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About THAT Kid: A Lesson in Understanding

About THAT Kid: A Lesson in Understanding

Have you stumbled upon Amy Murray’s open letter to parents about THAT kid that went viral this week? In her insightful post, the Canadian educator cracks open the door for a glimpse at the raw emotions teachers bear when managing a class that includes a child that is a little different from the others – behaviorally, emotionally and socially.

She starts, “Dear Parent: I know. You’re worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting shoving pinching scratching maybe even biting other children. The one who always has to hold my hand in the hallway. The one who has a special spot at the carpet, and sometimes sits on a chair rather than the floor.” Murray goes on to describe all the things she can’t tell you about THAT kid, from how THAT kid’s parents cry at every meeting to the special hand signal she shares with THAT kid when he needs a break. She concludes her letter by pledging that, no matter if your child is THAT kid or not, that she will be a partner and advocate for your child.

As I read – and cried – over the letter for about the hundredth time, I reflected about what strikes me personally about it. It’s not the fact that my 3-year old son has frequent episodes of hitting, shoving, and other transgressions in preschool. It’s not because a recent evaluation shows that he struggles to self-control and self-regulate his emotions. It’s not because, one time, classmates said they didn’t want to play with him because he always hits them. Or that I often have to explain his behavior when he’s not quite understanding the rules at the public playground. And it’s not the fact that he’s made a ton of progress in the past month but has setbacks often. Or that his preschool teachers understand his struggles and love him just the same. Well, maybe the crying was a little bit from all these and then some. What really strikes me about the post is the lesson in understanding.

Three year old boyIt’s not simply knowing the background of THAT kid but the idea of accepting that kids and parents alike have unique challenges. Every parent has to deal with something – that’s what parenting is all about. Karen Copeland, another blogger, shares her reaction in I Am THAT Parent and describes how she often stands alone because she is a parent of THAT child. And that breaks my heart. Shouldn’t we – the collective “we” as parents – support each other? Honestly, a few years ago I may have been one of those other parents, not truly understanding what THAT parent was going through and too afraid to get involved in case I overstepped parenting boundaries.

But I know now. THAT parent simply wants understanding and support. She wants other parents to know that she worries for THIS kid – the one that is at the other end of THAT kid’s bad day. And that she expects disciplinary action for each transgression. But she also wants you to understand that discipline strategies may look a little different. She wants you to know that she isn’t ignoring you on the playground rather keeping a watchful eye to ensure THAT kid has a successful playtime. And most of all, she wants other parents to get to know THAT kid. Because underneath all those less than desirable behaviors, there is a child who loves, who has talents and interests, and who is growing and learning every step of the way – just like every other child.



  1. Emma Cutland September 15, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    I am THAT parent! My oldest is now 9 and since preschool he has had problems with emotions and behaviour mostly due to him being feisty, deep feeling and impulsive. I am THAT parent who every time the head teacher gravitates in my direction in the playground after school I am praying it’s not for me, that it’s not MY son again! He’s a good kid! He is deeply caring and loving. He has had to grow up with a well mummy becoming very ill and disabled which has only exacerbated his behaviour problems. What’s interesting is that his most extreme unacceptable behaviour is only done at school. Not at home, or round other houses, cubs, tae kwon do, out and about, no, only at school. He was very stressed about starting this term, he asked to me home schooled as he described ‘I don’t want to be bad at school’. For whatever reason he finds himself almost compulsively being inappropriate at school. Saying that, he had 8 days of school from the start of this term being good, in fact excellent, then today on day 9 he exploded with shocking behaviour. I asked him of he was talking to anyone or writing it down. He said no, that he was bottling it up, which would of course explain his eruption today. I know it’s easy to say but as parents despite my health, we have put everything and some in raising our children. We love them and have always taught them right from wrong, what emotion mean etc etc. I explained that the behaviour he exhibits at school makes us look like we haven’t taught him anything good at all! AND yes we have been constantly reading books, printing out from the net, joined groups, attended courses, time out, deflecting, reward charts, discipline, rewards, praise, talks, secret diary, calm down box, calm down jar, lavender, worry doll, dream catcher, you name it we’re doing it! We go to every CAF, DAF, MASH, meeting, exclusion home early call. I have hellish mornings where he is nasty and rude and although relieved he’s then at school also dreading the whole day waiting for the phone to ring. Now I have some parents who get this and are still friends with me, but I’m often alone in the playground, positively like a leper waiting for the torches and pitchforks! I have been shouted at and insulted in the playground by the very parents/caregivers who think he’s evil, yes they have called him that, evil and how I must be a bad parent. I’ve also been yelled at saying I shouldn’t be hiding behind my illness, which I wasn’t, I was (mistakenly thinking), in a conversation and was giving a brief history of what’s happened as a family that had negative effects and before I was going to say but we are doing the best we can with it and I am never giving up on recovery and my kids that this was yelled in my face. I have had one parent aka ex-friend who phoned me 11 times in one hour yelling abuse at me. As you say as parents shouldn’t we stick together and show support and help? A cuppa and go over strategies, ideas I may not have had yet? Apparently no, despite that I have in the past SUPPORTED some of those parents when they were going through difficult times!!! I may as well be burned at the steak! I am trying hard to help him. I am constantly reminding him and working with him on strategies he can employ at school and where ever to control himself and calm down. He had 8 days of good and like in the article he has been making a lot of improvement BUT his relapses are still occurring and are just as bad as before. The fact that both my boys are higher functioning, become bored easily in class and both seem to be a bit behind emotionally, which is common in academically higher kids – the school has agreed they are higher functioning but nothing has been done to think outside the box by the school. I’m in the UK and we have CAMHS which is mental health services for children. I contacted CAMHS 4/5 years ago and they ignored my pleas for him to get help. The school contacted them and they are only just starting to acknowledge our existence! The headteacher has threatened permanent exclusion again and CAMHS are doing nothing! I hate that other parents have this air that if I dare to be smiling or being seen to dare to be having any kind of fun with or without the kids, I must be advocating the bad behaviour when in fact he had a good day and we are praising him! It’s like my husband and I must be immoral and evil, they can only think in black and white terms. They don’t bother asking what we are doing to help him stop this behaviour or what we do when he has an episode. They offer no support with my illness or any lending ear for us or the kids. They ostracize us and then damn us for not coping or seeing any improvement. They focus on the relapses so much they completely ignore his good spells including the head teacher! All this does is make it so much harder for all of us as all that happens is more stress and anxiety which of course the kids pick up on! My son said to me today that he wished he was a baby again and just be in my arms, that he hates what he does. He knows what to do, he has memorised and controlled himself before and for the first 8 days of this term! He has rage and frustration and is constantly upset and worried about me. If I had the resources I would get him private help. So Here’s THAT mum, the deeply caring, stressed, ill and worried mum who sees the angry inappropriate son and the deeply caring, loving, considerate, worried son and despairs at how the school and others judge him but don’t lift a finger to help him or us. Well, i’ve found this site! I regularly search parenting sites for help, different approaches, anything. I am up when he has his frequent night terrors and with him when we high five an achievement. He wants so desperately to be himself at school and he knows what he does on these occasions is wrong and upsets others. He has had to be off school before for depression crying on and off all day for no apparent reason. I love him so much and know that he really is a good boy, but how do we bust this mystery inappropriate behaviour at school? I feel so alone and hopeless which I try and not show the kids. We explain consequences and rewards, we say on a daily basis treat others as you want to be treated. We are really at a loss here. Even our family worker says we are doing everything we can! I had similar problems at school after a trauma and developed childhood depression, he is so very much like me! I have turned out to be a caring, loving nice adult, but I’m worried that without the right support we need outside of the family he will still have these problems in secondary school, that is if he gets there. If I wasn’t so ill I would home school him, but even if I was able to the lack of funds would hamper it. We have raised him right! Why can’t they see this?! They see our honesty as denial because they are so cynical of parents not being honest that they don’t know what to do with parents who are! I have led a moral, sensible, good adult life but have only been rewarded with hardship and difficulty with others confusing our honesty and frankness as denial and excuses instead of hard facts and information. Help!

  2. Alisa McMullen June 4, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I too have THAT kid. What irks me the most is how other parents judge you: they don’t make the effort for caring, for thinking that maybe our parenting struggle has an extra set of challenges. All they see, is how your child’s behavior is different from what they think it should be, and come to the conclusion that you are a bad parent, that your child needs more discipline, that your child is flawed.

    I see it in the eyes of the parents with whom we share a bus stop. That look that says, why is THAT kid here. I wonder about it when my child is the one disciplined out of a group of children, all playing in the same manner. Because now that your child is THAT kid, he’s got an X on his back. It’s now assumed that it must be your child acting up, or it must be your child at the root of an issue.

    So even if you’re child is doing great, when he’s maturing and making strides in his self-regulation of his behavior, other parents still want to bring him in down.

    My 10 year old once told me, he used to being treated differently by peers and adults, because “Mom, I’m different”. He’s used to the side eyes, the oh why is THAT kid here. And for me, it’s heart breaking.

    Because parenting is hard enough, without other parents trying to knock you down. They have no idea that I work twice as hard for just a few wins and how precious those wins are.

    I never asked to be a parent of THAT kid. But just like this letter states, my child is loving, loyal, caring, smart and I love him to pieces. I know one day, he’s going to set the world on fire with his amazingness. Until then, we will just have to hold our heads up high.

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