Empathy, not Expulsion, for Preschoolers at Risk

New York Times

A few years ago, a boy here was on the verge of being expelled because his teacher felt he was a danger to his classmates.

He was 4 years old, in preschool.

This situation is all too common. Preschoolers are expelled at three times the rate of children in kindergarten through 12th grade, with African-American boys being most vulnerable.

This boy — I’ll call him Danny — was lucky, though. His teacher received assistance from a specialist, Lauren Wiley, an early childhood mental health consultant. Wiley started off by listening. The teacher had said she thought Danny (not his real name) needed to be medicated for attention deficit disorder, or A.D.D. Then she admitted she was angry with him. Her job was to keep her students safe, she said, and the boy’s aggression made her feel like a failure.

Next, Wiley and the teacher met with Danny’s mother. It came out that Danny had witnessed his father beating his mother and then being taken away in handcuffs by the police. No one had talked with Danny about the event. As with many children, what was thought to be A.D.D. was actually a result of trauma. Danny needed his teacher to empathize with him, to give him warmth and a sense of safety — not to wish to be rid of him. After the intervention, she warmed to him, and gradually he warmed to his time spent in the classroom...

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