Locking Up Overly Emotional Students in 'Scream Rooms' Helps All Students

When we send our children to school, we expect that they're going to be taken care of the same way we take care of them at home. But that's not always possible. The fact is, all of us discipline our kids in different ways. This is why I ended up on the "naughty chair" at my neighbor's house as a kid and my furious mom said she would never punish me in such a way. At one school in Connecticut, this inter-parent squabbling is happening on a much bigger level.

Farm Hill Elementary School in Middletown, Connecticut, is under fire after its "scream rooms" have been exposed to the public. The concept is simple: Misbehaving children are put in a locked room until they calm down. The windowless room is called the "scream room" and other parents are up in arms.

They say the rooms are traumatic for the children who are being punished, but even more disturbing: They're traumatic for those who hear the screams.


It makes a lot of sense that hearing screams all day would be traumatic for students. The general concept behind scream rooms, however, isn't a bad one. Some children have high emotions (my daughter is one of them) and everyone is much happier when she takes the time she needs to manage her emotions. That said, I often help her with that by tickling her back or rocking her or trying to talk through her emotions. But sometimes she needs to scream. And though we have no designated "scream room," we do often give her space and time in her room with the door shut until she stops crying.

As a mom, I see nothing wrong with this. But in Connecticut, parents claimed that children are urinating on the floors and feeling traumatized by the isolation. Other children say they would rather not go to school because they hate the screams.

The fact is, when I practice this technique in managing my daughter's emotions, I do so in the privacy of my own home. Her brother's behavior often improves when he hears her crying, but besides him, no one else hears her. There is no shame or public humiliation aspect to the punishment.

That is the part I take issue with and the school has actually agreed to make some changes. It has said the rooms will be moved so other children cannot hear and the punishment will only be used on children in special programs. In addition, officials say walls will be padded and have paned glass so behaviors can be observed from outside the room in order to better serve each individual child.

All told, the punishment may not be what you might choose for your child, but done correctly, the concept of a scream room isn't immediately offensive to me as a parent. Children need places where they can calm down, and a quiet room is better than in the middle of a classroom or somewhere they can cause more harm and disruption. My child's school provides a chair where kids can go sit when they want to be left alone or when they're having overwhelming emotions. The concept of being alone until you calm down isn't always punitive. Sometimes it's just necessary.

The school is right to respond to the parents' concerns and the parents were right to have them, but the concept itself seems much better than physical discipline or any number of other more offensive ways of stopping bad behavior.

Does the idea of a "scream room" upset you as a parent?


Image via Dizfunkshinal/Flickr

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