Handling your child’s behavior when you’re not there can be a challenge. Learn exactly what to do about your toddler acting out at daycare with these tips.
Disciplining at home is hard enough, but what do you do when you’re not there to manage your toddler’s behavior?
From daycare to preschool and even to a nanny caring for him, you’d think it’d be easier to let someone else handle his behavior.
Instead, you feel helpless hearing about his 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.
No parent likes to hear how her child has been acting out with other caregivers. As normal as it might be, getting that dreaded teacher’s note or the, “Can we talk for a minute?” request at pickup is never pleasant.
Your toddler might even know that he’s been misbehaving at daycare—you’ve certainly spent plenty of time talking about it—but can’t seem to change.
How exactly do you discipline and correct his behavior when you’re not there?
What to do about your toddler acting out at daycare
Maybe your toddler won’t take his teachers’ consequences seriously. He randomly hits and kicks other children in circle time, even when he doesn’t seem to have a reason to feel angry.
Meanwhile, the daycare staff has tried everything, to using timeouts and even to moving him to a different class. You’ve talked to him about it and he admits to behaving this way, but even that doesn’t curb his behavior.
The most confusing part? He doesn’t act this way at home. He seems like a happy child—energetic and impulsive, yes—but one who can also sit down and focus.
No wonder you feel at a loss on what to do.
Thankfully, there’s still plenty 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 his outbursts in daycare.
Here’s what you and the teaching staff can do with your toddler acting out at daycare:
1. Talk to your toddler 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 toddler. Have them see what’s bothering her and ask for her suggestions instead of going straight into timeouts and consequences.
Ask them to avoid the “I’m warning you” tone of voice so many of us assume is the only way to get kids to comply.
For instance, they might take her 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?”
They can then share why kicking isn’t appropriate, while showing empathy explaining 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 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 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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2. Don’t do timeouts
Does your toddler disregard timeouts at daycare suddenly? Maybe he laughs or goofs off the entire time and doesn’t take it seriously. Or 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 (the teachers) and fuming at the unfairness of it all. He misses out on better ways to communicate or understanding why his 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 and not addressing their behavior at all.
But what if, instead of timeouts, the 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, like shaking the wiggles out if he feels confined at circle time
He won’t learn any of these valuable skills if he’s sent straight to timeout.
3. Praise your toddler’s positive behavior
For many kids, daycare or preschool is their first experience with sharing adult attention. And with more kids to contend with, it’s easy for your toddler to feel overlooked. He may even be acting up just to get noticed, which can explain why he 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 he is behaving, no matter how simple. Maybe that’s waiting and standing in line, keeping his hands to himself, or fetching his own snack. Praise him for skills he has learned, as well as for being a helper.
You see, it’s more effective to nurture and praise positive behavior than it is to correct challenging ones. He’ll relish in feeling recognized, which will encourage him to continue the behavior you want to see.
4. Nurture a relationship with the daycare teachers
In many ways, your toddler is learning to develop a new relationship with his daycare teacher. This can include testing his boundaries to see if she responds the same way as his parents do. Other times, he wants to know how vulnerable he can be, and whether she’ll love and accept him no matter what.
Nurture that relationship so he feels safe and comfortable with her. For instance, you can:
- Begin the day by getting excited about 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 her if she can do the same with him. Maybe this means having him sit next to her when they paint, or giving him an extra warm hug goodbye at pickup.
Securing a strong relationship with her can help him feel safe and give him the positive attention he might be craving away from home.
5. Monitor the class
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Managing your toddler’s behavior from afar is tricky because you have to rely on other people’s accounts of what happened. In that case, see if you can monitor his behavior for an hour. Preferably yo can watch discreetly without him seeing you, but even observing from the corner can be a huge help.
This might give you a better sense of his interactions with his teacher and the other kids. It won’t be exactly as if you’re not there (since the teacher knows you’re watching), but you now get immediate feedback and suggestions.
For instance, you can observing exactly what she has been seeing and reporting, and can give feedback on ideas that have worked for you at home. Or you can talk about it with him at home, now that you’re able to draw explicit examples from your time observing.
You can also use children’s books to then talk about his behavior. Check out Dojo Daycare by Chris Tougas to help him understand how to behave at daycare:
Any parent would feel overwhelmed about her toddler acting out at daycare, especially because 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 conversations with your toddler instead of sending him off to timeouts or resorting to consequences right away. Work on developing a strong relationship with them, and 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, he’ll feel less compelled to misbehave or disrupt the class—and circle time can be peaceful once again.
Get more tips:
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn’t Listen
- Why You Need to Follow Through with Consequences (and How to Actually Do It)
- Top 5 Parenting Myths: Are You Making These Mistakes?
- What to Do when Your Child Acts Out in Public
- On Rediscovering Yourself After Motherhood
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