Q: When my 3½-year-old son misbehaves, I generally take
things away from him and he generally responds well. One lingering
problem is that he tends to react physically when he's mad at a
classmate instead of talking it out and letting the teachers
intervene. We have all encouraged him to use words when he's angry,
but he doesn't seem to get it. Today he bit a classmate (the second
time in a year this has happened), and got sent home. Once home, I
fed him lunch and then confined him for the rest of the day to his
bedroom with books and some trains. From now on, I plan on sending
him to school every day with a "behavior report card" on which I've
listed the problems of hitting, not obeying his teachers, not
sitting still during circle time, and taking toys away from other
kids. I'm going to ask his teachers to give him a mark every time
one of the problems occurs. If he misbehaves five times in a school
day, then I will confine him to his room when he comes home and put
him to bed early. Biting will override the list and get him sent
home immediately. Comments?
A: First, a "duh" statement: boys are
more aggressive than girls. Unfortunately, in most preschool
settings these days, boys are being held to female standards of
behavior. This is not to say that aggression in boys ought to be
overlooked, but female teachers and mothers are more shocked by it
than are males, including most dads. (But then, women are even more
shocked when aggressive behavior comes from a girl.)
When the perpetrator in question is a three-year-old boy, there
is no apocalyptic significance to the sort of behavior you're
describing. Even occasional biting -- which tends to provoke
near-hysteria among preschool staff (and mothers of bitten
children) -- is not pathological at this age and does not predict
later adjustment problems. In the previous sentence, however,
"occasional" is the operative word.
Boys are also more impulsive than girls, and language is not
their natural problem-solving medium. Trying to persuade your son
to "use words" when he's angry is a laudable effort, to be sure,
but you're not likely to see much success with this approach for
another year or two ... or three. This is another example of women
expecting boys to be more like girls. As you've discovered, boys
respond to concrete consequences. At much earlier ages, girls
respond to words and are more successful at using them in social
Your "Five Strikes, You're Out!" plan is pretty much along the
lines of the approach I generally recommend in situations of this
sort. I would only add in 10 minutes of time-out when one of the
target misbehaviors occurs. Taking him out of the group for that
period of time will give him an opportunity to calm down and
"reset." It will also strengthen the "Don't!" message. And yes, if
he bites, his teachers should remove him from the group, call you,
and keep him isolated until you arrive to take him home.
In the final analysis, the success of this plan hinges on
everyone keeping their cool and cutting him no slack.
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