What do you do with a 6-year-old child who is throwing a temper tantrum and has become a physical threat to themselves or to those around them? According to a Georgia school, you call the police and allow them to handcuff a kindergartner and throw them in the back of a squad car.
Plenty of people are angry at the officer who handcuffed Salecia Johnson and hauled her to the police station, and they have every right to be. But the real blame in this situation falls with a school district that was obviously ill-prepared to care for its students. The truth is, even with a physically violent tantrum, the police should have never needed to be called and the school’s teachers and administrators should have been trained to handle these types of situations.
My mother is an early childhood educator who has had her share of experience with at-risk and special needs children. I remember about five years ago when one of her kindergarten students fractured her wrist during a particularly difficult tantrum. She is no stranger to these situations. Immediately after reading the news story, I called her to talk about how this should have been handled.
LC: Is there another way to safely restrain a physically violent child? Because I feel like any alternative is preferable to what happened here?
DC: Yes. There are special techniques on how to hold them, how to move them. You have to be properly trained to do so. Your hip goes into their hip. Your leg goes in front of them. One arm goes around their body and you link it through your other arm. But again, teachers and administrators have to be trained by professionals on how to do this.
LC: Why is the training so important?
DC: If done incorrectly, the adult could suffocate the child. It’s happened before, where teachers have put too much pressure on the child’s chest and they’ve died. Everyone in our school had to go through certification classes.
LC: This young girl was throwing furniture and ripping things off shelves. It’s violent behavior, but is it completely inexplicable? Do we just assume that this is a terrible child who is completely out of control?
DC: Not at all. You never assume that a child is terrible or that they can’t be taught a better way to deal with their emotions. She is 6 years old. Obviously there was a problem, but there are a lot of reasons that kids can have this kind of meltdown. This child could have a mental illness. They could have a learning disability and be completely unable to communicate their frustration any other way. They could come from a difficult backround where violence was simply a way to express emotion. No matter what the reason is, these things happen with young children who have a difficult time expressing their feelings.
LC: And school districts should be preparing their teachers on how to deal with that…
DC: Absolutely. There is plenty of training on how to handle a violent child. But the most important training is how to stop those meltdowns from happening.