Ousted tots aren't always to blameUSA TODAY - October 10, 2005
More day care providers than ever are kicking out "misbehaving" toddlers as young as 18 months, leaving working parents worried and scrambling for child care, pediatricians reported Sunday.
There's a new climate of fear in day care, says behavioral-developmental pediatrician Barbara Howard of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Workers fear accusations of child abuse if they discipline tots, or even lawsuits from parents if rambunctious little Tyler bites little Emma.
"They're more likely to complain to parents or insist the child leave if anything goes wrong rather than trying to work it out," Howard says.
Expulsions from day care are not formally tracked, but doctors are hearing about a growing number of such cases, Howard says. She spoke on a panel at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Washington, D.C.
Care providers' attitudes aren't the only thing that has changed. "We're hearing about more challenging behaviors, such as hitting other kids," says Barbara Willer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Tense, busy parents can lead children to act out for attention, says behavioral-developmental pediatrician Heidi Feldman of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"A lot of parents are stressed out of their minds," she says. "They come home from long workdays, and they don't have time to sit and cuddle the child." Kids who are kept up late to see parents may be cranky the next day, Feldman says.
Sometimes, complaints of bad behavior signal a poor fit between a child and the day care or too few adults at the center. Willer's group recommends at least two adults for every eight to 12 2-year-olds. Also, a prim "Mary Poppins" caregiver may not be best for a physically active, normal 2-year-old, Feldman says. Others thrive with structure but spin out of control in free-form programs.
When caregivers complain, parents should ask for specific examples and find out what happened just before the incident, Howard says. Many 2-year-olds can tell their side of the story.
"Maybe everybody got a snack but him, so he went over and took a girl's snack. That's normal toddler behavior, and he may need to work on verbal skills," Howard says. "Or, she skipped her nap, and that always leads to trouble."
Impromptu visits during day care can give parents insights into the trouble, Feldman says. "If they don't welcome you, you don't want your child there." Be wary of the day care if a child acts cooperatively everywhere else, she suggests.
If you like the care, try to work out the problem, Willer says. "Too often, though, you just have to go find another place. If they're not willing to accommodate individual differences within reason, it's probably not best for your child."
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