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Every parent knows those days—the ones where your kid seems out of control and you just want to scream. But even on our kids’ worst days, we always like to believe that there are children out there who create bigger problems than ours. Who kick more, bite more, throw more tantrums, throw more everything. We never want to imagine that our child is the infamous “THAT kid” that everyone talks about.

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Here, Tessa tells a powerful story about parenting “that kid,” the empathy we all need to have, and what it’s like parenting a child who was kicked out of preschool.

Can Kids Get Kicked out of Preschool? “That Kid” Can!

According to studies like one that took place at the Yale Child Study Center in 2005, preschoolers are “more than three times” more likely to be kicked out of school than K-12 students.

If you’re thinking, “That was 2005, things have to be better almost 15 years later,” the answer is sadly, no.

Rates of preschool suspension and expulsion have increased and are most likely to affect non-white boys, students who are English Language Learners (ELL), and students with disabilities.

Everyone wants their child to be in a safe learning environment, but what does safe really mean for our kids?

As parents or guardians, can we reasonably expect the preschool years to be free of developmentally normal things like pushing, biting, or hitting?

Are we expecting too much of our youngest students and labeling them as “problems” or “bad” when they are still in diapers, taking naps, or carrying a lovey to school?

Children who exhibit challenging behaviors are certainly difficult on early educators, but are these high expulsion rates justifiable?

While it is easy for many to dismiss preschool suspensions and expulsions because children are so young, data shows some sobering correlations with preschool disciplinary measures and educational achievement later in life:

“Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not.”

I hope that my son, who can be called “that kid,” doesn’t become one of those statistics.

But I know he has numerous levels of privilege that many other young children in America don’t have, so he has lots of things working in his favor that most children do not.

Because of his privilege, he has a sort of head start among kids who have been, permanently or temporarily, kicked out of preschool.

Especially given that, likely due to implicit bias within our society, less privileged children are the ones studies show are most likely to be kicked out of preschool.

Cartoon images of young boy kicking a polka-dot ball and accidentally breaking a pot

“That Kid”

So who is “that kid?”

This kid is the one who exhibits behavior problems. THAT kid who does things like…

  • pushes
  • can’t sit still in circle
  • can’t stop climbing on everything
  • chews on shirt collars and pencil ends
  • won’t stop talking
  • yells and roars
  • bites

“That kid” that you kind of hope your kid never sits beside or becomes friends with or is in the same class as your kid year after year. Yeah, “that kid.”

Guess what? THAT kid is my kid.

Even as a kindergartener, he still needs daily reminders to use his words. He chews his nails and water bottle straws and half the classroom’s colored pencils.

He sometimes speaks in roar.

But let me tell you a story about the kid. About how loving, tender, social, and emotional he is. He gives the best hugs and wants to say hello to everyone he sees.

He always asks for a second treat for his sister, and he actually remembers to give it to her.

But ever since he was a tiny 18 month old in the toddler room at preschool, he has been “that kid.”

Preschool Expulsion from a Mother’s Perspective

He started biting in the toddler class and kept biting classmates on a regular basis.

While my son did seemed to have his more frequent targets, he also managed to bite several other classmates on multiple occasions, too.

Every time the school number appeared on my phone, my stomach dropped and tears pricked my eyes.

No one wants to get the message from school that another student bit or hit your child. But believe me, it is NOT easy to be the parent on the other side getting the call that your child hurt a classmate.

After having to pick him up early from school several times, he was essentially suspended from preschool midway through his year in the 2-year-old class.

We were told that he was unable to return without a full time “shadow” coming to school with him each day.

In other words, if we hadn’t had the ability to hire someone to accompany him, he would’ve been fully expelled from preschool.

We were overwhelmed, but knew we had to do everything possible to give him the socialization opportunities every child needs and deserves.

Early childhood programs are so important for children and families, and while all children don’t have the benefit of enjoying them, they all deserve it.

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What Happens When Parents Can’t Stay Home with Expelled Preschoolers?

My husband and I had so many things in our favor that gave us the freedom to get our child back to school without major financial repercussions to our family. I was, at the time, a stay-at-home mom. My husband had good health insurance, and we had access to early childhood mental health consultants and occupational therapists who could work with my son.

But what if I had a job that I lost because my child care suddenly disappeared one day?

What if I couldn’t have dropped everything on the days I had to pick him up early?

What if my husband and I hadn’t had the knowledge, time, and money to travel the path of multiple evaluations that have all led to a chorus of “no delays,” but strong signs of “sensory processing” issues that lead to more than half his life on some occupational therapist’s caseload?

And, what if we couldn’t have found or paid for an extra person to shadow him?

Only major efforts on our part to pursue occupational therapy helped our child return to preschool.

Only my willingness to check out every “no biting” book from the public library helped our child return to preschool.

And let’s be honest, only a healthy dose of economic and, probably also our white privilege, helped him return to preschool after a month-long hiatus, and in future years, find the best school atmosphere for him to succeed.

Navigating the Path Back to School with “THAT Kid”

While we could have just kept our son at home for the rest of that school year, we didn’t want to take away the socialization that school gave him.

This was our little boy whose first word was “Hey!” afterall. He was super social from the time he learned to speak.

He needed to learn how to interact with his classmates in a more consistently positive way, and I firmly believe that anyone who gets to know him is better for it.

Dealing with the Fallout

We obviously weren’t ignoring the problem–we were looking for every opportunity to fix it. So when other parents seemed distant or disapproving, it was hard.

Dear parents, please know this. I didn’t want my son hurting anyone just as much or even more than other parents didn’t want to see their children hurt.

I would guess that every night, another set of parents from his class might have had a casual conversation over a glass of wine with their significant other about what my husband and I should do to “fix” our son.

But while they discussed this “problem,” I was tossing and turning trying to go to sleep but worrying about whether or not he would make it through the next school day without biting.

It broke my heart that my loving, snuggly, funny baby was struggling and that too many people were missing out on his many amazing qualities when they dismissed him as a “problem” kid in his class.

In general, my son is now a happy, social, funny, intelligent child, and the loving, supportive people in his life are helping him grow and learn and show the world how much he can achieve.

The Power of Empathy

We took every bit of advice (pun intended, because I had to laugh about it sometimes to keep from crying) the school, OTs, and other professionals offered.

And since big sister was frequently the recipient of bites from baby brother at home, we had plenty of chances to try out ways to prevent and respond to the undesirable behavior.

We’re lucky to have had a string of amazing occupational therapists who definitely helped me become a better mom and teacher. These therapists loved on my sweet boy so well and helped him hit OT goal after OT goal.

My son’s current school has 2 dynamite learning support specialists who greet him with smiles every time they see him.

They provide strong support for his classroom teachers and our family as we work to help him succeed and thrive in kindergarten this year.

His lead teacher, who taught our older daughter for a year and is in her second year as my son’s teacher, has a long history of working with kids with ADHD.

She also has a personal background that makes her an amazing resource for our family.

Her openness and candor have helped me feel more confident about figuring out when to push my kids, when to give them time to grow and mature, and when to give them and myself an extra big dose of grace. 

It’s An Up and Down Experience

It has been over a year since we got a “your son bit someone” message, and I finally donated our copies of Little Dinos Don’t Bite and No Biting! to the school library.

Kids books about biting, These Teeth are Not for Biting and Little Dinos Don't Bite, sitting side by side
Books about biting are a great way to help young children understand how they should–and should NOT-use their teeth. Whether they’re THAT kid of just a toddler going through a biting phase, we love books about biting like Teeth Are Not For Biting and Little Dinos Don’t Bite.

But we still struggle to help our little guy navigate his world sometimes.

Sensory processing disorder and ADHD sometimes make his school days too long, too loud, and too structured for him to work through without hiccups.

Days that he completes his work plan are celebrated in our household, while other parents might just call a day like that Tuesday in their house.

Recently, though, I cringed to find out that he spit on the sidewalk and upset a classmate, and I might have said a few four-letter words (in my head!) when he revealed which student it was.

As much as we all know “THAT kid,” we have also met “THAT parent” who is not going to respond to the average playground conflict calmly.

While a part of me wants to cry over this most recent hiccup and start researching all the articles on how to get your kid to stop spitting, I am trying much harder to just breathe.

I’m giving myself and my little guy some grace.

We Don’t Know What’s Going on With “THAT Kid”

Who knows why he was spitting the other day?  He’s had one cold or another for about a month, so there’s no telling what he might have just coughed up.

He might have had a fuzz in his mouth.

He and his besties could even have been trying to spit and hit that leaf over there because they are 4 and 5 years old and find things like that fascinating and, for whatever reason, hilarious.

His teacher and I both talked to him about spitting and reminded him that some friends (especially this one) appreciate their space and think spitting is yucky.

For a moment, I went to that headspace of imagining how this other parent is probably judging my kid and my parenting, but I didn’t lose sleep over it or shed any tears.

For me, that is worth a small celebration.

We might always have to deal with those other kids’ parents who might not give either one of us any leeway and leave us off the play date invite or RSVP “no” to his birthday party.

BUT, we have plenty of people who love and accept us both, and we’re going to be fine.

And don’t worry, if my son keeps spitting, this English major/children’s librarian is going to work on writing that “no spitting” board book to add to any home library that needs it.

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Is your kid “that kid,” too? Tell us how you cope and move forward with grace in the comments!

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