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Why does my 5-year-old misbehave at preschool?
Q: My 5-year-old son has been in three preschools since he was 4 because of his behaviour. He started off hitting and kicking other kids. He would get very upset and throw and break things. He has calmed down quite a bit but still has more bad days than good. At the current school he gets his name on the board three to four times a day. His teacher and I don’t understand it. Why does he act this way?
A: Your son does appear to have some significant behaviour problems, but you didn’t give me enough information to form any very likely hypotheses as to why he acts as he does. For instance, what is the situation with his father? Do you and his father disagree on how to discipline him? Does he have any friends in or out of school? Is there a younger brother or sister of whom he is jealous? Did this behaviour start when he went to preschool? Or is the current pattern a continuation and intensification of how he has behaved for several years? I would definitely recommend that you schedule an appointment at a local child guidance clinic or with a clinical psychologist who specializes in young children.

Regardless of whether you consult a professional regarding your son, you are going to have to continue to be the point person in helping him improve. It sounds as though you have already talked to his teacher, and that is a critical step. Now I would try to link discipline at home with what happens at school. Let’s say he is now getting his name on the board four times. Tell him that if he can keep it to no more than two times a day for a week he will get some special treat. That “treat,” of course, has to be something he really likes —perhaps staying up later, a trip to a local museum or a special food treat. Then raise the bar so he gets a treat if his name appears no more than one time a day for the week. Later, make the treat contingent on his name not appearing on the board for the week.

If he behaves especially well at home make a point of telling his teacher about it and asking her to find a way to do something special for him at school. Also, if he listens carefully and sits still when you read to him (which I hope you do every night), praise him and tell him you are going to make certain his teacher knows how well he paid attention. This kind of sharing of discipline can often be a big help.