Moms Columns & Blogs

Preschool without shame? What a shame!

The National Association for the Education of Young Children and I don't see eye to eye on many things - maybe anything. We don't even agree on a definition of "child."

For example, they believe children are capable of being reasoned with. I believe that if a person is capable of being reasoned with, he or she is no longer a child.

NAEYC certifies preschool education programs, and its standards, as one would expect, reflect its philosophy. The association will not give a program the seal of approval if it punishes children who do bad things. Why? Because children do not do bad things. According to one of NAEYC's publications, they simply "make mistakes in their behavior."

In other words, when a child does the wrong thing, it is not intentional. Really? I was a child once. When caught, I was rather clever when it came to appearing that "I didn't mean it." Adults who believed me did me no favors.

No punishment, no growth

A preschool teacher in North Carolina recently told me the director informed her and her colleagues that time-out is being phased out of the classroom because it is a form of "shaming." Instead, they are to redirect the misguided child to a more positive activity.

A week after being so informed, said teacher reprimanded a toddler who was beating on another child. No punishment, just a reprimand. The director scolded the teacher for being too negative. I feel certain the director did not appreciate the irony.

Another teacher in the program came up with the idea that children who followed classroom rules would get a prize at the end of the day. A child became upset that she didn't get the prize. The director told the teacher to apologize to the child for singling her out, and to give her the prize. This child has thus been moved one step further toward incurable narcissism. This is the stuff of trying to become certified by NAEYC.

One of NAEYC's papers ( www.naeyc.org/files/tyc/file/Gartrell%2001.pdf) says that "punishments such as time-outs confuse young children because they cannot easily understand the sequence of behaviors during and after a conflict nor what removal to a chair has to do with them." That sentence confuses me, so I'm fairly certain it's an example of pure, distilled psychobabble.

The same paper goes on to assert that time-outs cause children to feel ineffectual, prevent them from developing alternative strategies, lower their self-worth and are bewildering because young children have difficulty figuring out cause-effect relationships. Psychobabble is any assertion that cannot be verified by the scientific method. All of the preceding fits that definition.

Shame has its place

Concerning shame: It is dysfunctional when it is either excessive or absent. But when a child misbehaves, he should feel ashamed. Young children are incapable of feeling shame on their own; therefore, they need responsible agents (i.e., adults) to help them feel it. This process is essential to proper socialization - to an appreciation of the effect one's behavior has on others.

Concerning children: I know that back in the parenting dark ages, when children knew they were going to be punished for misbehaving, they were far more likely to behave. That is why a teacher in the 1950s had no problem teaching 50 or more first-graders without an aide (of the 1950s first-grade class sizes I've come across, 95 is the record so far, and the woman who taught that leviathan remembered no significant discipline problems).

Today's teachers are dealing with classroom behavior problems that would have astounded our great-grandparents. NAEYC ought to be ashamed for contributing to this problem... but it won't be. The association doesn't believe in shame.

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