6-year old handcuffed and arrested! How to stop a temper tantrum WITHOUT police force

6-year old handcuffed and arrested!  How to stop a temper tantrum WITHOUT police force
Salecia Johnson

Recently, six year old Salecia Johnson of Milledgeville, Georgia, had a terrible temper tantrum in her kindergarten class.  She was destroying property and throwing things.  She tipped over a small bookshelf that skimmed the Principal’s leg. It scared the heck out of the teachers, so they called police. The cops handcuffed Salecia, put her in the squad car and drove her to the police station.

So this is where school discipline is going?  Salecia’s story is now viral. It’s in the news and the subject of talk shows. The school and Law Enforcement feel justified in their actions.  The little girl’s parents are now suing the school.  Sounds like common sense just ain’t so common anymore.  Why weren’t her parents called? Why did the little girl go “postal” in the first place?  Police haven't release the details.

Is this the latest trend in disciplining our children? 

In a school setting, teachers are often caught in volatile situations. Zero Tolerance has given justification for calling outside reinforcements. For safety and legal reasons, they’d rather let police handle disruptive and disorderly conduct incidents than deal with them themselves. In this techno-savvy age of 21st century enlightenment, are we becoming dumb or dumber? The argument can be made that kids today are more violent and harder to manage. Strict policies to help protect children from adults are now making it harder for teachers to discipline the students. Schools are vulnerable to lawsuits. Having a third party such as police handle a volatile situation keeps innocents safe and school officials' hands clean.

Judith Browne Dianis, a civil rights litigator and writer for  The Huffington Post, The Root,  and other publications, calls it the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track. Salecia and other young children have taken an early ride.  She writes, "...They, like millions of other children in this country, are victims of the school-to-prison pipeline -- a system of zero-tolerance policies in schools across the nation that take an unyielding approach to student discipline and in which children of color are punished more often and more severely for minor misbehavior than their white peers."

I'll address the schoolhouse-to jailhouse track in another post. For now, let's talk about how to address tantrums.

Back in the day, parents and caregivers had ways of making out-of-control tempers wane. It involved a switch, belt, the palm of your hand, or a paddle. But of course today, if you resort to such tactics – especially in public places, you may get the police called on you .

An educator's experience dealing with violent student outbursts

Vickie L. Rogers, mother of three boys and grandmother of one, is a St. Louis educator with over 30 years of teaching and administrative experience under her belt. She has witnessed an upsurge of childhood emotional issues. “Adults are not equipped to understand or handle it. Love for kids and training is essential.”

How should Salecia’s actions been handled?  It’s hard to say not knowing the circumstances. During Vickie's career, she has occasionally resorted to physical restraint, “There are safety techniques to lower “out-of-controls” to the floor... I am trained and have restrained teenaged boys or girls while fighting. No one has gotten hurt. After the child has calmed down, you stop the physical restraint. But teachers who are not trained run the risk of being sued if the child is hurt.”

As a parent, how should you handle your child’s tantrums at home or in a public place?

Here are a few tips that worked for me raising my sons. Results may vary.

Do not feed the tantrum: Kids respond to your anger, frustration, pleading, negotiations, and nervous energy. It fuels the outbursts and makes them worse.  Spanking the child feeds into and escalates the negative energy which can do more harm than good. Keep your cool. Your calmness and restraint starves the tantrum.

Ignore the tantrum: Your child will eventually get the point that nobody cares and will eventually stop. Kids need to know how to handle and control their own emotions.

Example: When my oldest son pulled a tantrum on the grocery store floor, I wanted to swap his butt real bad. I had done that a couple of times in the past but it didn’t work because we were making a scene. I had to cut my shopping short to teach him a lesson. But I shortchanged myself. The next time he pulled a tantrum, I did something different. I walked away, not too far, but far enough to let him know I wasn’t dealing with it. (You still want to keep an eye on him.) Baffled, he ran after me. That tantrum was starving for attention.  I kept ignoring it and shopping until he composed himself. THEN I addressed my son – calmly.

Remove the child and place him in his room to calm down is another tactic. Yep, the ole' time-out routine.

Use calming techniques. This is an effective preventive tactic I use on my grandsons. When I sense anxiety and frustration brewing, I tell them to take it easy and breathe deeply. I breathe with them.  (This works best when they’re not angry at you.) We soon fall into a rhythmic breathing pattern. I have them repeat “Take it easy.”  And it works! One time my five year old used it on me when I got frustrated with a TV show.  “Take it eeeeasy, grandma… breeeathe… it’s just a TV show!” Ha, I guess he understood the concept.

Physically restrain the child. If the child is doing harm to himself or others, you may have to go in and hold the child firmly to the floor until the child calms down.  Teachers should be trained in this technique, and given prior written permission by parents to use his tactic if necessary. If these out-of-control tantrums persist, consider seeking professional help for your child.

Stopping tantrums will not be achieved instantly. But if you practice these techniques consistently, you will likely see positive results. The secret is keeping your cool under pressure. Rise above the embarrassment, anger and frustration. Take deep breaths and take it eeeeasy.

One thing I suggest you NOT do: Call the police.

What tactics do you use to ease the temper tantrums?



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  • fb_avatar

    If teachers today are too frightened of black children to discipline them without calling the damn cops then it's time for them to exit the classroom. Believe me, that lopsided way of thinking doesn't end there.

  • Yes, don't we know...

  • What a shame when will we ever learn

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    I hate to state the obvious, but teachers are not about to lose their jobs putting their hands on these kids even if it is to restrain them. I don't blame them. They're there to teach, not be correctional officers. The parents need to stop hiding behind age and address the main issue. Why is she showing out in the first place? They better figure out before she turns 16 or she's going right back.

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    In reply to Rashad Vaughn:

    I agree with you completely Rashad. Obviously, the teacher attempted to talk the child down with the methods he was taught. What is he then suppose to do? call the parents and wait for them to come while the child disrupts the rest of the classroom? and possibly endangers the other children? Is he suppose to tell her to go to the principals office and expect her to listen after talking to her CLEARLY was not working? I KNOW that as SOON as the teacher would have put his hands on her even ONLY to restrain her, the parents would have been suing the teacher and that teacher would have been fired being claimed to "not be a safe teacher". That's BS. It is COMPLETELY the parents fault. There is NO reason that CHILD should not have been respecting the ADULT. And then attempted to assault the officer?? No. I believe what they did was justified. MAYBE they could have handcuffed her and kept her at the principals office while waiting for their parents(who DID NOT respond to the police calling them about their child) but other than that, I commend the teacher on how he handled the situation.

  • fb_avatar

    So Rashad, you would have called the police and had the child arrested?

  • Rashad, I understand how you feel. I don't know if you have children or not, but if you did, and your child had a temper tantrum at school, I don't think you would appreciate it if the cops were called to handcuff and arrest your child - especially at age 6. To me, that's absurd. I do agree teachers aren't correctional officers, but they are disciplinarians. That has never changed throughout the decades. Zero Tolerance policies and laws that forbid teachers from disciplining children, have forced their hand to get outside reinforcements. That's ridiculous. I also agree with you about parents training their kids up in the way they should go. Unfortunately, the parents weren't called to address the child's behavior. And what sparked the tantrum? We don't yet know, or never will. Let's not assume it was the child's fault. We never had to call police before on 6 year olds, we shouldn't have to do it now. Thank you for your comments.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Edye:

    I agree that we have never had to call police on 6 year olds in the past. but you have to admit, (as you stated) that schools/teachers are also not allowed to discipline children the same as they use to. When I was in elementary school, principals were allowed to spank the children. They are not allowed to do that anymore, or if they ARE, parents can (and do) opt out of it. And the article says that the parents WERE reached out to but were unable to be contacted. Are you saying that the parents would have been there sooner if the school would have contacted them instead of the police? What do you say the school should have done in the meantime if they were unable to contact anyone for the unruly 6 year old? It's not the schools fault. Power has been taken away from teachers. ALL the child would have had to do was go home and say "my teacher grabbed me" and there would have been a shit storm for the school. I am TIRED of parents NOT owning up to their disrespectful children and blaming EVERYONE BUT THEMSELVES. I am a parent myself and have worked with plenty of children. If my child is disrespectful in school, yes. You go head and arrest them if need be. Then I will deal with them when I get MY hands on them.

  • Hi Audrey, I respectfully disagree. I'm really surprised that you would rather have the school call the police and arrest your child for disrespect. Personally, I'd rather he cops spend their time arresting crooks than an unruly child. That's shocking. But I don't want to dwell on that right now. I'd like to address your question "What do you say the school should have done in the meantime if they were unable to contact anyone for the unruly 6 year old? It's not the schools fault". There are techniques to restrain a child to prevent him or her from hurting himself and others. Not enough teachers are trained to do this type of restraint. It doesn't hurt the child. In fact, it could be quite comforting. It calms the child down. Social workers, psychologists and some educators who interact with children who have emotional challenges know this procedure. It's much less violent than spanking, which can escalate the tantrum. Also teachers should be trained to help a child calm him/herself down. Deep breathing helps a lot. Remember, a six year old just grew out of being a toddler, and before that an infant!!! So it's still difficult for little ones to control themselves when angry or frustrated. Grown ups heighten the problem when they use anger to fight anger (or throw tantrums themselves to fight a tantrum). Adults who can sense a tantrum coming on BEFORE it starts can calm the storm before it turns to a hurricane. Again, many educators and parents aren't trained or aren't that perceptive to use preventive measures that could avoid the tantrum. It takes skill, patience and self control from the ADULT. That may be a little too much to ask for with some. I'm not going to call the police on my six year old if he acts out at home, or your six year old if he's acting up at my house, so I definitely don't expect the school to do so. Oh heck no! And if that's okay with people, then God... what is this world coming to?

  • In reply to Edye:

    Hi Edye,
    I just discovered your blog today, so I'm a little late to this convo., but I just want to say I agree with you 110%. There's no way police should have been called in to deal with a 6-year-old's temper tantrum! I understand we live in a hair-trigger litigious society these days, but still.

    I appreciate your common-sense approach and think your suggestions should be taught to every grade-school teacher in America. Thank you for your thoughtful perspective based on your own experience.

  • In reply to Rogers Parker:

    Thanks Rogers Parker, there have been so many police /child school related incidents since I wrote this, that it has left me numb. This kind of "abuse" as I call it, is becoming the rule and not the exception.

  • Hi there, I have just read all of your comments regarding this 6 years olds arrest and personally i would be absoloutely mortified if my child was arrested. Especially at such a wee age. I don't live in america. I live in the uk and i have noticed a change within the abilities of the teachers role. We have exactly the same principals (i think!) as america where the teacher is not allowed to restrain etc however should the pupil be disrupting the class and being destructive and harmful, then yes absoloutely the teachers are allowed to interveen within certain limits but calling the police on a six year old!! OMG!! There would be a mutiny from the parents of all of the children at the school over the mistreatment of the child. We all know childrens tantrums are pretty volatile at times. I have two boys aged 4 and 16 months. My four year old is as strong as an ox for his age and when he lets rip through temper, he really goes for it. I tried every technique there is out there. Two things work for us. Time out in his bedroom. Often it results in me having to frog march him to his room, shouting at him to stay in there and then closing the door. He will spend the next 20 to 40 minutes throwing his stuff around and screaming. I let him get on with it. When the crying has subsided, i then approach him with a calm voice and generally a hug. We then talk about his temper and find the cause as to what fuelled the tantrum. Sometimes they are a flash in the pan, other times they go on for a bit. He knows though that if he breaks anything. He loses his treats and has the broken item thrown away and it is not replaced. He also gets given early lights out. ie: bed earlier than normal. I suppose with a four year old this is age appropriate, however should he be some where and be throwing his tantrum at school or out and about, i would be seriously disappointed in the adult not taking charge. Calling the police. Serious overkill in my opinion. If i did that to my 4 year old. It would put the fear of god into him. He would be distraught. It would also seriously put him off wanting to go to school. I think that perhaps if i had of been the teacher, i would have restrained the child and taken her to the principles office to calm down. Surely the principal as a senior person of authority is enough to frighten a six year old into calming down. Plus the addition of the parents being informed is also enough to make a child stop. Children love their parents and they are always seeking to please. They know that if they misbehave, then there will be consequences at home. ie: being grounded or having toys confiscated for a period of time. Hopefully nothing more serious than that. I have smacked my child as a last resort and it usually shocks him enough to stop what he is doing. I only ever smack his plump wee bottom. Never anywhere else and i also make a point of pulling his pants down to do this over my knee. the humiliation of his bum being on show, is generally enough for him. Although may i hasten to add...this is not something i'd recommend a teacher to do either!! That just opens up a whole other can of worms. Ignoring also works for my childs tantrum, especially in a public place. I hate to think that todays society is to scared to discipline children. Children need discipline. They need boundaries, they do however not need to be arrested and taken to a police station. That is just a joke. Unless perhaps they have stolen something or seriously hurt another being but i'd hope that something of that kind wouldn't cross a 6 year olds mind and the parents had taught them adequately enough to respect others and others belongings. I was brought up in the day where the teacher was not afraid to discipline a naughty pupil and remove them from the room. They could have also gone for the option of removing the other pupils/people until the girl was left by herself in the room. It wouldnt take her long to realise that her behaviour was out of order and she was making an example of her self. There are alot whys? attached to this tantrum and the need to call the police. Well like i said, serious overkill. Theres nothing grand in a grand gesture like this. Personally if i had of been the principal not only would i be questioning the teachers ability to work with kids but i'd be seriously asking questions about the childs home life and the example that the parents are setting. I'm far from perfect with my parenting skills but i do try to teach responsibilty to my boys for their actions. Even at their tender ages but i seriously hope that this is not the way education is going because if it is. I'm pulling my kids out now and home schooling them! It's a tough world out there and where kids are concerned it's hard to know what to do right from wrong sometimes. What works for one, doesnt always work for another. Consitancy as we all know is key and the abiltity to trust our elders. I was taught to respect my teachers. They were held to be as important as our parents, so to defy one we knew carried a consequence. Children are braver and bolder i feel these days but to go so far as the police. Well, surely they are busy enough catching real criminals not 6 year old girls. Even if they do have tempers!!

  • In reply to flobev:

    Hi Flobev, Thanks for sharing your comments. Whether in the U.S., U.K. or anywhere else around the world we share the same challenges and triumphs in raising and teaching our children. I do think that there is a prevailing effort to criminalize children of color that really disturbs me. I believe that's why calling the cops was a credible option to Salecia's educators. If it were a white female kindergartener throwing a tantrum, I don't think calling the police would have been considered. But that's pure speculation on my part. Regarding your son's tantrums: You may want to have him checked out. There may be physiological or nuerological issues going on that may need attention. Also, try the deep breathing technique I suggest, when a child can take part in controlling him/her emotions, that's a great thing. Deep breathing to calm the child is an effective way of doing that. Another mom who read my post on another site uses the ole' mirror trick. She holds a hand held in front of her son's face so he can get a glimpse of how ridiculous he looks. It stops the tantrum in its tracks.. My blessings to you and your family.

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