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Boy Won't Behave in Preschool

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My four-and-1/2-year-old son has just been kicked out of his third daycare. He behaves fairly well at home, but he totally disobeys his daycare teachers. He throws chairs and toys, spits, hits, and tells his teachers that he doesn't have to listen to them.

He's been in several daycares since he was a year old because I can't afford to stay at home. He has exhibited this same behavior at the different daycares. The teachers say they'll work with me, then they tell me they can't deal with him.

My son is very bright, and I think he's figured out that if he's really bad, they'll call me to come pick him up. I could understand his behavior if I didn't spend any time with him at all, but when I'm not at work, we do a lot together.

We have tried different forms of discipline to see if we could get him to straighten out. We have also put him on a schedule, and have eliminated sugar and caffeine from his diet, but there's been no improvement.

I'm taking him to be evaluated tomorrow to find out what the problem is. Please offer me some insight! Thanks.

A: It appears that the only consistency in your son's life during the past couple of years has been his being moved from center to center after the teachers say they can't cope with him. This is hardly the consistency one wants for a child or a family.

I have some very specific suggestions for improving your family's life. Above all, any professional evaluation should focus on a plan wherein professional counselor(s) work with you and your husband as parents, with your son as a child with chronic emotional and behavioral problems, and with the staff of a small, superb daycare staff committed to creating the best possible experience for your child.

You should not continue your various punishments, hoping one will work and then discarding it for another more severe one when it doesn't. You haven't developed a consistent disciplinary approach and given it a chance to work over time; you and your husband both need to share and practice this disciplinary approach. Professional family counselors/educators can help you to develop a successful approach.

I know that really good daycare costs a fair amount of money, but you need a quality daycare center staffed by degreed child development staff who are experienced in dealing with kids who have emotional, behavioral problems such as your son's. Your son will keep getting kicked out of centers for being disruptive if they are predominantly staffed with high school kids who are overwhelmed and not equipped to deal with his problems. This boy does not need one more center to add to his disturbingly high total.

In essence, a comprehensive, consistent plan, overseen and supported by talented professionals, needs to be put in place. This plan will assign expected behaviors to all parties and keep all working towards the same common goals. If something like what I have suggested is not put in place and committed to, you can expect to have lots more of the same (and worse). Good luck. This really can turn around!

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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