How to find a quality preschool is a challenge all parents face. Discerning a quality preschool from a “daycare” or low quality school can often be a challenge because as the cliche goes – you can’t tell a book by its cover. We are always searching for measures of quality and one of the best, and perhaps most important, is how the preschool’s teachers handle discipline.

A recent e-mail told a story in which a 3 year old spilled paint on himself and the floor of a national chain preschool. This young boy was called a “bad boy” and his favorite security blanket was taken from him “until he learned his lesson”. Needless to say, this on its face seems excessive particularly for what well may have been an accident. But let’s assume that the spilling of the paint was an attempt to intentionally act out – is this an appropriate response? Obviously not. This type of punitive action is designed to coerce and shame, not to teach and reinforce positive manifestations of what the child needed to express. In short, how a teacher handles this kind of seemingly minor event can have long term repercussions for the child and in the short term is a strong signal as to the quality of the preschool teacher.

When interviewing preschools and preschool teachers, present them with a scenario such as the one above, even if your child is not the kind to act out. The response you get will be telling. While few preschool teachers will admit to shaming and scolding a child, lower quality teachers will stumble with this question and struggle to find a response. Look for teachers that can confidently explain how they teach a child in moments like this, how they help the child express the feelings they are struggling with, and how they enable the child to act differently next time the emotion presents itself. Be very cautionous of teachers that segregate the child, reinforce their behavior by removing them from the class (except for extreme situations), and don’t actively listen to the child. Run from teachers that raise their voices and talk about how they use their force of personality to control the students.

Many parents fear bringing up the issue of how discipline is handled for fear of giving the impression that their child might be a behavior problem. Indeed, in low quality preschools, this is how it might be interpreted. The best preschools will understand that you are an educated parent that understands that even if their child is not the one with the problem, how problems are handled effects all the children in the class. High quality preschool teachers appreciate this question and actually enjoy answering it because it gives them insights into you as the parent of a child they may be entrusted with.