How to Stop Preschool Behavior Problems

Overwhelmed with your child’s preschool behavior problems that are out of control and getting worse? Find out what is normal and what to do.

How to Stop Preschool Behavior ProblemsHearing that your child has been behaving poorly at preschool can come as a shock for many moms, especially when we don’t see it at home.

Maybe your child’s teacher reported that he’s been hitting, kicking, and pushing other kids during play time. Or that he refuses to follow directions and can’t seem to sit still like the others do. He doesn’t know how to control his anger when he doesn’t get his way.

He might even yell at nap time to wake the other kids. Or worse, he laughs when the preschool teachers try to discipline him.

You see, it’s one thing when he misbehaves with you around—at least you’re there to do something about it. But it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t know how to help. To not know what else to do apart from what you’re already doing, much less know where he’s even picking up this bad behavior.

After all, when he’s with you, he rarely puts his hands on other kids. When he does, you’re quick to remove him from the situation so he knows this is unacceptable behavior. He’s sweet, funny, and genuinely wants to do well, but sometimes doesn’t even know what he did wrong at school.

To get notes from home—as if he’s the “bad kid”—makes you cry and worry about him at school. Yes, of course he has his moments like any child does. But you truly don’t understand what’s happening—this is all new territory. You hate that he’s behaving this way when he’s at preschool.

So, how can you help your child with his aggressive behavior at preschool?

With three kids, I’ve had my share of teacher notes and even calls from the principal. Granted, they didn’t happen often, but I know that feeling of disbelief, the guilt, and even the defensiveness as you try to grasp what happened.

And even though you’re not in the classroom to monitor your child’s behavior issues, there’s plenty you can do to turn things around. Talking to him at home as well as working with his teacher as a partner can keep it from getting worse.

If anything, rest assured that you’re already doing a good job for the very fact that you’re here and not simply ignoring the situation. But with these steps, you can help resolve these preschool behavior problems in no time:

1. Find the reasons for your child’s behavior problems

On the surface, my son looked like he had a hitting and even biting problem, especially at circle time. But these preschool behavior problems came from a deeper reason, and not simply because he “felt like it.” Instead, after listening to the teacher describe the scenario, it seemed like he struggled with personal space.

You see, at circle time, some kids would encroach on his space, sitting too close to him or even kicking him accidentally when they moved. By addressing the reason—needing personal space—his teacher was able to stop him from reacting and hitting.

The reasons, of course, are many.

Your child feels ignored and overlooked, especially in a sea of preschool children vying for one person’s attention. He’s advanced for his age, and actually needs more challenging activities to keep him from being listless and bored. He’s developing social skills that he hasn’t had the opportunity to fine tune yet.

And sometimes the reasons are so simple and preventable, like when the kids want the same toys or race to be first in line. Decreasing the events causing the triggers can be a huge help. Something as simple as getting more basketballs helped my twins avoid many conflicts with their peers.

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2. Teach impulse control and self-regulation

Your child may seem like an angel at home, even with his siblings. But being home with a sibling or two is nothing compared to being in a classroom with 20 other kids. He faces more preschool struggles that he normally wouldn’t at home.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach him impulse control and show him how to regulate his emotions.

Give him directions, starting off with single-step instructions and adding more over time. Practice transitions from one activity to the next, or helping him sit still. You might even re-enact activities like circle time and crafts so you can model solutions to common problems.

Learn how to teach impulse control for kids.

Impulse Control for Kids

3. Teach your child how to manage anger

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Anger doesn’t just go away—it’s an emotion we’ll all feel throughout our lives. What makes the difference is learning to deal with that anger.

For starters, talk about anger as a normal emotional state—that your child isn’t an “angry child,” but that we all move in and out of these emotions. She’ll feel less alone and stigmatized when she understands that everyone feels this way.

Then, talk about how she can better manage anger. Talk about typical triggers like kids pushing in line or being too loud. Give her alternatives when those triggers happen, like moving out of the way or telling a teacher.

You can also teach empathy as a way to temper her anger. Ask her to imagine what the other kids might be feeling—that they’re excited for arts and crafts, or that they feel fidgety like she sometimes does. The more she understands how they feel, the less attacked and angry she’ll feel.

And read The Yes Brain by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, which talks about the three different zones young children move through.

The “red zone” is anger and frustration, and the “blue zone” is detached and uninterested. Both are natural and common, but the ideal place to mostly be is the “green zone,” where she feels happy and in control. By placing labels on these zones, you can help her expand her green zone for most of her days.

4. Work with your child’s teacher

Talking about your child’s preschool behavior at home is important, but it’s harder to correct it when it only happens at school. That’s why it’s crucial to partner with his teacher in finding a solution.

For instance:

  • How does she respond when he misbehaves—does she show empathy for why he did what he did, as well as offer alternatives?
  • Has she noticed potential triggers that cause the difficult behavior?
  • Could she read books to the class that talk about these behaviors?
  • Could she praise him for the times when he does behave well to encourage more of that behavior?

You might even want to ask for documents describing what happened, just as they would if he had gotten injured at school. That way, you can talk about it with a better picture in mind, as well as have a record of his progress.

At the same time, ask the teacher for advice. What can you do specifically to address it at home? How can you support the lessons instilled at school so your child is receiving consistent feedback?

And of course, seek professional help not only from your teacher, but from the school district. The district—and your pediatrician—can recommend an evaluation should your child need one.

5. Read children’s books about your child’s behavior

One of the best ways to curb temper tantrums is to read children’s books with characters going through similar scenarios.

For instance, read children’s books about anger so your child can see other ways to deal with the emotion. He can read books about hitting and biting to learn appropriate ways to communicate. Or he might read books about impulse control and how to take turns talking in class.

Not only will he learn how to handle the situation, he’ll also feel a sense of kinship with these characters. No longer is he alone or different in how he reacts—he simply needs better ways to deal with it.

6. Don’t take it personally

Hearing about these preschool behavior problems can feel shocking because we feel responsible. As if you’re to blame for your child’s choices and behavior, or that you’re “that mom” with the disruptive kid in the class.

You’re trying to do what’s best for your child, just for the very fact that you’re here. Don’t take his behavior personally—it’s not a reflection of who you are as a person, nor that you’re somehow a failure.

Because he’ll continue to make mistakes throughout his life—what a burden on him to feel like your sense of worth and value fall on his shoulders.

As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:

“Don’t take your child’s misbehavior too personally. We think our children crying must mean we’re failing somehow or that others think the worst when we yell at our kids in public. We’ve all felt the same way and regretted actions we wished we could take back. While we can strive to improve our parenting, no one would ever get 100% on this parenting business.”

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Instead, see yourself as a guide or coach who will help him better deal with his behaviors. Together, you’ll come up with solutions that will help him most, or find and avoid typical reasons that trigger him. And most importantly, let him know you love him, despite the poor choices he makes.

But it all starts with understanding that how “good” or “bad” he behaves has no weight on who you are as a mom, much less a human being.

Avoid this one mistake when your child misbehaves in front of others.

Conclusion

No parent wants to hear that her child is having preschool behavior problems, no matter how surprising (or not) it might be. But as helpless as you might feel at first, you can do plenty to resolve these issues.

Start by teaching your child impulse control and self-regulation. These crucial skills will not only help curb misbehavior but give her lifelong tools into adulthood. Teach her how to manage anger as well, focusing on dealing with it in better ways than avoiding or shaming anger altogether.

Then, work with her teacher, from finding the reasons to knowing how she responds to asking for her advice. At home, read children’s books that address these specific behaviors so she can relate to and model new behavior.

And finally, don’t take her behavior at preschool personally. This says nothing of the person you are, but rather shines light on what else she needs to learn and practice.

Parenting preschoolers feels extra tough when you’re not there to discipline. You start off not knowing what’s normal, much less what to do about it. Thankfully, with these steps, you know how to respond—and avoid the dreaded notes from the teacher.

How to Discipline a 4 Year Old

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4 Comments

  1. My child is a sweet boy but having hitting issues at school. They are mainly in line. Sometimes he says someone cut, or they weren’t where they were supposed to be, or they weren’t moving fast enough, or just completely random. The majority of incidents happen in the line and 75% of the time to the same girl. Whenever the teacher tries to talk to him and hold his hand (so he doesn’t put his hands on others) he’ll throw a fit.

    Sometimes if there is something he gets upset about in class, it can be so small, he will hit. I’ve gotten a few calls from the assistant principal.

    He is such a smart kid, I just don’t want this behavior to define him. I’ve started using your technique about showing empathy and controlling my tone/reaction and not using timeouts, but rather if/then statements.

    Anyways, I just wanted to see how I can help him improve on the hitting? He definitely doesn’t understand his emotions yet or get empathy. When it comes to teaching those, I don’t know how and what to say!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s definitely tough dealing with your child’s behavior when he’s at school. When I say to talk about his emotions and to show empathy, it’s to describe how he must be feeling and acknowledge it. For instance, you can say, “It must hurt when she cuts in line,” or “It’s hard lining up again after you were having fun at recess.” By describing how he must be feeling, he feels heard and understood, and not just the “bad guy” who hits. You can then continue the conversation by saying what else he can do when he feels that way again besides hitting.

  2. This morning I was told to remain behind while dropping off my 3 year old boy at childcare. I was informed that he hit other kids and when he is being punished he does the opposite and insults the teacher.

    The teacher mentioned that she tried everything with him and nothing seems to work. What I did not like is when she mentioned that she left him alone in class as punishment and while the other kids were let outside to play.

    How do I leave him there again without worrying as to what is going to happen to him? How do they punish him daily without finding the root cause because at home I actually don’t have the difficulties they mentioned?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about the troubles at the preschool. Can you see if you can “sit in” on a typical day to see how he behaves? You would watch discreetly to see how your child behaves and how the staff responds to his behavior. That way you can see exactly what they’re talking about, and give them suggestions as well.

      You might also try speaking to the head of the school if you haven’t already to see what he or she suggests. If it’s the teachers you’re speaking to, having the main director chime in might help.