A Three-Year-Old Who Misbehaves

  • Grades: PreK–K

Question: A three year old in my preschool class misbehaves several times daily. She pinches, pushes, chokes, yells in the other kids’ faces, etc. She does not respond to my strong reactions, time outs or parental discipline. Nothing seems to motivate her to stop the behaviors. Her mother thinks a change of scenery would help, i.e. moving her to another program, but I think she will just take the behaviors with her. I would like to help her so that she doesn’t take this problem to school with her and would appreciate any ideas.

Adele Brodkin: You are correct; the chances are that this little girl will take her troubles with her wherever she goes. Transferring to another program is not likely to be the solution.  I must say it is very kind and generous of you to want to keep her with you so that you can be of help. There are very fine and dedicated teachers who would welcome her departure. But this child’s behavior suggests a level of emotional/social distress that is not readily “treated” in the educational setting, although a teacher working in tandem with an early childhood mental health team can be a great resource. The child’s behavior suggests that she is either quite disturbed or reacting to some environmental situation outside of school. I suggest that you confer with your Director about referral resources. There are more and more fine infant and preschool or early childhood mental health facilities in the U.S.  Often, but not always, they are affiliated with a University training program. Some are free-standing programs with board certified child psychiatrists, licensed psychologists trained in early childhood mental health, and other specialists. They all recognize the urgency of working very closely with parents in trying to understand each child’s issues and to remediate. The public school system and/or local hospital are often good resources; and if a child is classifiable, the local community is responsible for the financial support of any intervention.

While you are inquiring about referral resources, you and your director would do well to earn the parents’ trust gradually, so that the family will be more likely to follow through on your referrals.  I wish you good luck with this endeavor. It will take a dedicated person like you to guide this child and family to the help they need.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

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