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[Read "When Toddlers Get Fired," by Neal Pollack.]
I can’t say that I sympathize with Neal Pollack much, and it’s not due to lack of similarity in circumstance. My husband and I are both academics, so for us, the opportunity to write, work at home, and have unfettered time to think like an adult is equally important. And no one would ever call our son an easy child. But that’s where the similarity ends. Yes, it’s difficult to have two careers and a child. Yes, kids do maddening things at age 2 and you can’t exactly reason with them to get the behavior to stop. Yes, preschools and childcare centers should provide more individualized services for kids who don’t fit the standard mold. But, for god’s sake, you still have to be a parent! Parents are the ones who have to take responsibility for a child’s behavior — not the preschool staff. You have to deal with your child all the time, not just when he’s being funny and smart.
I really don’t want to sound like Dr. Laura here, but something truly disturbed me about Pollack’s writing, in particular what it revealed about the priority of the child in their lives. The preoccupation of Pollack and his wife seem to be: How much time can we spend away from our child? How can we get him out of our hair for as long as possible in order to preserve our jobs, our intelligence, our sanity, our marriage? If they think this attitude isn’t being conveyed to the child in some way, they’re sorely mistaken.
— Cynthia Ching
I’m a little mystified at Neal Pollack’s assertion that excellent, affordable childcare is a God-given right, right up there with freedom of speech and religious tolerance. He seems to expect a low-paid childcare worker to have the infinite patience he and his wife seem to lack. If he feels “forced” into caring for his high-strung son and doesn’t want the work of being a full-time father, why should he expect someone else who is not biologically related to provide better care than he is capable of giving? Why have children at all?
Granted, the United States still has a long way to go toward providing affordable childcare and flexible work situations that allow parents of both genders to have fulfilling lives at work and at home. Yet, we still choose to have children in this environment, knowing that we might have to sacrifice a bit in order to do so. We might have to give up some income, or delay our careers for a couple of years, or miss out on some aspect of our children’s lives in order to make parenthood work for us. Life is nothing if not choices.
The fact remains that public schools aren’t required to educate children until they reach kindergarten. We can call daycare for toddlers “school,” but that doesn’t change the fact that daycare is a contractual service. If you choose to outsource the care of your pre-K child, then you subject yourself to the vagaries of the free market. If you want your child to have organic juice and one-on-one attention, you may have to pay more for it. If your child is a difficult “client” who is endangering others, the daycare provider has the right to decline service.
I hope that Neal and his wife are able to arrange a situation that works for them and their son. But I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for them.
— Dina Pradel
I was very much of two minds reading this article. I had a child who was repeatedly assaulted by another 3-year-old. But I can sympathize with parents who have children with behavioral problems — the consequences are obvious from the article. And I also appreciate the honesty of the article, the refusal to downplay the effects of the child’s aggressive behavior. Hard as it is going to be, the parents need to make stopping this behavior their top priority. I don’t think they can assume it will just go away. If it doesn’t go away, the story will only get worse. Most important, for all of the admissions that this effort will disrupt their own lives, I think these parents get it and will do the right thing.
— Robert Oakley
After reading this tale, it was hard to know for whom I felt sorriest. I guess, in the end, I’ll cast my vote for Elijah, whose parents clearly don’t understand that daily, aggressive biting isn’t normal and that dealing with it is their responsibility.
Look, guys. This is your son. He’s in trouble. He’s angry. He’s violent. He’s also lovely and funny and charming, but he needs help. At the very least he needs more loving, focused attention from the two people who decided to bring him into the world. What he doesn’t need from you are any further attempts to foist the blame, and the mess, onto someone else. Forget the Yale study, the nanny you can’t afford, or the usefulness of this sad story to your writing career. Just step up to the plate and do your job.
— Kathy Waugh
I sympathize with all the feelings Neal Pollack describes in his piece about his 2-year-old. Let me suggest a way of looking at the problem that might be productive. Elijah has succeeded in putting everyone around him in turmoil, and therefore has succeeded in dominating his world, which is exactly what most 2-year-olds aspire to. Congratulations, Elijah! Now the parents have to retrain Elijah, and themselves, to enjoy a different sort of world. They should dismiss all the tempting thoughts of blame, regret, guilt, and worry (I know this sounds impossible) and focus on the idea that Elijah is like any baby mammal who needs steady training in the sorts of habits that the parents prize. If they decide to spend the summer focusing on his behavior and not avoiding him and wishing to be out of his presence, they will have better success. View it as a project!
The main thing is to be alert, avoid being bitten, and refuse to react to provocative actions by Elijah. I like the three-second-rule. When the child does something provoking, ignore him, count three seconds, and then go on with what you were doing. If he has a tantrum, turn away and do something else, but don’t leave the room and don’t leave him alone — that is, don’t abandon, but don’t react. Just do something yourself that might be interesting to him. If his provocative actions receive no response, they will subside.
But the parents have to be attentive, patient, observant, and willing to spend the time doing the retraining. If they are thinking all the time about what they would rather be doing, they will fail, and if they think that there is something “broken” inside Elijah, they will also fail. He’s a kid, a puppy, a foal. He has to be trained. He’s ignorant, not bad. But by reacting so much to what he is doing, both the school and the parents have essentially trained him to keep doing it — why wouldn’t he? It’s working! When they stop reacting, it stops working. The school’s first responsibility is to make sure that all the children are safe, so teachers are not in a good position to do nonreactive training, but the parents are. The bonus is that they will not believe how quickly it can start working, if they stick with it.
— Jane Smiley
I am writing in reference to Neal Pollack’s recent article, “When Toddlers Get Fired.” I’ve read the article, read numerous blogs commenting on the article, and visited Mr. Pollack’s Web site, and I have to say, I really can’t believe the vitriol out there.
I have two children. I was raised in a normal household with the regular problems. I babysat. I worked at a daycare center. I got a college degree, then another. I was extremely competent in my career. I married, bought a house, thought carefully about children, looked at our budget, discussed parenting techniques, read books, asked questions, and still felt entirely unprepared and incompetent for what parenting brought with it. I felt joy and thankfulness and all the good stuff. I also felt depression, loss of identity, anger, resentment and lots of things I was not supposed to talk about. Sometimes I felt them at the same time. I struggled with daycare. I struggled when my son was bitten, nearly twice a week, by a boy he adored.
All this is to say parenting is hard work. We all feel things that are dark and nasty. Sometimes we don’t like our kids. Sometimes we don’t like ourselves for our feelings. Most of us don’t get the chance to publish our feelings.
I feel for the Pollacks because, like many of us folks, parenting brought them challenges no one could prepare for. I cannot and will not speak to their experience, as I don’t really know them. Mr. Pollack just happens to write about his experience. And that is what has moved me the most about his article and the comments that followed.
Internet culture is odd. Any of us can start a blog and pour our hearts and minds out on any given number of topics. It is sort of narcissistic, I suppose — or exhibitionistic and also voyeuristic. And, any of us can anonymously reach out and attack or support another, like a sniper or an angel. We can just type a few words and shoot them out there. And boy it feels great. I don’t have to worry about my problems, only yours. And you never have to know it was me.
It’s the price we pay for the freedom the Internet gives us, I guess. But reading the really nasty comments so many people have written about the Pollacks makes me think it is a high price. I appreciate his articles and his bravery for putting it out there. I hope he keeps writing.
— Julie Lucas
Mr. and Mrs. Pollack evidently believe, without much reflection, in the market theory of raising Elijah: Throw money at the problem in the hopes that someone else will do the dirty work for them.
At the risk of sounding like an ignoramus — no, I don’t have kids — why are they sending a 2-year-old to an organized school? Getting underfoot at home is what toddlers do best, and there are few other children to bite.
But what strikes me most is what Neal Pollack leaves out: Neither he nor his wife take the time to ask their parents for memories of when they had toddlers under their own feet.
— T.J. Cassidy
I’m glad you published Neal Pollack’s article describing the difficulties for parents when kids are expelled from for-profit preschools. My son was also a biter. I was told I had to pick him up and take him home each time he bit another child. My kid was happy to spend the afternoon at home, but my boss was pretty upset — and so was I. I needed to keep my job, especially since I am divorced and get little or no child support.
I called our pediatrician and got instructions from him on how to stop my son from biting. The doctor said to pull him off the other child immediately and give him a timeout. I gave these instructions to my son’s teachers, explaining that it was medical advice.
Fortunately, the doctor’s method worked and my son stopped biting other kids. He never got sent home again and didn’t get expelled from preschool. But I know the worry.
— Elizabeth Morse
I turned to Salon this morning in hopes of finding some sort of inspiration to get me through a day at the office. Instead, I was greeted by yet another article by a young but oh-so-witty parent bemoaning the fact that his offspring got kicked out of preschool for biting and sticking rocks up his nose. Mom is at wit’s end because she has an art exhibit to put up and she doesn’t want to spend so much time with her child. And dad doesn’t know how he is going to manage to scribble more “humorous” essays about how hard it is to be a parent if he is forced to actually interact with his child during daylight hours.
When did Salon turn into a confessional for parents who can’t handle their kids? For every article that sheds some light on what’s going on in the world, there seem to be way too many on the challenges of finding the right nanny or the politics of the playground. I support Salon Premium because I believe in what Salon used to offer: smart, insightful, well-reasoned news and opinions. If I wanted so much baby stuff, I’d subscribe to Parents.
— Roy DeLaMar
Let me get this straight. Neal’s 2-year-old went on a month or longer binge of biting children every day and he’s upset and shocked that his son was expelled? The child should have been expelled much earlier, to protect the other children from his mouth. Neal is lucky that he’s not getting sued by another parent.
Attitudes like his are a major reason I got out of teaching. Parents “these days” (I’m 32, mind you) don’t seem to have the patience or time to parent and discipline their own children but expect teachers to do the job for them. They don’t say no to their child for anything, don’t teach them respect for others, let alone for adults, and are shocked — just shocked — when their kids get in trouble in school.
What’s especially maddening is that Neal and his wife are so upset that they have to spend the entire summer in “hell” with their 2-year-old! You mean parenting is hard, exhausting work, will change your life and your marriage forever, and make you question what the hell you were ever thinking? You’re kidding. Yet they expect others to do it with more tact and patience than they’ve shown their own child, just because the others are getting paid for it.
Let me provide some perspective. When I graduated from college in 1995 with a teaching certificate, the only job I could find immediately was at a Montessori school and at another preschool. I was interviewed numerous times. I got hired at both … for the excellent salary of $8 an hour, without benefits. Double that and add benefits, and I still don’t think it would be enough. The numerous assistants and teachers that had contact with Neal’s 2-year-old probably weren’t making much more than that. They should be commended for putting up with him for as long as they did.
Mothers and fathers are always saying that parenthood is the hardest, least appreciated, least compensated job on earth. When they fail to do their job, teachers take that title easily.
Why did this couple have a child if neither wanted to care for him? Caring for a rambunctious 2-year-old is one of the most challenging jobs on earth, but with two able-bodied parents, can’t they just trade off who takes care of him for a few hours each day so they can work? Does the child not nap at all?
Neal Pollack whines articulately, as does his wife, but the only person I feel for in this essay is their son. I hope they pay attention to him this summer so he doesn’t need to bite to get their attention.
— Jennifer Levitsky Kasoff
Since when did spending days with your kid over the summer become a death sentence? If you didn’t want to spend time with your kid, why did you have him?
And now to the question of biting. Biting is not funny even in precocious 2-year- olds, and every parent has dealt with this. My recommendation is to react naturally. When the kid bites you, slap his butt. You are simply being honest with him. That hurt and I’m mad, so stop it. I’m not talking about a beating here — just a slap, and only on the butt. I’m not a big fan of corporal punishment, but at some point we all need to deal with the real world — even if we’re smart, cute, funny 2-year-olds.
— John Drew
I feel for Neal Pollack and the teachers who didn’t know how to handle his son, but I was surprised that the preschool put up with Elijah’s behavior for as long as they did.
If I had been Sophie’s mom, after the second time she was bitten I would have spoken to the teacher and said that I expected them to provide a safe environment for my child. If anything had happened beyond that, I would have gone to the school and demanded that they make certain it wouldn’t happen again. I would not have waited for the teachers to give up. I would have pulled Sophie from the school before I would have allowed her to be someone’s chew toy. Where were the irate parents?
Yes, it would be great if no kids were expelled, but on the other hand, it would be great if no one bit anybody either. Why throw up your hands at the latter, but expect the former?
Elijah is your responsibility and it isn’t the primary job of his daycare to make him a sensitive and cooperative child — it is yours, working together with them. Is it unfair of the other parents to expect their children to be safe from a biter? I wouldn’t want my child in a class with someone who attacks the other children constantly. Some children can be difficult, but you can’t expect his daycare to be the sole answer to this problem. What did you expect, that you could have him and simply expect someone else to humanize him? Talk to his pediatrician, friends, and family and ultimately, if you have to, make that financial sacrifice to get some help.
Neal Pollack wrote an incredibly honest account of the horribly difficult situation with his 2-year-old son, Elijah. The problem is that by being so honest, he only proved that both he and his wife were incredibly selfish and insensitive.
During no time in Mr. Pollack’s article did he or his wife offer any concern or sympathy for the children their son physically harmed, sometimes to the point of drawing blood. While attempting to blame schools, teachers and “the system,” their true feelings and concerns were exposed. Neither wanted “the job” they signed on for when they decided to procreate.
My heart bleeds for Elijah and the other children who come into contact with him. Neal Pollack recognizes that he himself had a difficult childhood, but for some bizarre reason, while seeing flashes of his childhood in Elijah, he does not act to see if Elijah is suffering from the same or different behavioral problems.
OK, at the beginning of this article, I was on your side. It all rings a bell — the crappy healthcare and the inadequate childcare. But by the end, the only sympathetic character in the whole article was Sophie. She is only 2 years old and should not have to worry about going to school and being bitten by your son. But when you really lost me was when you began to go on and on about what a tragedy it would be to have your own son at home with you for the summer. I’m a single mother (for five years) with two children in college and a 13- and a 14-year-old at home. I have a real job (had, just got fired) with real benefits and could never have afforded a Montessori school. I cannot afford a $25-a-week tutor for my daughter.
Still, when my kids were little (and I was married) I did stay home with them. We went to the park, we went to the dollar theater, we went to the library. I had coffee with my friends. It’s not a horrible life. You have kids, you make sacrifices. You work at jobs you don’t like so maybe you can afford a hobby and so that you can have health benefits. You spend time with your children even when you can’t stand the sound of their voices anymore.
Do you think that you really voiced concerns of most middle- or working-class parents? I can tell you right now that you did not. You should watch “Supernanny” and get in the habit of looking into your child’s eyes and speaking in a serious and stern manner in order to get your point across rather than trying to be funny. “You don’t bite a girl unless she asks you to” is a stupid thing to say to a 2-year-old, especially when said 2-year-old has a problem with biting.
The situation Neal Pollack describes has occurred before, in generation after generation. At present we have a generation of parents who have decided that corporal punishment is bad and can never, ever “work” with children. But warehousing them in private facilities without proper services is a good idea? Are he and his wife unable to do anything else to make a living? Are they unable to move back to where they have the kid’s grandparents to help them? This is a peculiarly middle-class problem. The Pollacks have come to expect society to allow them to pursue their artistic and literary dreams and have a child too. There are lots of parents throughout the world who are in much worse circumstances. If the Pollacks truly put their son’s life and development first, they would take boring but higher-paying jobs (like the rest of us) or move to a place where the cost of living is lower. Otherwise, start spanking him.
— Steven Dunlap
If the editors were hoping that Neal Pollack’s piece about his family’s struggle with their toddler’s impulse-control issues would provide any illumination into the findings of the Yale Center report, they are mistaken. What I see in Mr. Pollack’s tale is not a school system giving up on a child too early, but parents who are all too ready to give up on the hard work of parenting because it’s just that — hard.
It’s not that parents like the Pollacks don’t love their children. They do. But they seem to love their own identity as artistic professionals more. And they do not necessarily have to give up being hip artistic professionals to be effective parents in most usual circumstances.
But when the unusual strikes (as it so often does with children), that’s when everything else must come second, behind what’s best for the child. Most parents when faced with a child having serious discipline problems commit themselves to doing whatever is in their power to fix the problem, even if that means sacrifice on their part. It is, after all, part of the job description of being a parent.
Self-control is all about the recognition that what you want isn’t always what’s best for others, and sometimes the needs of others must come before your own. If the parents are incapable of mastering that concept, what makes you think the child will learn it?
As the stay-at-home parent of a 2-year-old I can sympathize with the author’s frustration with his son’s behavior, as well as the loss of personal time that having a child inevitably brings. However, Pollack brought that kid into the world, and he and his wife owe it to their son to do what’s right for him rather than what’s convenient for them. The kid is obviously crying out for individual attention, so they’d better suck it up and give it to him. Things will let up when he’s in school.
Hire a babysitter for 20 hours a week, switch careers, sell your house, move into an apartment, do whatever it takes to give your kid the attention he needs. A sacrifice from you now will pay dividends later on when Elijah is an emotionally stable, independent teenager and adult.
— Rene Caron
Neal Pollack’s whining about the consequences of his and his wife’s parenting leaves me cold. It is his and his wife’s responsibility, no one else’s, to see that his son is fit to socialize with other toddlers. The Montessori school in question risked lawsuits — multiple lawsuits — to allow the Pollacks time to correct their child’s unacceptable behavior.
One must wonder what went through the Pollacks’ collective mind when deciding to make a baby. Did they have no friends to counsel them on the effort needed to be parents? “It’ll all work out” is not a philosophy to raise a child by; it takes work, hard work, and plenty of it.
The author diagnoses the problem as poor impulse control. Undoubtedly true — but not only of his son. One can only hope that a parent or trusted friend will supply a healthy boot to their collective posterior, pointing out that a child requires a good deal of attention, and effort is required to instill in him a sense of right and wrong.
— Jared Hecker
Elijah needs a spanking, and quite frankly so do his parents.
I didn’t bite or hit other children when I was small, because I knew I would get a spanking if I did. I didn’t not bite children at the prospect of getting ice cream or having a family photo not taken away. With reasoning like this it’s no wonder children are out of control and getting expelled from preschool.
Physical discipline (read: spanking) has its place, time and way, and one of those times is when a child behaves violently. I know some people would argue that spanking a child for behaving violently just reinforces the idea that violence is OK, but there is a way to pull it off as discipline and not as violence. And the first rule is to never spank out of anger. Spanking is not to be done when you are at your wit’s end, but after a cool-off period. Give the child and parent some time to calm down and become less emotional. If my 2-year-old daughter bit my wife, there would be a definite spanking. She would be told she was going to get a spanking and to go to her room (or whatever timeout area there was) and to think about what she did. Once everybody had calmed down, my wife and I would explain to our daughter why she was getting spanked, why what she did was wrong, how it hurt her mother and made her sad, and how that type of behavior will result in a spanking. Then she would receive a not-too-firm smack on the derriere.
Looking back on my childhood, I feel that the most effective part of the disciplining process was the time between my bad behavior and the actual spanking that I knew was coming. I was terrified. It was the anticipation of getting spanked that was the real punishment, always worse than the actual spanking. This is the fear that helped set boundaries for my behavior in the future. When it came time for the actual spanking (maybe 20 minutes after the “incident”) I was a wreck, as I should have been. My parents would barely even have to spank me.
There is much at fault with the way people raise children these days. For example, rewarding a child with ice cream for not biting? Children should be punished for their violent behavior, not rewarded for the lack of it. The child in this article appears to have no boundaries, and yes, the parents are solely to blame. And why should a preschool be forced to deal with a child that is out of control? It’s not the school’s job to set the boundaries for a child as much as it is their responsibility to maintain the boundaries set by parents, in addition to educating and stimulating our children.
Children need to have a healthy amount of fear. Just as they need to be afraid of getting hurt from putting a paper clip in an outlet, so they need to be scared that Mommy or Daddy will spank them if they bite. It’s for their own good.
— Robert Dall
All marriages suffer, change, grow because of kids. What Elijah needs is two parents who actually parent him. Mr. Pollack, control what you can control. If your benefits are terrible, then get a different job with better benefits.
My daughter had a friend in daycare that she had a particularly violent fight with when she was 3 and got serious scratches on her face. She is 11 now and to this day, when I see those scars, I get furious.
I read with dismay the article by Mr. Pollack. If Mr. Pollack had experienced a social disorder that included some violent tendencies, what made him think his child would somehow avoid the same?
I don’t have children. I’m 51. I’m manic depressive and basically from a long line of losers. I just thought about it for two seconds and thought, “Why should this line continue?” It wasn’t just the right thing to do — it was the only thing to do.
— N. de Wolfe
Yet another article about how incredibly difficult it is to be a parent. My God, the frequency of articles with this tone in Salon is mind-numbing. You have a child, you are responsible for raising it. I don’t care what you want — your child’s needs come first.
Hundreds of millions of people on the planet are caring for their kids right now. Fortunately, most do not have to be forced into the situation.
— James E. Cann
My son nearly got fired at 2 1/2 for what was called “aggressive biting” by his expensive full-day daycare program. When the problem first arose, we whipped into action — met with the teacher and the school director to put together a plan for addressing the problem (rather, we made suggestions that they rejected one by one); hired an early-childhood specialist to observe the room; took him to therapy; went to therapy ourselves; read him age-appropriate books about anger and biting; and tried to reinforce good behavior and positively deal with antisocial behavior.
It turned out that while he was angry at me for working a lot (I was managing a major piece of litigation at what was supposed to be a family-friendly job), his teacher wasn’t helping things at all with her punitive approach to dealing with antisocial behavior and her generally cold way of interacting with the kids. When he bit again a few months later, and they tried to kick him out, I got litigious on them for just long enough to buy us some time to get him into a new program.
It was a terrible experience, one of the worst of my life. What was shocking to me was that in the course of trying to resolve this, I discovered that this highly rated program had teachers, and even a director, who did not have the proper certifications because they had not worked with preschoolers before. They were treating 2- and 3-year-olds like little 5-year-olds. In the room where he was supposed to move at 3, the teachers were spending an inordinate amount of time on “academic” subjects at the expense of active or imaginative play. He’s doing well now, his new teachers tell me that he is the most compliant and happy child in the room, and I feel like we dodged a bullet.
— Name Withheld
Let me be among the first of what I hope will be a torrent of letters about “When Toddlers Get Fired.” Thank God the author has shared his amazing discovery with all of us: Having kids is hard. Dealing with 2-year-olds is really hard.
There is no magical school that should be able to deal with a biting child. While I understand that there are those who truly need full-time daycare, I also know that many confuse “need” with “want.” My husband and I are both artists, and we made many different career choices because we had kids. We were also creative with childcare; we took turns, we helped create a neighborhood network, and we learned to work when the kids were asleep.
I’ll let the author in on another fact: Kids grow up. Now that you brought them into the world, take care of them. One day they’ll be off and you can paint and write on your own schedule.
— Paula Sjogerman
Please be sure Neal Pollack gets this letter! There is this nifty little program called Early Intervention. It is free, and your son will be evaluated — by specialists paid by the Department of Health — to figure out what is going on here. You are the parent, the grown-up. It is your job to help figure out what is going on with your son. By the way, you can’t afford not to get your son some help, unless you are content to see him treated like a bad kid with a behavior problem for the rest of his school years.
Look up the phone number for Early Intervention in your area. If you can’t find it, call your pediatrician or your local public school district. Your son needs help and early-intervention services — which are free — may be the way for you to start stepping up to the job of being his parent and getting him that help.
— Katy Keohane
I do feel for the author and his wife, and it does seem as if their daycare provider was, to put it mildly, inept. But it also seems that the author’s main reaction was to hope the problem would take care of itself, because he did not mention any parental efforts to understand the problem or to engage the daycare provider by suggesting alternative solutions. From a child’s perspective, biting is a preverbal form of expression on the same level as hitting or kicking. From an adult’s, biting usually elicits a lot more anger and attention. The biter often gets more attention than the victim, which can spur the biter to keep biting. And Elijah seems to have become the center of just such a negative feedback loop.
All the difficulties about finding affordable childcare notwithstanding, it is possible to deal constructively with an intractable biter. There are probably dozens of books and other resources that could have given these parents some ideas. I am a veteran daycare mother, and I know that the creativity and background, not to mention the workload, of daycare providers vary too much to assume that they will have an answer to a difficult behavioral problem. So the author should take this as a lesson that is best learned early in a child’s development: Sometimes, parents need to be more involved than they want to or think they have time for.
— B. Ryland
Could Elijah be biting to get attention? My concern is that nowhere in this article does the author mention seeking out some family counseling, which even in my small provincial town is available for low-income folks. Are they too proud to access this?
As a parent myself, I want to remind the author that raising a child is likely to be the most rewarding and profound experience he will ever have. Both he and his child will reap the emotional benefits of his involvement in his child’s early years.
Neglect during these formative years will shape that child’s future. I have been in your shoes, but please make it your biggest priority to pay attention to your child; soon it will be too late. Let the child know that he can depend on his loving caregivers to care enough to interact with him, listen to him and really hear him. Elijah’s frustration is heartbreaking.
— Name Withheld
This is familiar territory. I was one of the first superwomen in the ’60s and ’70s who did it all. My husband and I both worked together all the time as writers and artists, and the youngest was in school from the age of 6 months. The difference is that I came from a family of Scottish Mrs. Doubtfires and there was no way anybody was going to let me get away with blaming away what was clearly my responsibility — discipline. This toddler is going to have big problems if his parents keep letting him bite people (a dangerous activity from a medical standpoint). Forget the chairs and mats. Make sure he has a well-padded backside, then take him over your knee and give a couple of loud-sounding whacks
Neal Pollack highlights the Yale article as if his child is being dismissed for sucking his thumb too loudly when in fact he is being expelled for a serious issue that threatens the safety of other children. The thought of spending the summer with their child “terrifies” both Pollack and his wife. Has it occurred to Pollack that that fact could be the cause of the attention-seeking behavior?
Pollack’s assumption that his son may someday need to be medicated in order to be “sane” is sad. In my experience as a former teacher, the vast majority of “difficult” children need a little more discipline at home and, often, a lot more attention from their parents.
— C. Davis
I think it’s hard for artists who set their own schedules or non-schedules to deal with a child who desperately needs a regimented day.
You know Elijah’s not ready for nursery school, but your summer need not be hell.
Here’s a schedule:
7:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m. Parent A
9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Parent B
12:30-3:00 p.m. Elijah nap
3:00-6:30 p.m. Parent A
6:30-7:15 p.m. bath, book, bed (both)
A good nap and an early bedtime are crucial to 2-year-olds. Room-darkening shades: Buy them. Love them.
Alternate days being parent A and parent B. During your turns with Elijah, talk to him and give him eye contact. And get him out of the house. You read “About a Boy,” didn’t you? Remember the main character divided his day into small units of time? Go to the playground (3 units). Go to the store (4 units, if you let him help put every item in the cart). Revel in the slow passage of time. You’re alive and with someone who loves you more than you feel you deserve.
You’re not bad parents. You might just need more discipline than he does.
— Susan Ochs-Scher
Reading Neal Pollack’s article made my stomach churn. His assessment of his son’s behavior, and the feelings he and his wife have regarding them, are painfully honest. What’s (unfortunately) missing is an answer to the self-reflective question, “So … what are you going to do about it?” Elijah, cherubic looks and abominable behavior aside, is simply a 2-year-old child in need of parenting. By “parenting” I mean guidance, attention, love, discipline, and routine, as well as the usual food, shelter, etc.
Since whatever it is they’ve been doing obviously has not been working, the school expulsion should be the wake-up call that Mom and Dad need to pull their heads out of the sand and get busy working on their most important project: their son. As parents, as in so many other things in life, we must play the hand we’re dealt. To Mr. Pollack and his wife I say, game on. Indulgence and excuses don’t work when raising a child, and they cannot replace loving guidance.
Build a life that the three of you can share and enjoy, even if it means making sacrifices. It doesn’t have to be drastic; perhaps an hour-long session of hard physical play outside (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) with Elijah would ensure a nightly bedtime of 7:00 p.m., followed by many hours of blissful sleep (his, not yours!). Read to him every day, multiple times a day, so that he learns to appreciate the quiet times with just his mom and dad. Set boundaries, communicate them clearly, and then enforce them consistently.
Have a beautiful summer enjoying your son, and with some love and luck, he’ll soon be acting like the blessing you know he is, not the albatross you’re afraid he’s become.
— Christa McGarry
I feel for Neal Pollack and his wife and for Elijah — I really, really do.
My husband and I were in quite a state about two years ago when our 3-year-old son, who also has had issues with “impulse control” and “using his words,” had problems at daycare. After several meetings with his teachers, we too thought he might be kicked out.
In comparison, we were lucky — our son’s bites never broke skin and our attempts at behavior modification (our rewards were Superhero toys instead of ice cream) began working. He’s doing much better now, and his teachers are devoted to him.
I wonder whether Elijah’s parents and teachers considered that he might have some kind of special need? One that might qualify him for federally mandated special services? Many parents aren’t aware that you don’t have to wait until elementary school to qualify for such services.
If Elijah’s problem is any one of those conditions affecting (especially) boys ranging from the well-known ADHD to Asperger’s syndrome to something called Sensory Integration Dysfunction (my son seems to have a touch of this) to a plain old unexplained developmental delay, then Pollack’s community would be obligated to pay for services for him.
All that said, and it grieves me to the bottom of my very liberal, human-services supporting, early-education advocating heart to have to write this, it occurs to me that their preschool situation is not really this family’s biggest problem: Their poverty is. All biting aside, Pollack reports that Elijah might have been kicked out anyway because his family couldn’t pay his tuition.
I would be much more sympathetic to their plight were Elijah the child of a struggling, uneducated single mother trying to hold down three jobs and pay the rent on a hovel. But Pollack and his wife are clearly educated and have greater options — options like getting a job with benefits, so they could afford some therapy for their son or a nanny to help out until he is old enough and mature enough for preschool.
Instead, they seem to be pursuing more creative, but far less predictable and stable careers, something that doesn’t go well with parenthood. Has it not occurred to them that perhaps they both should not pursue their creative passions full time to the detriment of everything else in their lives? Did they not realize they might have to make a sacrifice or two when Elijah was born?
In the end, Pollack comes off as a bit of a whiner. He never fully acknowledges the trauma and pain that his son has caused or comes to terms with the fact that Elijah’s teachers made a superhuman effort with their son and made the responsible choice to expel him. Imagine being poor Sophie or her parents! Imagine how disrupted their lives and careers would have been if Sophie refused to go to school because she was too afraid of Elijah.
Did Pollack and his wife ever apologize to Sophie’s family? Did they ever thank the teachers who worked so hard on behalf of Elijah? They don’t seem willing to admit that their choices (paying taxes with a credit card!) have put them in this pickle.
— Nancy Waters
My wife and I have worked very hard to raise our child well. We have made the same sorts of sacrifices and compromises that many parents make (less spousal intimacy, career advancement, and personal time) to maximize time with our child. We have been firm when necessary (not physical punishment, but firm, consistent discipline), all the while worrying about the potential repercussions to our parent-child relationship, as do all sensitive and sensible parents when they discipline their children.
So our toddler child goes to daycare and faces the children of parents who cannot bring themselves to, or choose not to, properly discipline their children. Our child is bitten repeatedly by several children who, having experienced one biting child in the school’s “tolerant” atmosphere, learned that it is OK to bite because it is “tolerated.” Now our toddler is coming home from daycare day after day in a sullen mood, with nasty welts and cuts from the bites. Our child wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, having dreamed of being attacked, suddenly and unexpectedly, by children at school. After about 12 or 13 bites, our child’s personality is clearly being affected by these near-daily assaults. We consult our pediatrician, who is shocked to hear the treatment our child is receiving as a result of the lax attitude of the daycare facility. The pediatrician tells us that it seems that our 2-year-old toddler may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
When we have a sit-down meeting with the “tolerant” daycare director, she accuses us of lying about the frequency of biting, even though I am holding the incident reports in my hand. In the end, we move our child to another school, which results in additional confusion and sorrow for our child, having been separated from friends and placed in an alien environment. All because of other people’s poor judgment and inaction.
So Neal, do you think it is OK that my 2-year-old child is experiencing unrelenting physical trauma and developing a psychiatric disorder just so you can feel sorry for your child and yourself? Did you ever consider that maybe you have not been disciplining your child properly, and you simply let other toddlers and parents pay the price? Did you take one moment to think about the repercussions of these events on other people’s lives? It does not sound like it to me.
— Will Neff
Mr. Pollack, you say that you and your wife work at home. You say that due to your 2-year-old son’s expulsion from preschool, you are now “facing a summer of hell.” I am simply astounded by the fact that two apparently intelligent and well-educated adults can’t seem to organize themselves enough to take care of one (albeit turbulent, perhaps even seriously troubled) toddler.
I had three children in the space of five and a half years. During those years, I worked at home as a freelance journalist and translator. My husband worked full time outside the home. I was alone with those kids all day, and neither preschool nor a nanny was an option. One of my children was also troubled and entered therapy at age 3, so I know about turbulence as well.
My low-tech solution? I found a neighborhood teenager willing to take the kids to the park and whatnot for a few hours a day to give me the peace and quiet I needed to get my work done. She needed spending money, so we worked out a reasonable salary that I could afford and she was delighted to earn.
She wasn’t a trained psychologist; she didn’t carry around flash cards; she didn’t teach my kids the multiplication tables. But she brought them home happy and tired and ready for a nap, and maybe that’s all you really need this summer.
— S. Lehman
Parents who try to reason with a 2-year-old about biting are doing their child a real disservice. I work with children and I see kids like this who turn 2 and get very angry and insecure because they realize no one is in charge. And children in that situation don’t get better. They get worse. I saw a 2-year-old biter later at his fourth birthday party pull down his pants and piss all over his toys in the backyard, and his dad said, “We don’t do that in front of people. Wash your hands.”
— Justeen Ward
Frankly I don’t have much sympathy for the parents with the biting toddler. I have intelligent, high-energy, high-needs twins, and I had difficulty with one of my children biting the other or me. What worked for me was spanking. When they were under 2, there were only two things for which I spanked: biting and running into the street. Spanking was always preceded by a verbal warning. (“Biting is a spanking matter!”) Pretty soon the verbal warning was enough to stop the biting mid-act, and eventually there was no more biting at all.
My children are neither cowed nor bullies. There is a middle ground between the no-spanking and the punitive fundamentalist approaches to discipline. Choose to discipline only the most dangerous behaviors with spanking, and always give a verbal warning before you swat.
— Francesca Davis
There’s an excellent book that may be helpful to Mr. Pollack and other parents who feel overwhelmed and confused by their children’s behavior. It’s called “The Challenging Child,” by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D.
Also, Mr. Pollack suggests that because his child has not yet achieved verbal sophistication, there is little a therapist could do. On the contrary, a good child/family therapist trained in working with young children can be very helpful in such situations and can also offer important support and coaching to parents. Many geographic areas have professional organizations (for example, of clinical social workers and clinical psychologists) that can provide referrals, and some therapists offer sliding-scale fees.
I wish Mr. Pollack and his family good luck.
— Shobhana Kanal
The problem is not with their kid. The problem is that they refuse to do their jobs as parents. This means being disciplinarians and it means being totally consistent about what is or is not acceptable behavior. Their kids cannot ever be allowed to think they will can away with bad behavior. That is the lesson of the supernanny.
Did they think kids arrive as miniature adults? It is the human nature to be beastly. Kids are little savages and it’s up to their parents to civiliize them enough to make it possible for innocent bystanders to encounter their kids without bite scars. If you don’t want to be the disciplinarian all of the time, don’t be a parent.
— Alice Schmid
Elijah is not ready for the childcare situation his father describes. He needs one-on-one attention from an adult who can show him how to interact with other kids in socially acceptable ways. Someone needs to take him to places where he will have to interact with other kids — playgrounds, children’s museums, even the children’s room at the public library — and stay right on top of him. He needs an adult to show him what to do when he wants a shovel, not just to punish him when he tries to get it by biting. Kids don’t come into the world as social beings. They have to be taught. Some need more instruction than others. Some need a lot more. What is needed here is active parenting. I hope Elijah’s parents have the physical and emotional stamina to give him what he needs.
— Name Withheld
Are we really supposed to feel sorry for this pair? Not once did I hear the slightest indication that either were taking responsibility for this child, his behavior, or their duty to do something about it. All I heard was sad whining about the system and what it isn’t doing for them.
Yes, it does sound like this child is particularly difficult, so in that sense I feel their pain, but when you decide to have a child you have to take responsibility for them no matter what. It’s that unconditional-love thing.
That means you have to be prepared to lose your life to them if that’s what it takes. If not, you really ought not to have children.
OK, too late for that. Here’s what I suggest — stop fighting. Accept the fate bestowed on you and make good out of it. If this means one of you has to give up your job, give it up. If it means you need to move somewhere where you can afford the services this child requires, then do so. If this means your hard-earned career is over, so be it. The child comes first. The moment that child was conceived you entered into a contract, a contract of love that says you give what you have to so that he may be happy.
As a final note, while there is a component of truth about the chemicals in this kid’s head being the problem, there is undoubtedly a learned behavioral aspect too. A behavior the parents probably have some responsibility for. I suggest they take a long, hard look at their parenting techniques and perhaps reconsider what they are and aren’t doing.
In the end I’m afraid I don’t have much hope for a resolution other than time, particularly given how these parents are so fixated on their own problems and not the child’s. Amazingly enough, often the worst kids, even with the most self-centered parents, come out pretty well. I can only hope all of them grow up soon.
— Matt Fahrner
Jeez, with all the nanny articles and then this one, is Salon prepping us for a Terrible Parent Confessional Column?
I get the feeling Elijah likes receiving attention — and I wonder how much of it he gets when he’s not biting people.
His parents both spend most of the time at home but have a hard time finding time to spend with him. His behavior is so bad that his parents ship him off to a preschool where they expect the teacher to handle him with the patience they admit they lack. Then they’re outraged that Elijah has been kicked out of preschool for the same reasons that the parents want to kick him out of their home for the summer.
The parents have gotten exactly what they deserve. Hopefully they’ll give Elijah what he deserves: a spank when he’s biting children until they bleed, and attention even when he is not.
— Mike Baugh
As a former public school teacher, I can say with confidence that Pollack is wrong when he wrote that the reason that “expulsion rates are far higher in ‘faith-based’ and for-profit programs than they are in Head Start schools and preschools located in public-school classrooms” is because “publicly funded schools have easier access to behavioral consultants, often as paid staff, who can step in to help teachers with difficult cases.” That is not the issue. Public programs cannot legally expel easily. That is the issue. And it doesn’t mean they “deal with it.” Often, the lack of ability to expel just means kids like Sophie, described by Pollack, keep getting bitten and teachers have little ability to stop it. Much as Pollack likes to think he has it the toughest (and he certainly makes it clear he thinks that), he doesn’t.
My 2-year-old daughter was a biter. When I finally made the behavior compulsory after reading some of Karen Pryor’s advice on changing behaviors, she stopped for good after two weeks of working on it. During the day I’d pull out a teether or something else that was satisfying to bite, and make her bite it. At first she seemed to think it was a fun game, but after a while it was clear that having Mommy order her to bite, and having to bite for long enough that it became boring, made biting a real drag. It may not work for everyone, but some of you might find it works for your kid. Give it a try.
— Carol Maltby
I am the mother of three kids born within four years, the last about to graduate from high school. Yes, it is tough to deal with preschoolers, but guess what, it gets worse, and believe me, if you have problems now, you are going to hate adolescence. So fish or cut bait. Take some of your prized reading time and read some child psychology. Your kid is crying out for attention; any attention will do at this point.
So you and your wife need to sit down and develop some parenting strategies. The good news is there are two of you. One can take the little guy out on excursions while the other has the precious alone time to work. And the other has to make it precious child time. Your child is dying to be cherished, not warehoused or schooled, but completely adored. There must be libraries, zoos, beaches, parks where you live. Take him there. Don’t use the time to run errands. Do stuff he loves. And get this: Listen to him. Deeply, with compassion. You just may learn something. Number one lesson of parenting: Put yourself second. It will free you of some major horror later in life.
Don’t blame the professionals. Get yourself a copy of Penelope Leach or Dr. Brazelton.
Parenting well is the best thing you can do with your life. The rewards are worth more than any dollar amount.
— Beth Widmayer
In the wake of Enron and Tyco we demand accountability from corporations, yet society demands little from parents who bring children into this world. Mr. Pollack feigns sympathy to overworked and underpaid preschool workers, yet makes no effort to explain why he created yet another child to shoehorn into their classrooms. How can he expect them to summon love and acceptance for a fee when he cannot at any price? Why are institutions made to answer when the people who brought these unruly children into the world are not made to answer?
People have remarked to my wife and me how well our children are behaved, as if some miracle of genetics programmed them to observe a modicum of civility and adherence to society’s norms. Yet what they don’t see are the difficult day-to-day trials, enforcement of rules, and the desperate measures employed to teach a child that he cannot bite, that he must say “please,” that writing on walls is not an acceptable form of self-expression, and that tantrums will not be tolerated. I have personally seen mothers use dramatic but effective measures to teach their child not to bite, some of which no preschool teacher would ever do for fear of being sued or fired. These lessons seem lost on Mr. Pollack, yet are the very things that assure a child that they are indeed loved and that help them channel their enormous energies to more productive ends. In my estimation what successful parents seem to instinctively know is that to raise a child well requires occasional sacrifice along the way, something Mr. Pollack and his wife have explicitly stated they are unwilling or unable to do.
I think Elijah is the smart one: He appears more lucid and aware than his own parents; he seems to already know there can be no price set on a parent’s love and attention, despite his parent’s stubborn attempts to do so.
— J. Wilmarth
I’m not sure where to begin. I guess I’ll start with the fact that the sense of entitlement voiced by these parents is amazing.
I have a “difficult” child myself — not behaviorally, but he suffers from multiple severe food allergies and asthma. I have had to make major accommodations to allow him to participate in his preschool class — not the least of which involved changing jobs to allow me the flexibility to take him to multiple doctor’s appointments, drive to his school everyday at lunch to give him breathing treatments when his asthma flares up, keep him home or arrange alternative activities for times when there are things like “Ice Cream Sundae” days, where it would be too difficult for his teachers to ensure his safety around dairy products — and too heartbreaking for a 4-year-old to deal with. It’s difficult. But you know what? It’s what you do.
I didn’t “sign up” for a child whose health would require me to become proficient with the use of an Epi-pen, or whom I would have to rush to the emergency room on a sadly regular basis. What I did do, once we recognized the problem, was take it upon myself to become as informed as possible and do everything I could to give my son as “normal” a life as I could. I don’t think my child’s issues are anyone’s responsibility but my own and frankly, I’m not comfortable depending on others to be responsible for his health — though his teachers have been wonderful in regard to working with me. I made it my job to educate them and do everything in my power to facilitate my son’s fitting in, rather than expect them to deal with it for me.
I’m sorry for this entire family, I really am. Unless these parents step up to the plate and actually deal with their child’s problems, things are going to get worse. They might start by exploring their options, instead of feeling sorry for themselves — if there are any universities nearby, they might find child-development programs their son can participate in at low or negligible cost. The same might be true of local hospitals. Or — maybe, just maybe, they’ll have to suck it up for a few months and trade off days or something. A little undivided attention might work wonders.
You are trying to reason with a 2-year-old? Two-year-olds recognize and are motivated by the following things: food, pain and pleasure. Giving him attention gives him pleasure. You gave him attention when he bit someone, so he thought in order to get more attention he should bite people. He should be immediately punished in a way that he does not like rather then a way that the parent finds palatable. He has to sit in the chair? Big deal. You took his picture away? Big deal.
Let’s go on to a punishment that he’ll recognize immediately: he bites a child, he gets an immediate spanking, no waiting in line, no delays. If you want him to stop misbehaving, he needs to be disciplined in a manner that he finds to be uncomfortable. Since you didn’t previously discipline him (which starts at day one when he is born), you have to pay the penalty of breaking him now of bad habits he’s learned in the meantime.
Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.
Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China
Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
“Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA
Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.
Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.
Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.