Handling your child’s behavior when you’re not there can be a challenge. Learn exactly what to do with your toddler acting out at daycare with these tips.
From daycare to preschool and even to a nanny caring for your child, you’d think it’d be easier to let someone else handle his behavior.
Instead, you more likely feel helpless hearing about your child’s outbursts. You might even feel judged, wondering what the staff must think of your parenting skills. Perhaps you’re frustrated that it’s still happening, despite all you’re trying to do on your end.
What to do with your toddler acting out at daycare
This was the case of one of our blog readers whose child wouldn’t take his teachers’ consequences seriously. He’d randomly hit and kick other children in circle time, even when he didn’t seem to have a reason to feel angry.
Meanwhile, the daycare staff tried everything, from moving him to a different class to using timeouts. She talked to her son about it and he admitted to behaving this way, but even that didn’t curb his behavior.
The most confusing part? Her child didn’t act this way at home. He seemed like a happy child—energetic and impulsive, yes—but one who could also sit down and focus.
No wonder she felt at a loss on what to do.
Thankfully, there’s still plenty she—and you—can try. You’ll need to communicate and work with the daycare staff since you’re not there. But with everyone on the same side and working toward the same goal, you’ll have better luck managing your toddler’s outbursts in daycare.
Don’t do timeouts—talk to him instead
Does your child disregard timeouts at daycare all of a sudden? Maybe he laughs or goofs off the entire time, not taking it seriously. Or perhaps he ignores the impact they’re supposed to have, and goes right back to misbehaving.
Well, I don’t blame him: timeouts are ineffective.
You see, he’s not learning anything from the experience. Even if he ties his behavior to getting timeouts, he doesn’t understand why. He develops no empathy for others, and instead feels like he’s the victim for being “punished.”
During timeouts, he’s channeling his frustration toward the enforcer (his teachers) and fuming at the unfairness of it all. He misses out on better ways to communicate or truly understand why his aggressive or inappropriate behavior isn’t right.
Some might think that not doing timeouts (or any other form of punishment) means letting kids get away with their behavior.
Letting kids get away with it is when you allow them to continue kicking and hitting or causing a ruckus, without addressing their behavior at all.
But what if, instead of timeouts, your child’s teachers can take him aside and do a “time in.” They can:
- Show empathy and acknowledge potential triggers for his behavior
- Point out the effects of his behavior on others, like not letting other children learn and play
- Teach him better ways to behave, such as shaking the wiggles out if he feels confined at circle time
Your child won’t learn any of these valuable skills if he’s sent straight to timeout.
Talk to your child respectfully
We adults tend to have a biased view of our relationship with children. The minute we see kids doing something they’re not supposed to do, we launch into “discipline mode,” ready to dole out consequences left and right.
Instead, encourage the daycare staff to hold a real conversation with your child. Have them see what’s bothering her, ask for her suggestions, and treat her with the same respect they would an adult.
Ask them to avoid the “I’m warning you” tone of voice that so many of us assume is the only way to get kids to comply.
For instance, they might take your child aside and say, “Elizabeth, I noticed that you kicked Noah at circle time. I didn’t see anything that he did that could’ve bothered you, but maybe you can tell me: did he do something that made you mad?”
Then, explain why kicking isn’t appropriate, while drawing on empathy to show why: “The thing is, we don’t hit or kick other people. Hitting and kicking hurts. It wouldn’t feel good if someone hits or kicks you, right?”
They can even ask for her input: “What do you think you can do besides hitting or kicking if someone bothers you?” If she’s tight-lipped, they can make suggestions. “Maybe instead of hitting or kicking, you can tell me if someone bothers you.”
And finally, they can explain what has to happen (the “consequences”) if she continues: “I can’t let you hit or kick other people. I’d like you to be able to tell me if something is bothering you, but if you hit or kick, we’ll have to have this conversation again, okay?”
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Praise your child’s positive behavior
For many kids, daycare or preschool is their first experience with having to share adult attention. And with more kids to contend with, it’s easy for your child to feel overlooked. She may even be acting up just to get noticed, which can also explain why she behaves this way at daycare and not at home.
After all, kids will do what it takes to get attention, whether positive or negative.
Ask the daycare staff to acknowledge the times when she is behaving, no matter how simple. Maybe that’s waiting and standing in line, keeping her hands to herself, or fetching her own snack. Praise her for skills she has learned, as well as for being a helper.
You see, it’s much easier to nurture and praise positive behavior than it is to correct inappropriate ones. Your child will relish in feeling recognized, which will encourage her to continue the behavior you want to see.
Nurture a relationship with the daycare teachers
In many ways, your child is learning to develop a new relationship with his daycare teachers. This can include testing his boundaries to see if they respond the same way as his parents do. Other times, he wants to know how vulnerable he can be, and whether they’ll love and accept him no matter what.
Help to nurture that relationship so he feels safe and comfortable with them. For instance, you can:
- Begin the day by getting excited about all the fun things he’ll do with his teacher
- Have him help you make or pick out a gift for his teacher (both on special occasions or “just because”)
- Ask him what he likes most about his teacher
Then, ask his teacher if she can do the same with him. Maybe this means having him sit next to her when they paint, or giving him a warm hug goodbye at each pickup.
Securing a strong relationship with his teachers can help him feel safe and give him the positive attention he might be craving away from home.
Monitor the class
Managing your child’s behavior from afar is especially tricky because you have to rely on other people’s accounts of what happened. In that case, see if you can monitor your child’s behavior for an hour, where you can watch discreetly without him seeing you.
This might give you a better sense of your child’s interactions with his teachers. It won’t be exactly as if you’re not there (since the teachers know you’re watching), but monitoring the class allows you to provide immediate feedback and suggestions.
Any parent would feel overwhelmed over her child’s out of control behavior when they’re apart. But thankfully, you can still do plenty, especially when you work with the daycare staff to find a solution.
Encourage them to hold real, respectful conversations with your child instead of sending him off to timeouts. Work on developing a strong relationship with his teachers. Ask them to praise his positive behavior to encourage more of it.
And finally, monitor the class to better assess what’s going on and provide immediate feedback.
With these steps, your child will feel less compelled to misbehave or disrupt the class—and circle time can be peaceful once again.
Get more tips:
- Parenting with Purpose: How to Prevent, Handle and Learn from Your Child’s Challenging Behavior
- Why You Need to Follow Through with Consequences (and How to Actually Do It)
- Acknowledge Kids’ Motives When They Misbehave
- Top 5 Parenting Myths: Are You Making These Mistakes?
- What to Do when Your Child Acts Out in Public
Tell me in the comments: What are your tips to handle a toddler acting out at daycare?