Problems with the Preschool Teacher

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Gregarious teacher is frightening my son

May 2007

My son is 3 years 2 months and has been attending preschool 4 days a week for the past 9 months.

Earlier this week I was dropping him off at school. We walked into the classroom and there were 2 aids and a few kids in the room. One was a regular aid in my son's class and the other was an aid from a different room who was just covering until the head teacher got in.

This aid is excessively gregarious, overly-animated, always offering up high fives to the kids when they come into school. My son (who is otherwise very outgoing himself) seems to avoid this aid whenever possible. When the aid tries to give him a high five my son pulls away and hides behind me.

When we walked into the classrom this aide came over, said hi and patted my son on the head. My son proceeded to yell no! and run into the bathroom. I followed him in there and asked him what was wrong and he said ''I don't want him to touch me! I don't want him to touch me!''. I asked him why and he said ''because i don't want him to touch me''

He was very clingy / crying when I left him that morning which is fairly atypical. As I drove to work thinking about my son's words and reaction to a completely benign interaction with the aid I started to panic and wonder if something inappropriate had transpired, making my son afraid of this man.

I ended up coming back to his school to pick him up because I was so uncomfortable. I spoke to the director about my concerns (not accusations, just concerns). I also brought my son into his pediatrician's office to get a referral to an appropriate child psychologist to talk to him to try to ascertain whether or not something inappropriate had happened.

My son hasn't exhibited any behavioral changes and seems happy to go to school each morning.

Am I over-reacting? Could this be just a dramatic 3 year old who has personal space issues and is overwhelmed by this guy's enthusiasm and energy? Or could it be something much worse? I'm not sure what to do. I don't want to make accusations, but my first responsibility is to protect my child. I don't even know if I should ever bring him back to school! concerned mama

I think you are being appropriately cautious, given what you described about the situation. I think it's okay to go ahead with the appointment for a psychologist to see your son, but since you are worried about taking him to school, maybe you can have a more immediate, (pretend) casual dialogue with your son about appropriate touching, etc., to see if he tells you something.

You didn't mention what the director of the school said, but I hope he/she took you seriously and talked to this teacher about your son's concern. I think it's okay to have it clear that your son does not like physical contact with this person.

I suggest also that you talk to a few other parents (again, in a casual way) to get their take. I know most schools don't like parents to 'gossip' among themselves, but if there's a serious issue, IMO it's good to communicate with others. Perhaps you and a few other parents can take turns volunteering in the class, etc.

Hopefully, it's nothing serious, and your son just doesn't like what you described as the 'excessively gregarious, overly- animated' behavior of this teacher.

On the contrary, it could be like what happened at my child's elementary school a few years back, a cautionary tale, sadly, where a few isolated parents complained discreetly to the school administrators about a student teacher whose behavior they found inappropriate at times. No serious action was taken by these administrators, and a few years later, when this--by now reportedly outstanding--teacher (teaching elsewhere) was arrested in an internet-assisted sting operation and accused of multiple molestations (he was later convicted), it came to light that one of my child's classmates was molested as well.

And I knew nothing of these parents' concern about the teacher at the time of their complaints to the school, and even allowed this student teacher to spend (a brief) time alone with my child. I know this kind of thing is not common, so it's good not to panic and go on a witch hunt, but it's also good to be cautious, follow through with your concerns, and communicate with others. anon

Based on what you wrote, it sounds to me like the aid is clueless about how to behave around small children and should not be in a preschool. You did the right thing, speaking to the director, and hopefully enough complaints will accumulate from other parents that he will eventually choose another line of work. It's understandable that your 3-year-old reacted the way he did - it is very consistent with an upset 3-year-old. I think the fact that he used the word touch is what set off alarms for you. The word is very loaded for us adults. But 3-year-olds don't have the vocabulary and insight to say something like He is too in my face and I want him to back off RIGHT NOW. Your son used the words he has to convey an upsetting situation. Honestly it seems very unlikely to me that there was anything more going on than the aid's unsuitable personality. If he really were malicious, it would be nigh impossible for anything to happen in a preschool where there are other teachers present and parents are coming in and out. I don't think I would worry about this. But I would probably look for another preschool if the director couldn't resolve this to my satisfaction. Mom of three

I think our kids go to the same school! And I mean REALLY. If not, it sounds so very similar to a reaction my older son had to a regular substitute at his former pre-school (that my younger son still attends). My older son is a slow to warm up kid who needs lots of time even with people he adores. He always kind of liked this teacher but I could see that the teacher overstepped his personal limits in a boisterous oblivious way. We always arrived to overzealous high-fives or handshakes, even when it was obviously too forward, too much for my son. Then at pick-up, I'd get overwhelmed by the report on my son's day, even as I was trying to great my son, give him a hug hello. He'd tell my all about the many things he tried to force my son to get involved in (it was always the things he hated: tossing a baseball,rough housing, listening to the guy play guitar or drums- my kid is noise sensitive).

It's funny though because my younger son really enjoys all the aforementioned with this same teacher. Really I don't think there's anything inappropriate going on except this guy doesn't have the finesse or sophistication to observe children and then deceide an appropriate course. I think it's a matter of not having sensitive listening skills and obviously your son is fed up and really wants this guy to hear him that his limits are drawn in the sand. It takes fortitude for a preschooler to be so clear about his limits with an adult. This guy seems to be a one-trick pony. Maybe he should stick with bigger kids.

Do I think something bigger is occurring? After a decade working with this age group, mom of some of my own, I don't think so. My experience is that when abuse in one form or another is going on, the ways it comes out is far more subtle, physical or emotional signs that aren't about a child expressing themselves so succinctly with their words. Your child didn't like the man's hand on his head and neither would I. I appreciate your worries, your efforts to straighten it all out with the director but make sure you stop and appreciate the amazing part. Your son really seems to know himself and isn't afraid for the world to know. I'm not so sure my kids have that. And know that you are a great mama and trust your instincts. If you look inside yourself and see it's fear and not anxiety, it's always the right thing to get your child out. The hard part is figuring which it is. I wish you well. Annoyed By Sub

I had a lot of empathy for you and your child. Please follow your instincts and your child ques. Even if this is not a case of molestation, your child obviously does not feel comfortable near that man and he should feel fully legitimized. I was very concerned when I read the description of your child response and I think you responded the best way you could - not over- reacting at all. I would try to create situations where you can talk privately and seriously with your child and share your experience - maybe tell him a story of how uncomfortable you felt when someone told you something or did something that you didn't like. If he doesn't feel isolated in his experience he might open up. In any case I would ask to know in advance any time this aid is a sub in your child's class. Hoping for the best, anon

I think you are absolutely correct to be paying such close attention to your son's signals. We all get to know our kids really well, better than anyone in fact, and it's our foremost responsibility to serve as their advocates. This is too serious a matter to overlook or minimize. Like you, it seems, I'm a calm, measured parent. Were it my son, demonstrating such unusual behaviors, I'd be very concerned about returning him to this environment. I applaud you for taking all the right steps, and would urge you to continue any and all efforts to make certain he is in a safe setting.

My brother-in-law is a world-class attorney prosecuting sexual crimes against children, and keeps reminding me that offenders are often those that seem the most trust-worthy, the friendliest, and have the most intimate level of access to small children.

As Gavin de Becker repeats often in his bood about keeping kids safe, ''Protecting the Gift'' (well worth reading): TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. I'd be shopping for another pre-school

I just want to echo the posters who said you're doing a great job of handling this. You're sending your son the message that it's OK to draw boundaries and that you take his feelings seriously. I very much hope that this teacher just has a tin ear, but regardless of how this situation is resolved, the fact that you're really listening to him is invaluable. Abuse survivor

You might be right, but let me share this anecdote as an alternative explanation. As a child, I could not stand people overstepping personal space boundaries and more generally, not being sensitive to the level of intimacy, or lack thereof, in the relationship. It had nothing to do with sexual abuse. I just hated, hated, hated the kind of invasive, in-your-face, one-size-fits-all interaction that it sounds like this teacher practices. And although I worked through a lot of this when I was a teenager/young adult, that type of behavior still makes me very uncomfortable.

I attended a coop preschool, and according to my mom, the director used me as an example of how some children have invisible spacial barriers and need to be approached in an especially sensitive manner. I definitely complained about people ''touching me'' but I wasn't talking about anything remotely abusive. If I had had a teacher like your son's at my preschool, I would have been totally traumatized, without anything sexual going on. Does your son usually need a bit of space and time to get comfortable? anon