Preschool Child - When a Child Constantly Misbehaves in Preschool

Parenting Question & Answer - Preschool Child Who Is Acting Out

My granddaughter is three and is acting out in preschool very badly. She is disruptive and screaming and demands attention from everyone there. I fear she is about to get expelled from school. What is the best way for the parents to handle this issue?



Dear Carol,

A preschool child who is acting out needs to learn to get attention for positive things. Either she has been spoiled by the parents or she is so attention-starved that she has resorted to getting attention in negative ways. What parents need to understand is that attention is a need. If the child is not getting her needs met, then she will withdraw or find aggressive ways to get others to notice her. While it is normal for kids to throw tantrums at this stage, your granddaughter's behavior seems excessive.

While the behavior is an issue because it is disruptive, it is also dangerous because if allowed to continue, it can become a style of interaction.

Unfortunately, you did not provide any information about the parents. I'd like to know how connected they are with their child, if they take time for her, whether they're nurturing and if they support her need for small steps of independence.

The ultimate goal of child discipline is to get beyond crisis management (in this case, the preschool child's aggressive bids for attention) to raise a child who is independent, caring, responsible and able to express her needs and feelings in positive ways. Doing so takes time. It takes a commitment to acting in the child's best interests. In order for this to happen, the parents must be on the same page—they must recognize their preschool child's behavior for what it is—a cry for help—and help her through it.

First and foremost, parents need to spend one-on-one time with a preschool child. If the young girl gets her need for connection met, she will stop acting out at school. If the parents are rushed or spend little time with her, then the child's behavior will escalate. I suggest that parents spend one-on-one time with their child before leaving the house in the morning, after work and before bedtime. The more family together-time, the better. Encourage them to create rituals, like making breakfast together, playing in the park after school, sharing details from their day at dinner and reading stories at bedtime.

Second, a preschool child needs to learn that acting out will not get her what she wants. This is the foundation of teaching behavior management skills, by this I mean teaching the child how to manage her feelings and impulses. The parents must not appease her when she throws a tantrum. Instead, let her have her feelings and allow her to experience the consequences of her actions (for instance, kids at school may start to avoid her), then role play how she can ask for what she needs in a positive way. This takes patience, humanity and strength on the part of the parents, but over time, the child will learn how to interact with people in caring and respectful ways.

Since your granddaughter is moving past the toddler years, she should be allowed to make small, age-appropriate decisions that support her growing autonomy. Give her choices—this top or that, how to wear her hair, what she wants to bring for show and tell—and let her express herself. Making choices will build her confidence and help her discover who she is and what she likes and dislikes.

On the way home from preschool, ask the parents to engage their child in conversation. Great conversation starters are: What happened today at school? What activities did you enjoy? What happened that you didn't like? Who did you play with? If there was a conflict that day, the parents should invite the child to tell them what happened in her own words. Ask questions when she is finished to help her see how she might behave in different ways. Even though she is only three, she will start to get it.

The parents may also want to read my book. Although it uses ideas from the native culture, it teaches parents how to raise children into caring and independent adults. Since it teaches parents about the process of human maturation, they will learn how to develop reasonable expectations for child behavior, guide their child to make better choices and come to understand their own development and how they can grow as parents.

104 ideas for activities that will engage a preschool child

About the author: Laura Ramirez is the author of the award-winning parenting book Keepers of the Children which uses native ideas to show parents how to raise children to act from integrity and strength. The book shows parents how parenting is a path of growth for child and parent.

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Copyright & copy; 2007 by Laura Ramirez. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied in full or in part, however, you may link to it from your web site, blog or forum. Please use the anchor text preschool child

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