Dear Polly, This year, I have a 5-year-old in my class named Bobby who is very destructive. He knocks things down, pushes classmates, rips classroom materials. His behavior is particularly hard to deal with during meeting or story times. I've tried talking to him, moving things out of his way-even trying to have his peers support his positive behaviors. But nothing seems to work!

As teachers know, preschool- and kindergarten-age boys are generally more active than most girls the same age. In many cases, they are also more physical and impulsive. Boys in this age range don't flourish or learn most effectively in sit-down-and-be-quiet settings, and they're not ready for a barrage of technical "reading readiness" and reading skills.

At the same time, you and I both know that boys aren't born meaner than girls! A boy may be playing an aggressive chase game and inadvertently race into the midst of two "mothers" feeding their dolls. But he wasn't intending to send them, or their babies, sprawling. He was just trying to catch and jail the "bad guy."

So, one thing I would work on very consistently no matter how much time it takes is helping Bobby notice the child or children he's disturbing. What are they doing? How do they feel when Bobby does whatever he just did? I would frequently call attention to what other children are doing even when Bobby isn't being a bother. He needs to learn to see things from other people's perspectives. There also seems to be a lot of emotion involved here-feelings that Bobby needs to learn to handle in more acceptable ways.

How can you counteract the problem?

• Have a conference with the child: "Sometimes people feel upset. It's okay to have angry or worried feelings. It's good to talk about them. It's never okay to hurt other people or their feelings."

• Listen empathetically and clarify your expectations. Emphasize: "You are the boss of your own behavior. Together, we can solve this problem."

• Have a conference with the parent(s). Emphasize their child's positive characteristics and bring them into the situation by saying:

  • "There is one thing that concerns me." (Describe the problem, using specific anecdotes, if possible.)
  • "Have you noticed any behaviors like this at home?" (Listen attentively. Ask how they handle these situations at home.)
  • "I have some ideas about how to help with this problem at school, and I'd very much like to hear your suggestions. I'm confident that together we can solve this problem."

• Talk about the problem and ask the other children for their suggestions. Keep the tone constructive and end your meeting by asking children to clap or stamp their feet if they promise to help.

• Finally, see if there might be some ways to involve this child and make him feel helpful so he isn't being destructive to get attention. If an incident is about to occur, cheerfully invite the child to do something interesting. Keep in mind that finding an absorbing alternative usually helps.