Dear Polly, One of the 4-year-olds in my class contradicts just about everything I say. If I say it looks like rain, Anthony says it's sunny. If I say our classroom needs to be cleaned up, he's says it's neat and pretty! How should I respond to him?

Most preschoolers want to assert themselves and demonstrate their knowledge and good ideas, but when it takes the form of arguing with the teacher, it can certainly be annoying!

Why does Anthony argue so much? He may be signaling that he's not getting enough recognition. Perhaps he has older siblings at home who discount his ideas. Or maybe other children in the class exclude him from their talk and games.

Here are some things you can do to help Anthony change his behavior:

• Recognize that he has something to contribute. Children need to be heard and respected, so encourage Anthony to share his thoughts-but take control of the situation. Invite his input when appropriate. For example, when you're mixing paint, ask him to suggest colors. Give him an opportunity to share his ideas about a story you have read: "Why do you think the bear wanted to go to the party?" Listen attentively and respond to what he says.

• Examine your behavior with Anthony. Sometimes teachers unintentionally encourage children to argue by acting too wishy-washy. While it is important to support children's ideas and sense of independence, we also have to let them know what is expected of them. If a child argues about things such as safety issues or hand washing, in a pleasant but firm voice, say something like: "At school, we always wash our hands after going to the bathroom. It's not a choice." Then, if possible, offer him a choice on something else.

• Have a conference with Anthony's parents. Start by praising his positive behaviors. Then say: "There's one problem that I'd like your help with." Describe his behavior and give examples. Ask the parents if he argues this way at home. If they say he does, ask: "Do you have any thoughts about why he does this?" Listen to their ideas and then bring up your thoughts about possible causes. If his parents say he isn't argumentative at home, think about ways in which the school environment may be causing the behavior.

A comforting thought: All the typical overconfident 4-year-old behaviors-including arguing-are usually just a stage. Given guidance, most 4-year-- olds will turn into 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds who have an accurate confidence in their abilities and a more gracious way of showing it!

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