was another adult present when this happen? If so, could he/she explain to you what happened? As others said, keep out for signs that he no longer feels safe in the program, like crying and not wanting to be dropped off.

Lastly, definitely talk to her again! Her reaction will allow you to get a better feel of the situation. And it is defintitely within your rights to ask her not to touch your child. At the end of the day, you have to go with your gut!
posted by Blissful at 10:27 AM on November 22, 2017 [21 favorites]

The most important thing is finding out what happened. The old saw about "I'll only believe half of what your child says happened at home if you only believe half of what your child says happened at school" has some truth to it. As much as we all want to believe our children, they aren't always reliable narrators. Direct questioning may not be as successful, so ask open ended questions in a low-stress environment (like in the car on the way home) and leave plenty of room for your kid to change their mind about what they said. Find out if anyone else was around who might have seen what was going on, especially since the child's story is third-hand via your wife.

Once you believe you know what's going on, then you can make a plan. Going off an incomplete set of facts is not going to help you deal effectively with the supervisor or protect your kid. That said, if it did happen as described, that's pretty serious. As we've seen over and over again, the isolated incident is the exception. Good luck, I'm sure this is painful and awkward for all concerned.
posted by wnissen at 11:05 AM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

While it's true it's important to ascertain what happened, it looks like the supervisor was confronted and did not contest what the child said happened.
posted by FencingGal at 11:08 AM on November 22, 2017 [8 favorites]

In agreement with other folks that children do sometimes perceive things in different ways than adults do simply because their brains process events differently. However, the thing about that is that in your child's perception, he was scared enough by that interaction to be crying.

I think that if you keep your kiddo in this program, a moment of repair is needed with your son by the adult that did that, with you present, ie, letting your child know that they did not mean to scare him in that manner and that they are sorry that he was frightened by them grabbing his arm. Even young children deserve an apology when another person is out of line, even if that person is an adult. In addition to this, to teach children bodily autonomy, we need to teach them that it isn't okay for other people to touch their bodies in ways that are uncomfortable to them, even (especially) adults.

I would definitely approach this with the supervisor and make it clear that this was not appropriate regardless of what your son may have done with a toy (not an appropriate reason for grabbing a child, ever, in my book) and that you would like your child to receive an appropriate apology to teach him that his body belongs to him, and when should you bring him into her office for that to happen? If the supervisor is not open to this, and doesn't think she needs to make repair with your child, I'm not sure that I would keep a kid in that program.

Hope that this helps, good luck!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:03 PM on November 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

I am really confused at how an after school program exists that doesn't permit a six-year-old to play with toys. I believe others have given you good feedback on the rest of it but I am not sure expecting a child that age not to play is reasonable.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:38 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I still haven't forgiven my parents for not protecting me from sadistic/abusive authority figures from my childhood. I still remember every incident and I remember being told that none of it was a big deal. Trust your gut about this person and do what you can to protect your child. Consider that other children may also be at risk.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 2:19 PM on November 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

So many people have repeated the idea that kids can misunderstand that I want to point out that adults can also wrongly ignore children's accurate reports of being mistreated. I was just reading an article about the closure of a daycare in Rosemont, CA, for the inappropriate treatment of kids. The article included this sentence about an adult who had gone there as a child: "She said she told her grandparents, who housed her during her 10 years in day care, but they did not believe her." I'm not comparing the caretakers' behaviors, just saying that it's worth listening to kids. Also, there are a lot of really people out there who shouldn't be taking care of kids!
posted by slidell at 3:20 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Iam really confused at how an after school program exists that doesn't permit a six-year-old to play with toys.

I assumed it was during a time they were supposed to be engaged in another activity.

So many people have repeated the idea that kids can misunderstand that I want to point out that adults can also wrongly ignore children's accurate reports of being mistreated.

Word. I won't go into gory detail, but once when I was assaulted in school, I kept my injuries to myself until they got so bad I had to go to the hospital, because I had gotten so used to my parents saying I was lying or exaggeratlng.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:02 PM on November 22, 2017

I’ve been an assistant site director at a nationally accredited after-school program. I never put my hands on a child unless it was an immediate critical safety issue unless:
-I had the child’s permission
-It was for a positive reason (child requested a hug, playing a playground game, high-five)

It is never appropriate to put a hand on a child when correcting them (unless, again, there’s an immediate safety issue). No director should have to be told that once, much less twice. We fired someone for repeatedly raising his voice to children; the adult needs to always remain calm and in control. I strongly recommend that if this person isn’t let go, you find a different program for your child.
posted by epj at 4:21 PM on November 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I looked up your location, and in your state, schools are not allowed to use any kind of corporal punishment, to which I think this comes close. I am not a lawyer, but I am a teacher in a state that does allow corporal punishment. And I would be pissed as hell if someone did that with one of my students.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:42 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Look, your own impression of the lady is that she always seems angrily harried. Now your kid tells you that she mistreated him in an angry and harried way. When confronted about this she is deflective and sounds like maybe lying.

I think you need to find out who this lady's supervisor is and talk to that person. My instinct is to get your kid out of this lady's authority, but if he enjoys the program and wants to go back, then you'll need to give it a shot. But that means getting this lady called out in some way. She's not going to be the one to improve this situation if she has all the power.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:50 PM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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