Communicating with your child’s preschool about tough stuff

We have a wonderful little group in the What's Next Workshop, with spots still open. So if you've been on the fence, now's the time to do it. First lesson goes out Sunday, so sign up now or tomorrow.

In the email I sent out last night (if you're not getting it and want to, sign up with that form over in the left sidebar) I asked if people were ok, and got a huge range of responses! Be gentle with ourselves.

The repeated issue (it really is strange how problems seem to come in clumps) I'm seeing for the last couple of weeks is kids acting out at preschool. Hitting, biting, getting into fights with other kids. I think the plans to help kids channel their feelings into more productive behaviors have to be different for kids at different ages, but what I find most striking about the questions I've been getting is how separate home and school seem to be.

It feels to me like a lot of us (myself included) feel like preschool (or elementary school) is just an extension of parenting in public. A place with people who are going to see our kids' behavior (especially around the common values that have taken over the dialogue about childhood, such as sharing and cooperating) and judge us as fit or unfit based on what our kids do. So when our kids do do something they shouldn't, it feels like all of our mistakes are being exposed and we're being judged and found wanting.

It's that feeling of being in the grocery store and suddenly your child starts screaming "I want it NOW!!!" and you want to just sink through the floor as you feel the eyes of everyone in the store on you wondering why you're so horrible.

I'm wondering if it would help all of us (me included) to start thinking of our kids' teachers and caregivers as a resource to help us, instead of people waiting for us to screw up and to think of our kid as the bad one. I was so, so lucky to have had the best preschool teachers in the world for both of my boys. These women had taught together for twenty years and had seen everything, and had a baseline view that kids are good and quirky and parents are good and quirky and trying as hard as we can. So when there were problems, it turned into a big troubleshooting session, in which we shared ideas and insights and decided what we were going to try together.

But it was not my natural instinct to do that. Those wonderful teachers had to train the parents to trust them instead of hiding when our kids did something wrong. And I've been thinking a lot about that as I've been getting questions from parents about how to stop it. The behavior itself is a problem, obviously, but the shame that we as parents feel about it is where the energy goes and gets lost. So not only are we worried, we're worried and exhausted and guilty.

I wish there was a way for us to call a moratorium on feeling guilty. Especially about things our kids do that are normal, if not acceptable. And ask the teachers and caregivers and other parents for kind help instead of needing to feel defensive.


16 thoughts on “Communicating with your child’s preschool about tough stuff”

  1. My girl was a biter. I hated it, but daycare worked with us and we set the same guidelines at home as at daycare. The goal was to be consistant. She hated going to see the admin person as punishment so we worked it out that she got to go when she was good too. The goal is to look at school and daycare as a play we can work together.Not that it always works….

  2. “Those wonderful teachers had to train the parents to trust them instead of hiding when our kids did something wrong.”Preschool teachers are mandated reporters.

  3. I’m one of those moms that wrote you about some preschool behavior issues- man, I was sinking under anxiety and obsession. I finally had a chance to talk with the school director and she reassured me that what was going on wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen before, and although undesirable, something common for boys. It was a huge relief. In the back of my head I knew the school was there to help and be part of the solution, but I was blind to that while on my guilt/worry trip.Our previous daycare provider, who was great, warned me that if my son hit anyone at preK, they wouldn’t put up with and make me go pick him up. That FREAKED me out. Looking back, her own son has some behavior issues at home, and maybe she projected a little.
    I got some feedback to give myself some credit and be gentle with myself…that felt good too.

  4. My son is now in kindergarten, but we had this issue all last year at preschool. The teachers said (and acted like) they had never seen such behavior and that my son was some sort of deviant. We had psychologists, occupational therapists and others involved, none of whom ever gave us any useful feedback. Now, in kindergarten, his teacher told us he is incredibly smart but gets frustrated easily and has a quick temper – nothing really unusual. I finally feel like he’s just a normal boy, and he’s reacting so much better – both because he’s now that little bit more mature and because his teacher isn’t treating him like he’s a horrible person for reacting.This is all to say that if there are any strategies out there, I’d love to hear about them!

  5. We’re going though this right now, too! And we are so lucky to have supportive preschool teachers and family and friends. My 3.5 year old is hitting a lot and we are now pursuing child therapists and speech evaluation. Even though everyone is being very kind and helpful, it still feels lousy to go through.

  6. We are absolutely going through this right now with our 4-year old son; in fact, just this morning I asked for another appointment to strategize with our preschool teacher. I agree that it is the embarrassment that is the worst, and feeling like we should be doing something more to stop the behavior. Because we are not there to witness it or the circumstances around the behavior, it’s doubly challenging! Looking forward to the strategies others have used – but it’s also just nice to hear we are not alone!

  7. Just today, when I picked up my son from pre-k, I witnessed his ‘selective hearing’ in effect with his teacher. When I made a remark about it, she said “it’s sometimes a problem” and that he’s a class clown. Even though she didn’t seem like it was a big deal, it still made me a feel a little… chastised. I was just coming online to see what the internets had to say about getting your kid to HEAR you when you are talking, so this post is very timely.

  8. Before I had my son, I worked at a preschool(not as a teacher), and have to say that this was probably the BEST training I could have received prior to becoming a parent.Thanks for this post, because, so often we don’t realize that these people have gone through extensive child development coursework, and are a great resource. They don’t mean to scare parents and they really have the best interests of the children in mind. They don’t do what they do to become rich, they love helping others and seeing your children grow. As with all things, working together usually yeilds the best results. Try to see their side of the story, as they often struggle to manage a class full of children.

  9. I’m not saying this to gloat; more to give other parents an idea about what might be possible. My son (typically developing) goes to an immersion Preschool that’s got a 1 to 3 or 4 ratio of children with autism to typically developing children, so his teachers are especially prepared for and used to dealing with challenging behavior. The teachers there, *as a matter of course* work with parents on behavior issues. They have, at times, given me insight into my kid that I just didn’t have, simply because I didn’t see him in that setting.What I’m trying to say is that this sort of approach can really work, if all parties are agreeable, and that it’s a real possibility.
    In addition, I think the community of *parents* at the preschool makes a huge difference, and might even be a place to start. I think the parents can set a good norm for our emotional responses to our kids’ difficult behaviors. There’s a wry, joking, kid-loving sense amongst the parents at our preschool, and it creates a very different set of emotions and discourse around the whole issue. The parental community is a key part of the package.
    I’m really grateful I lucked into this community, and hope you all have luck building better Pre-school communities yourselves.

  10. My son (2.5 years old) attends a once weekly “tot time” class at the neighborhood co-op, where we’ll likely do preschool next year. In this case the parents are present, so we are very literally “parenting in public.”There is one child in the class who is, shall we say, unusually aggressive? His behavior (and his mother’s) has come up as a topic of conversation several times with other parents outside of class, ranging from “We should ask the teacher to request that they not re-inroll” to “I’m thinking of leaving the co-op because I’m worried about my son being picked on.”
    I feel like I’m the only one who thinks this kid NEEDS to learn to interact with other kids, and the worst thing to do at this young age is to shun him. After all, he’ll be attending Kindergarten with our kids in a few years anyway.
    Any advice on dealing with behavior problems when it’s not your own kid?

  11. @K, I think rather than asking the teacher to tell them to get lost, you guys should ask the teacher to review appropriate behavior and consequences with the class. 2.5 is still REALLY young, and this particular kid may just need some time to mature. That said, is his mother not intervening when he gets physically aggressive? I would hope that before asking them to leave someone would speak with the mother to get her input on how to solve the situation. It is entirely possible that her son is struggling with some special needs, either diagnosed or undiagnosed.My son struggles with SPD and ADHD, and we’ve pretty much spent this whole week talking with his preschool teacher, his special ed aide, and his occupational therapist, because his behavior has taken kind of a nosedive in school.Talking to a preschool teacher at pickup is pretty futile–you can’t really get into anything. I’ll use that time to get a quick report on my kid, and then ask when a good time to call is so we can chat more leisurely. I’ve had GREAT results with that. I think as long as teachers know that you are trying to work through the problem, they are much more likely not to judge you and your child or write you off. I was able to chat with my son’s teacher for about half an hour, and was able to explain some of the reasons for his behavior and let her know what I was doing to find alternate, more acceptable coping behaviors (squeezing a stress doll rather than crying and screaming for 10 minutes when he’s disappointed and angry).
    THe other thing that I do is a home-school note. In our case, I put together a simple chart with three behaviors and a smiley face and frowney face for each behavior. HIs teacher can quickly circle the appropriate face. This not only lets ME know how he’s progressing with problem behaviors, but also gives my son immediate feedback.
    Finally, I really encourage parents and teachers to make children part of the solution. Kids want to be good! They really do! My son was refusing to come off the playground, and would hide and scream. After trying a few techniques for helping him with the transition, which didn’t really work, his OT asked him what would help him come off the playground. He said “My teacher could tell me to go down the slide one more time.” Bingo. That works. It gives him a concrete ritual tied to the transition of ending playtime and lining up to go home. A LOT of the time kids know what they need. My kid tells me what he needs all the time. He doesn’t always use words, though. When he hides under the table at preschool during clean-up time, he’s telling us he’s overwhelmed. By involving him in finding solutions for how to solve that problem, even at such a young age, he’s much more likely to be on board.

  12. Strike what I said about teachers being less likely to judge you or write you off if they know you are working on the problem. I think what is really is that you as a parent are less likely to feel judged or written off if you are working with the teacher to solve an issue.

  13. I want to reiterate what @wealhtheow says about not having the big conversations at drop-off/pick-up — it just doesn’t work. I’ve done mostly scheduled phone conversations, but in person works too. I think it’s the scheduling that counts.It should be matter-of-course to have a check-in with your child’s teacher at least a couple of times a year, outside of any problems. If your school doesn’t already do that, there’s an excellent place to start — not just for your own child, but for the school as a whole. I truly think it’s about shaping the preschool’s community, and having that kind of setup for everyone, outside of just when an acute problem comes up, sets a very good tone.

  14. I am honored that our “scrappy” ttiwter conversation turned into this great post. Oh and yes, you should have punched the attorney. Your life experiences make you invaluable in doing Sexual Harassment training. Keep up the good work.

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