There Is Absolutely No Excuse For Handcuffing A Kindergartner

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handcuffsWhat 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.

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  1. Cee

    April 18, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Well in a perfect situation the child will respond to all of this. Sometimes children cannot be controlled at all. In one of the schools that I regularly visit, I have a bipolar 10 year old who has had to be placed on a psychiatric hold many times because he cannot only control his anger but has a lot of strength due to the fact that he cannot understand the consequences of his actions and reacts with..well violent rage. So when he hits or gets to that point, he can really hurt people. And, as your mother said, if not done properly, you can hurt or kill the child. Doctors perform routine surgeries that they do all day every day and at times..something goes wrong. What happens then? They get sued. Same here. Something cannot go as planned be it with the child or the adults attempting to control it and parents turn right around and sue everybody. There is no winning for teachers. If they would have hurt the child in an attempt to restrain her, gotten too close to her, place their hand somewhere where the parent deemed it outrageous (like the back of their knee), or even just the fact that you tried to restrain the child can outrage a parent. School police can be called, and there it gets even more sticky because if parents don’t want teachers laying hand on their child to restrain them, they sure as hell don’t want a cop doing so. So, he did yes, something that is sad, but if he would have tried to hold her, this would have made the news as well.
    The idea of a handcuffed 5 year old is sad, but, there is no pleasing a parent. I don’t think any action taken would have pleased some parents. I know this from a lot of do too much, you do too little, you just never do anything right.

    • kate

      April 18, 2012 at 11:25 am

      I agree with you. especially with the reaciton of this mother, she wrote it off as “she has mood swings…we all have bad days” this kid was hitting people, throwing things, and even biting the door knob. yes, as a parent i would be horrified if my son was handcuffed, but i also agree with you in this particular situation i dont think the teachers could have done anything people would have deemed “right”:

    • Michelle

      April 18, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      My mom is a 2nd grade teacher so I have heard those stories as well. One student with a similar situation went into a violent rampage. Her teacher’s hand was broken from the initial hit and she bit the person trying to restrain her in the correct way, drawing blood. What ended up happening was the parent sued for the teachers restraining her daughter when she felt someone should have just talked with her and put her in time out. No one wins in these situations.

  2. CaneCorsoMom

    April 18, 2012 at 11:38 am

    I find this ridiculous. Schools have been handcuffed in so many ways, that they have no recourse with children. There was a kid in CO that was pepper sprayed (4th grader?) by the police for the same thing. The mom’s response? “I don’t understand why they couldn’t have calmed him down like they did THE OTHER TWO TIMES the police were called to deal with him.” (Empahsis mine).
    Kids are out of control, and their stupid, entitled parents think that anything and everything they do is fine, and there should be no consequences. I don’t see a problem with handcuffing a kid — it sounds like a much less dangerous way to restrain them than wrapping your body around them.
    And frankly, with all the school cuts, I don’t know of any schools that can spare 4 adults to deal with a tantrum for hours at a time.
    Maybe if parents started being PARENTS, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue.

    • Cee

      April 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      THIS! Whole heartedly! Along with what kate said under my comment. Parents are becoming so laxed and only get up in arms when someone else tries to do something, yet that comes with so many restrictions. We are handcuffed with what we can do, as you said.

  3. Andrea

    April 18, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    I wouldn’t judge till I walked a mile in those teacher’s shoes. WHO KNOWS how many times she has had to deal with that kid. And most teacher’s hands are tied when it comes to disciplining. It’s a huge problem.

    Handcuffing them might seem extreme, but better than the kid hurting someone else’s kid or the teacher.

    Maybe she will learn her lesson. I know, I am a heartless bitch, this is a 6 year old we are talking about, blah blah blah. Whatever.

  4. Jen

    April 18, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I think teachers also have to call the cops to for CYA too. In NYC we’ve had more than half a dozen arrests this year alone from teachers and aides improperly touching a student. I can definitely imagine some parents (the same who try and justify their child behaving like this in the first place) bringing a huge law suit and ruining a teacher’s life and career if (s)he happened to hurt a child (s)he was restraining.

  5. Shannon

    April 19, 2012 at 2:56 am

    This is ridiculous. The child was acting in an extremely violent and aggressive manner, and the teacher was supposed to know how to restrain her properly? A teacher’s job is… TEACH. It is the PARENTS’ responsibility to provide the structure and discipline needed to shape their children into individuals who can be receptive in school and demonstrate self control. Our society continues to put more and more responsibility on the teachers and school staff, while the parents (and children!) are left utterly blameless. And this article actually suggests that schools need to train their staff in physical crisis intervention for out of control kids? Seriously???! It is a SCHOOL, not a psychiatric hospital. Let the schools focus on teaching, and let the parents focus on being accountable for the behavior of their kids. As for the 6 year old who had to endure the “traumatic” experience of handcuffs? Good. Perhaps she will internalize a life lesson, and think twice before throwing a temper tantrum. Consequences for maladaptive behavior should NOT feel pleasant.

    • Rebecca

      May 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Gotta say, I had the exact same reaction as you when i read about this. Couldn’t agree more.

  6. kims

    April 19, 2012 at 10:47 am

    i think calling child protection services would have been better than calling the police. also, many communities have a crisis hotline that can be called in situations like this. normal 6 yr olds, who are healthy & have the normal amount of emotional control children of that age should have, do not act out in that way. this chiuld needed help, & locking her up & throwing her in the back of a cruiser is more likely to make matters worse, not to teach her any kind of lesson.

    • Shannon

      April 20, 2012 at 1:13 am

      CPS wouldn’t even take the report because this isn’t a case of child abuse or neglect. I think you are confused. And this child does need help. She probably needs individual therapy, individual counseling, and possibly medication. However, in the moment, the priority is to keep her from hurting others or herself. The other interventions can occur after the immediate crisis has been diffused. The staff did the right thing by calling the police. They have the interests and safety of their other students to look after as well.

  7. The Mommy Psychologist

    April 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Clearly, you have never been around a child who is this disturbed or worked within a school setting. As a child psychologist and someone who has worked on inpatient psychiatric units, kids who experience this significant degree of upset become a very real threat to themselves and others. They have to be contained for safety measures.

    Public school personnel are not allowed to restrain children in schools any longer. It is against the law. Please do your research. If one of the teachers or school administrators had put their hands on this child then they would have been breaking the law.

    Here’s what I have to say about this incident and the need to have special police squads trained to handle mental health crisis:

    • Lindsay Cross

      April 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      I’m sorry, but I have been around these children. So has my mother, who I interviewed for this piece. She’s been working in an inclusive early childhood program for pre-k and kindergarten for almost two decades.

      It is not against the law in our state for a teacher or administrator to physically restrain a child who is a danger to themselves or to others. I have done plenty of research in this matter, including talking to our local school systems. They all have training in place to help teachers handle these situations in a way that helps the children learn how to control their own anger so that these types of problems don’t continue to occur.

      Part of the reason I wrote this piece and brought in the perspective of someone who has dealt with these situations on a number of occasions is to demonstrate that there are ways for teachers and administrators to handle these situations without getting the police involved.

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