In Defense of My Children

Most people would probably agree that I am not a confrontational person. In fact, I will do just about anything to avoid conflict. Even when it involves my children’s well-being, I am not quick to attack. Instead, I gather all the details, spending endless hours running through all possible scenarios until I have either decided on a plan of action or I finally come to terms with whatever it might be and put it to rest. This is why I am having such an issue deciding on what do about something that recently happened with my son.

Yesterday, I received a call from the school nurse. Her first words were “No one is sick.” My first thought was “Then, why are you calling me?” She went on to explain that my son had come into her office during recess complaining of a cough. She was concerned that he may have been having an allergic reaction to something because his face was red and splotchy. After asking a few questions, she soon discovered that he was very upset and the splotchiness was due to fighting back tears. He told her that he had gotten in trouble during lunch and had to “sit on the stage” (it is a multi-purpose room, and the stage is a place for kids to sit and ponder what they might have done wrong—the equivalent of public humiliation for my son). He had gone to the nurse because he was too embarrassed to face his teacher or his friends. When she asked him why he had gotten punished, he told her that he had accidentally dropped his football on the floor. The nurse did her best to make him feel better, and within a short time, she was able to walk him back to class.

On my way to pick him up a few hours later, I decided that I wouldn’t ask him about what happened unless he looked upset or if he mentioned it to me. When I finally laid eyes on him, I was relieved to see that he seemed fine, and I thought that maybe he had put the whole thing out of his mind. When my daughter got out of school, however, I could immediately tell that she already knew what happened and wanted to talk to me about it. I stopped her before she said something that would have reminded her brother, and instead waited until we were alone to find out what she wanted to tell me.

As it turned out, she had witnessed her brother getting in trouble. The way she explained it was that as he went to pick up his football, the woman screamed at him “What are you doing?” and immediately told him to sit on the stage. My daughter, seeing her brother holding back tears, went over to check on him. Just as she asked him how he was, the woman yelled—this time at my daughter—telling her to “get away from him.” This made my son cry, and as my daughter relayed the details of how she had no choice but to walk away from him, her eyes filled with tears.

The detail in all of this that made my maternal protectiveness kick in was that the woman who punished him was not a teacher, an Aid, or even someone who worked in the school—it was a mother, a woman whose daughter attends the school and who volunteers during lunch. It wasn’t the fact that she punished my son, it was that she screamed at him, and that this was the second time this had happened. It is not that I expect this woman to know the personalities of every child in the school, nor do I expect her to somehow treat my son differently. However, the very idea that an adult would actually yell at my child just seems to somehow cross a line.

Something very similar to this happened to my daughter a few years ago. During lunch one day, the kids were directed to sit with their own classes. When a boy in her grade—who wasn’t in her actual class—tried to sit at her table, she told him to sit somewhere else. This boy’s mother was volunteering that day, and witnessed her son being told to move to another table. It’s possible that my daughter may have given him an attitude, it’s even possible that she may have been rude, but she didn’t deserve what happened next. This mom yelled at my daughter, calling her “rude” and a “brat” in front of her friends. She then continued to rant about my daughter to the other table of students, and even to some of the other mothers who were volunteering—all while my daughter was listening to every word. The moment she got in the car that evening, she burst into tears. I had never seen her cry about school, and for the next few hours, all she could talk about was what had happened. Her main concern was returning to lunch and seeing this mom the next day. I had never seen her so distraught—filled with so much anxiety—that I realized that I had to do something.

I was able to find the woman’s email address, and I wrote her a letter. I did not yell, or swear, or write down empty threats. Instead, I tried to make her see things through my daughter’s eyes—my sensitive, kind, loving, and compassionate daughter. I reminded her that she is an adult, she shouldn’t have humiliated my daughter, nor behaved no better than the 4th graders she was serving. I told her that even if my daughter had done something wrong, she should have gone to the Principal or a teacher—she should never have taken it upon herself to publicly berate my child.

I received a response back from this woman that same evening, but nothing could have prepared me for her words—she apologized, and she thanked me for being so candid and heart-felt in defense of my daughter. She told me that she was ashamed of how she acted, even if it came in defense of her own child. We ended up writing back-and-forth over the next few days, and when she saw my daughter at school, she apologized to her as well.

I wrote about finding my “Village” in a previous post, and I am left wondering if by writing that email a few years ago, I might have—even in a small way—altered the way this mother may have since interacted with other children. Now I feel I am faced with a similar situation—here is a mother who is acting in a way that is hurtful to my son—should I reach out to her, a woman I do not know? I normally end my posts with my words of advice, but today, I am asking for your advice. What would you do in this situation, as doing nothing feels as if I am waiting for it to happen again? I am at a loss.

I have written an update to this post, which you can read here. I want to thank you all for your incredible words of support and advice—they mean more than I can say.

Published by Erin Rehill

A few years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter told me that she wished I could write down all the things I told her so that she wouldn’t forget them when she got older. In that moment, my daughter gave me such a sense of validation, something I hadn’t really experienced in that way. As parents, we don’t often receive confirmation from our children that we are doing a good job, or that we even know what we are talking about. Since that time, I’ve started to pay more attention to the things I tell her, often thinking to myself “Will she remember this when she is older?” So, this is for her, my words of advice to be read, thought about, laughed at, and maybe even used, when she is older.

Join the Conversation


  1. Wow! Reading your posting just broke my heart!

    I would request a meeting with the principal and the “lunch lady”. Children learn bullying behavior from those around them. Is it possible that the lunch lady is the role-model? A one time incident could be chalked up to a bad day, but as you indicated, this is the second time. I think that a meeting would be appropriate using the opening line, “Could you help me understand…”.

  2. Hmmm.. I think I would go to the principal myself. I have been on both ends of it… I have yelled at a child but only when the parent was present and she was doing nothing to stop her kid from bullying others (after repeatedly trying to talk to the child). The mother actually thanked me… I also have been in situation where the child lied and told her dad who then went to the head of the league (sports) and told him I hit his daughter, that was not true, I was instructing her on where to stand in the field and she didn’t like it. I would have preferred the parent come to me directly then. Since your daughter was witness to the event I feel going higher up this time is warranted.

  3. I despise the lunch hour in elementary school. We have had many issues over the years. Trying to manage all of those children “unleashed” (if you will) is quite a task. Couple that with unqualified, stressed, volunteers and it’s a recipe for disaster. That said, it is never acceptable to scream and to embarrass a child. Most especially for doing seemingly nothing wrong. I would definitely go to the Principal’s office. I would suggest some training for the volunteers and I would see if you can get a couple of shifts, if it fits into your schedule, so you can monitor what is going on.

  4. Yes I agree you must talk to someone. You mentioned this women was a volunteer? They are expected to act professional. They lead by example, bulling is not the example I am sure the school would stand behind. I am assuming this is the same lady? Then I would approach principal or whoever is incharge. Maybe you can turn this into a positive. Find out if they receive training? If not they should! Maybe she has done this before and the school is aware. Talking to school a must in my book. Good luck Erin I hope you resolve your issue

  5. Wow.. it breaks my heart. I just can’t imagine people volunteering at a school and then treating children that way. I think if she regularly volunteers I’d connect with her, and handle it as well as you did with your daughter. You never know how people are going to respond, but you know you did what you could, and by doing that you’re setting a good example for your son. Good luck!

  6. I can’t begin to express how much this story broke my heart! While I am in schools daily, I can’t help but think of the children I encounter as someone’s daughter, son, niece, nephew – or simply….LOVED ONE who deserves care and respect. We all espouse the notion of living by the Golden Rule, however, I’ve noticed, very few actually practice it. I am saddened that an adult would propagate the same behavior in which s/he was attempting to control.
    I agree with my mother, as she credited a one time occurrence as a ‘one off’ situation, however, the demoralization of children – especially at 6 years old (or, in fact, any age) is reprehensible and needs to be discussed immediately (if not for your son’s sake, but for other children). As adults, we are the role models and voices of our children. I, for one, take that position very seriously, just as all who volunteer should – but especially because your son [and daughter] are MY LOVED ONES and deserve to be treated with care and respect!!
    Ps. If you don’t get the deserved response, let me know – I’m ready to kick someone in the shins!! (JK!!)

  7. It is so nice to see that the mom you emailed wrote back in such a kind way. I was expecting her to go off on a rant, yet she didn’t, and that gives me a little faith in the world.

    The mom who yelled at your son doesn’t sound like the kind of person who should be volunteering with kids. If you don’t think you can talk to her, you have to talk to someone at the school.

    I hope it gets better!

  8. Some schools have a lunch room monitor or a volunteer coordinator. If your school has either of these, I would definitely discuss this incident with one of them. If not, you have to head up the chain. I would send a note or an email to your child’s teacher outlining the incident. He or she will know who to get involved next to make sure that it don’t happen again. Sometimes principals are the next step, sometimes they aren’t—depends on the school. The teacher will know what to do, Erin

  9. I believe in talking to the person who mis-stepped first. If she, like the previous mother sees what she did wrong and apologizes then yes-I believe you have made enough of a difference.

    If the mother does not react in a way you feel appropriate to an email or call by you, then yes, i would take this farther.

    Your kids are learning that you are there to back them. Good job and keep doing it.

  10. I would for sure talk to someone about it. His teacher to find out who the proper person would be, or the office to find out the contact information. Even if you contact the lunch-mom directly, if I were of the school, I would like to know that a situation like that happened. Good luck!

  11. Wow, what a terrible situation for your kids to have forced upon them. I would definitely talk to somebody about it. Where i live, we have pretty strict protocols on how to handle these things, with who to go to, etc. If your school does not, I would still let the school know. If it’s happened twice to your kids, it’s probably happened to other kids, and will probably happen to more.

    Good luck – I hope it works out well!

  12. Wow, good for you for confronting that woman (in a nice way) and good for her for admitting she was wrong! I remember the multipurpose lunch room/sitting on the stage – we had the same set up in my elementary school. Not okay to humiliate kids.

  13. What I love about the thing that happened with your daughter is that you as her mother were able to see all the shades of grey in the situation – many moms are not able to see when their children make mistakes or misbehave – it’s all black or white – and you seem to have an admirable open quality about you that lets you see “the whole person” without judging. I’m so glad that woman also had the ability to see “the whole picture” and her own part in it. Rare.
    As for the football thing – I would most definitely go to school and talk to the office about it and after getting their advisement and more info, take the next step. I am a mother who would want to talk to this woman just to get it off my chest and alert her that it is wrong to yell at a child like this and I am on to her. So hopefully she doesn’t do it again. I wouldn’t let this one just go away – that was awful what she did. She sounds unbalanced. Also you could pressure the school to not allow her to volunteer again after her outburst, by stating that she is clearly unbalanced and implying that she is unsafe to be around your kids…let us know what happens. Good luck!

  14. It’s so tough to protect our children from others. I have a sensitive child, too. Being called out on bad behavior (even when he should be corrected) is always difficult for him. I would talk to the school. He shouldn’t be yelled at, period. I don’t understand why he’d get in trouble for picking up or dropping a ball, unless they weren’t supposed to have toys out at that time, but it still sounds like she went overboard. If I was the lunch mom, I think I would have gone to see why your daughter was talking to someone on the stage (assuming the kids all know this is for punishment). If she said she was checking on her brother, she should be praised for being so caring even if she was asked to leave to let a grown up handle it.

    Kids need direction and correction sometimes, but they need to be treated compassionately and with respect. I’m sorry your kids went through this.

  15. Wow. Thanks for sharing. You did the right thing. Who knows what is going on in her own life to make her scream at your children. Reach out to her. But also talk to the administration about providing training to all volunteers. Children are fragile and they should be supported as much as possible. Our philosophy about behavior management is “do unto others”. Treat children the way you want to be treated when you have a tantrum or make a mistake or loose your cool.

  16. My first personal instinct is to confront that woman once I have cooled off (I’m afraid unlike you I tend to react too quickly, so I admire your patience). I think you had such a successful encounter previously that you should try that road again. I always feel like people should try to resolve the conflict first between themselves. Who knows what was going on with that woman that day NOT that she has any excuse for that behaviour. If that didn’t work I would push the issue to the next level. Someone in any kind of authority position, even as a volunteer, should never ever yell or punish in that manner.
    Give your son and daughter a big hug.

  17. Oh how I hate situations such as these. I also try to avoid confrontation whenever possible but somehow it always seems to find me. I think in this instance I would go directly to the principal or the volunteer coordinator in the school. I would never want my child to think that I wasn’t willing to get involved in a situation that had been so upsetting. We’ve been down this road recently with my 11 year and a bullying situation. It’s so hard to know where the line is sometimes, when to get involved and when to step back and wait. Good luck!

  18. I am normally the most non-confrontational person in the world, and I’d hate to be known as THAT mother who always complains about everything at school, but I have gone to the teachers/other parents/administration in rare instances when I feel it is warranted to defend my child’s actions. I think I would in this case. I think other parents can react badly if they perceive that their child is being harmed, but they can often see reason if a situation is explained. It sounds like you’re handling things correctly. Parenting is tough!

  19. oh wow. i’m very much like you and not confrontational but i think this would be another time to say something. it worked out well last time, and maybe it will again this time. and if it doesn’t, that screaming mom still needs to know that it’s just NOT cool to be screaming at kids like that. what is that teaching them?

  20. This one caused me to cry. I feel for kids…sitting on the stage…absurd. This is a great example of advocating for your children. I wish more would do the same. I mean, it starts at home with our own, then we are better advocates for the children of others. I am so proud of you for emailing the woman. Really astounding.

  21. Tears and admiration. You did a wonderful thing writing to that mother. One act of immaturity or anger doesn’t make a bad person, but it may develop into a pattern. And I think you helped her to break that.

    This may be coming late, but I suggest handling it the same way. Email has many disadvantages, but in many cases it’s easier to share criticism because it’s private and the receiver can consider and ponder it in private – without feeling like s/he needs to immediately be on the defensive.

    Oh! I just read the update. Nevermind – you were perfect, of course! I’ll file this away for use in Kindergarten next year. 🙂

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