Child Has Behavioral Problems at Preschool

How can we encourage our child to cooperate and follow his preschool teacher's instructions? He becomes defiant when there's a change in the schedule or when the teacher asks him to switch activities. He wants to do things his own way and on his own time. How do we break him of this?

The solution to your problem may need to begin at home. It’s rare for a child who is normally compliant and well-behaved with his parents to become defiant and uncooperative in other settings. You didn’t mention anything about your son’s attitudes and behavior around the house, but is it possible that he’s just as defiant with you as he is with his teachers?

If so, it’s very likely that you’ve developed a pattern of giving in to his demands and allowing him to have his way when he resists your authority or throws a tantrum. Now, at preschool, he finds himself in a situation where this mode of operation no longer “works” for him – where he’s expected to obey adults, follow rules, and get along with other children. This is all new to him, and he doesn’t like having limits place on his behavior. That may be why he’s acting out with the preschool staff.

That’s one scenario that may describe your situation. Another possibility is that you’ve not been too permissive with your child, but rather your parenting style has been overly strict and punitive. In a situation like this, the child never internalizes the positive character traits his mom and dad are trying instill in him through their harsh disciplinary methods. He simply obeys in order to avoid punishment. Then, when he’s outside the home, in a less rigid environment, he “lets loose” and misbehaves in a variety of ways.

Only you are in a position to determine if either of these two hypothetical situations characterize your relationship with your child. We’d encourage you to carefully examine your parenting practices. Are you providing a healthy balance between love and limits? Are you affirming and rewarding your child for good behavior as well as punishing him for negative behavior? Are you helping him to develop compassion and understanding for others rather than simply adhering to a strict set of rules and regulations? Are mom and dad on the same page when it comes to discipline, or is one of you more permissive while the other is more authoritarian?

If after an honest look at the facts you conclude that your child does indeed have a problem with defiance, you should start implementing consistent limits at home. This will involve administering specific consequences for specific instances of misbehavior. Your son probably won’t like this. In fact, we predict that his behavior will get much worse before it gets better. That’s because he’ll be doing everything he can to convince you to give up on this new program of discipline. But if you stick to your guns, you should begin to see positive results within a couple of weeks.

It might be helpful to ask the preschool supervisor if it would be possible to observe your child in the classroom setting, so that you can see how he interacts with the other children. If that isn’t possible, another option would be to ask one of the staff members to videotape your son during preschool hours. That way you’ll be able to get a clear and accurate picture of his behavior there.

You can also work with the preschool staff to establish a prearranged set of consequences at home for misbehavior at school. Ask the supervisor to provide you with daily reports by way of written notes or phone calls. This will have the effect of keeping your child accountable. He needs to learn that if he’s defiant, aggressive, or destructive at preschool, there will be unpleasant consequences waiting for him at home.

If you’d like to discuss your situation with a member of our staff, feel free to contact our Counseling department.



The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline That Really Works

Have a New Kid by Friday

Boundaries With Kids

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Your Kids part 1 and part 2

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership

Toddler Misbehavior

Effective Biblical Discipline

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