Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Take misbehaving child out of preschool | Family

Ask: I have a 6 month old boy and another boy who is less than 3 years old a few months. The older one – well-behaved, easy-going, very affectionate – attends a preschool program three mornings a week. This is his second year there. Last year he cried every time I brought him in, but he stopped within minutes. This year I have to use the car pool. When a teacher tries to get him out of the car, he screams like he’s being tortured and fights them physically.

Now I am getting reports that he has grown defiant in class. Yesterday he started throwing things when his teacher reprimanded him for something.

She thinks he is insecure about the second child, but he is far from insecure at home. She talked about using a special reward system for him, which I think is a bad idea. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: I agree that this behavior has nothing to do with the arrival of a younger sibling. Like all psychological explanations for human behavior, this one boils down to an unprovable statement.

I can assume that your older son is trying to resolve issues related to being taken to the bathroom before he was emotionally ready. What does that mean? How can it be verified? As the present example illustrates, when a problem is explained psychologically it almost always becomes unsolvable, only “treatable”. How does the younger child disappear or do you wipe the toilet training board clean and start over?

First, you don’t need to understand the supposed “cause” of a behavior problem in order to correct it. So let’s do our best to think forward instead of backward. Your son has had these emotional spikes on school days for over a year. In other words, the problem started before his brother was born and has simply escalated.

Second, I agree that having a dedicated reward system is a bad idea. When a child misbehaves, punishment is the answer. Unfortunately, preschools cannot get certain accreditations if they punish their young protégés for anti-social behavior.

Instead, they do ineffective but psychologically correct things, such as trying to justify good behavior or to reward bad behavior when it comes to bad behavior. (I believe this is one of the reasons researchers found that daycare children, on average, are more impulsive, aggressive, and disobedient than home-cared children.)

That being said, the fact that this program is optional overrides all other considerations. If a 2-year-old gets into such a snout about attending an optional program and resilient behavior has been going down for months (much less over a year), I recommend just turning them off. It’s not worth the fight, and besides, this is a fight you may not be able to win.

Let several weeks go by and then find yourself another program or a smaller, cooperative playgroup. A change of location can make all the difference.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at johnrosemond.com; Readers can email him at [email protected]; Due to the volume of emails, not every question is answered.

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