Ask a Storytime Ninja: Spanking in Storytime

The first question for our June Ninjas is a hard one, for sure. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, especially if you’ve ever had to deal with a similar situation.

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Question:

Ever have a care taker SPANK a kid during Story Time?!? Any advice on how to handle it? I really couldn’t believe it, and the kid wasn’t even being all that bad – just a little squirmy. The caretaker had already interrupted the entire group several times by loudly chastising this kid for not sitting still, so when the spanking happened I just quietly suggested to the little boy that I knew he could do good listening and maybe he’d like to move his carpet square a little closer so he could see better. I didn’t want to give more attention to the caretaker’s bad behavior, but I was so shocked I wasn’t sure what to do!

After asking for some clarification: 

The adult who spanked the child in my Story Time was his grandmother. It was one firm swat to the seat with a strict command to “sit down!”. She was very frustrated with him for being wiggly. I agree, no spanking is ever appropriate, but this incident is really not something something I would call DCFS over. They have been coming to my Preschool Story Time all year and although I have seen her be upset by his behavior in the past, I have never seen her snap like this.

Were the offender a nanny/babysitter I would definitely let the family know, or if the spanking was severe there would be no question of what to do. This was a good-old-fashioned-spank that rocked me more than it did the kid being spanked.  I didn’t know what to do with the rest of the kids looking on in utter shock or what to do to with the kid – who was no longer wiggly. Do you just move on with the program? Distract and divert?

Answers:

Lisa says:

I would stop what I’m doing and put on a song that everyone knows so they could do the movements themselves. I would ask to speak to the grandmother outside of the storytime space alone. I would tell her that if she feels her grandson’s behavior is not appropriate for storytime she can feel free to leave the room and take a break and return when she felt he was ready. I would then inform her that there are clear state standards for abuse and she should be aware of them.

I reviewed my Department of Children & Families state standards to answer your question. In my community spanking is considered a form of abuse. If this happened in my storytime there would be multiple calls to the state about this incident. Just so you are aware: School officials are legally mandated to report child abuse and neglect, and we as children’s librarians fit into that category: any other person who, in the performance of his or her duties, has regular contact with students and who provides services to or on behalf of students enrolled in (i) a public elementary, middle or high school, pursuant to a contract with the local or regional board of education”. In my state we must report within 12 hours of the incident. 

Julie says:
I dread having to ever face a situation like this– I come from a personal history of abuse and domestic violence so this kind of thing is very triggering for me, and if faced with it, it would take a lot for me to maintain my composure (which I would). Unfortunately, I do think it matters if this caregiver is a parent or someone else. We cannot dictate to parents how to discipline, and sadly “spanking” is still considered by many people to be innocuous. How severe was the spanking? was it a quick swat? In MY opinion, NO spanking is okay, but sadly this is often not the common view. I would definitely inform my manager about the incident, and at the moment of crisis I would address it as an issue of causing a disturbance for the other program participants. I would say that kind of discipline is disruptive in the library, and say if you would like alternative approaches to toddler/preschool discipline, we have materials available.

If this continued to happen, I would again talk to my manager. I would strongly suggest calling the police/DCFS, but would ultimately leave the decision up to people above me.

I will definitely stress that toddlers roaming around, not paying attention, etc, is perfectly normal and does NOT bother me one bit. I only am concerned if I feel a child isn’t safe. I might also talk with the caregiver privately and try to suggest different discipline strategies for toddlers.

Kim says:

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t do anything at that moment. I would just move on with my storytime. I’m going to echo the sentiment of the other ninjas and say that while I don’t condone spanking, unfortunately a lot of people do. However, if the spanking becomes a repeat occurrence, then I would have a conversation with my supervisor/director and/or the grandmother.

In the asker’s clarification, they talk about what they would do: “Were the offender a nanny/babysitter I would definitely let the family know, or if the spanking was severe there would be no question of what to do.” I echo their sentiments and would handle it exactly the same way. Based on the description of the spanking, I don’t think it warrants a report to DCFS.

I would definitely address the storytime crowd as a whole at the beginning of the next session and say something like:

“I understand that your children have off days. We all do. If you need to, it’s perfectly okay to just step out of the room together for a minute or even until next week and try again.”

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About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on June 10, 2014, in Ask a Storytime Ninja. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. We unfortunately had a recent incident where a father smacked his young one-year-old child across the face (not during storytime). We called the local police after the fact and asked them how we should have handled the situation and found out that in New York State it is not considered abuse unless it’s a closed fist. An open hand is considered “discipline” and you cannot interfere with a parent’s right to discipline their child unless it crosses the line to abuse (closed fist). It was extremely disturbing to the staff and other patrons and the police told us that we could talk to the offending parent regarding library policies of behavior or even call the police and ask them to come and talk to the patron but that other than talk there would be little they could do. It is extremely important to know your state’s policies.

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