KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Suspending young children from school for kissing a classmate is inappropriate punishment, a University of Tennessee professor of child and family studies said Monday.
Dr. Jan Allen said encouraging children to communicate in the classroom is a more effective way to teach children appropriate behavior.
Two boys, both under age 7, recently were suspended from New York and North Carolina schools for sexual harassment after kissing classmates.
Allen said response to the incidents should have been the same as for other childhood misbehavior, such as throwing things or using inappropriate words.
“We don’t overreact when a 6-year-old does those things,” Allen said. “We respond in a way that will help them learn to control their own behavior.”
Allen said children should be encouraged to talk about their relationships and their feelings and to resolve conflicts using language and words.
Encouraging communication between children is more effective than suspension for helping children build assertiveness skills, learn consequences for their actions and use language to resolve problems.
Allen also said young children have no concept of what sexual harassment means. Playful contact, such as hugging and kissing, is normal and a healthy part of their development, she said.
Overreacting to this behavior can discourage a child’s normal interaction with others, she said.
“In the context of most healthy, normal relationships, we use touch and showing of affection to communicate,” Allen said. “Such extreme punishment for a child kissing a classmate can cause children to unnecessarily question their ability to play and interact with other children.”
Last Friday, in Lexington, N.C., school superintendent Jim Simeon apologized to first-grader Johnathan Prevette for being separated from his class and not allowed to participate in an ice cream party after he kissed a girl on the cheek.
Contact: Dr. Jan Allen (423-974-6273)