Preschool Expulsion, A Parent’s Perspective

June 04, 2019

Posted By
E3 Elevate Early Education


“…and so, I have to give you an official two weeks notice.”
There it was; the culmination of a rocky few weeks at school for my daughter, Madison. I’d been pulled aside three separate times in the last two weeks by the school director. And now she was given two weeks to change her behavior before expulsion.

Expulsion. From preschool. She’s five.

I was, of course, mortified. Listening to the director run down the list of my daughter’s “crimes” made me feel like a failure.
– she told another student she didn’t want to play with her
– she told a student they weren’t friends
– she told a little boy his teeth were ugly

All very unacceptable behavior! I was heartbroken my daughter was being unkind. I was embarrassed to learn that other school parents had “reported” these occurrences.

So, what did I do? I had a good cry. I strategized with my husband. I poured a large glass of wine and summited with my neighbor and mommy friend. And here’s what I realized:

A lot of my daughter’s behavior was perfectly normal for her age. She is still learning how to manage her emotions and get along well with others.  That is a big reason why we enrolled her in pre-k.  We expected the school to work with us to shape our daughter’s social and emotional development. I was disappointed that, instead of using these incidents as teachable moments, the school was threatening to kick us out!

My daughter needed direction. So, my husband and I gave her three expectations:
1. Use kind words
2. Be respectful
3. If you make a mistake- admit it, apologize, try not to repeat it
We listed these rules together, united, in a very serious manner. And we kept listing them, on the way to school, on the way to the park, all the time, everywhere.

I saw a huge improvement in her behavior at home in regards to respect & kind words. And her teacher sent great reports home with her each day. But, the “official two weeks notice” hung over my head. I was embarrassed about the situation, but more importantly I was fearful for Madison.  How traumatic would it be to be ousted from preschool?  Would she remember it when she’s older?  Would she begin to identify herself as a “mean girl” and become that person? I realized that the school we were counting on to ensure that our daughter was ready for kindergarten had failed us and I needed to advocate for my child. Not defend her behavior, but advocate for her well-being and protect her and other children from the harmful effects of harsh and punitive discipline in their early education experiences.

I referred to the school’s parent handbook and learned several steps should have been taken before we arrived at the threat of expulsion. My daughter had never been disciplined at school, not once. And the behavior parents had complained about? While I believed it to be true, in varying degrees, no teachers actually observed these interactions first hand. So many missed learning opportunities! In the moment, teachers could have helped her to recognize how her words make other children feel and what it means to have empathy, taught her to express herself in more appropriate ways and to manage relationship issues, anger and frustration effectively.  Instead, they threatened to expel her from school.

Not to downplay her behavior, but let’s be honest:  “You’re not my friend” is a standard preschool power play. Five-year-olds use this phrase and others like it as code for, “I’m tired of playing with you right now.” or, “You need to do it my way.”  This behavior should be discouraged. She’s at the perfect age to learn more appropriate negotiating skills and it’s our job as parents AND teachers to show her how. Teaching kids not to use the power of social exclusion against each other by threatening them with social exclusion in the form of school expulsion seems guaranteed to backfire.  It is akin to teaching them not to hit, by hitting them. Healthy social and emotional skills are not best taught by jumping straight to the nuclear option.

So, after week one of this “two week warning,” I sat down with the director. I told her I was proud of Madison. I felt like her dad and I had taken things seriously and seen great improvement already. And I told her the two week warning needed to be revoked. I told her Madison would be finishing her year here at preschool. And I put it all in writing.

It felt good. It felt good to face a challenge and see results. It felt good to watch my child step up and meet our expectations. It felt good to stand up for my child when I knew she had been treated unfairly.  Failure, embarrassment and frustration a week before, felt like pride and achievement today.

I learned so much from this experience. I learned it’s ok for my child to make mistakes, even big mistakes. I learned to be vocal about my expectations for my child’s teachers. I learned this isn’t a one-man team – I could, and should, be working alongside a lot of people to shape and influence my kids including their dad and their teachers.

At the end of the day, Madison and I came out stronger. We both learned valuable lessons. This bump in the road gave me confidence to advocate for my child as only I can.  I am her first and most important teacher and while I’m not on the payroll, it is my job to ensure that the people I entrust her to at school are acting in her best interest.