Preschooler needs help with social cues

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 30, 2011 06:00 AM

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My son is 5 years old and has always been very curious, active and impulsive. I just figured it was his personality and, even though it got frustrating at times, didn't worry about it. I have 2 younger children and they are actually easier to watch at playgrounds, stores, etc. because they do not need to touch and explore everything like my oldest does even when I explain beforehand that we need to stay together and not touch things unless we ask first.

However last week, his preschool teacher pulled me aside and said that it was becoming disruptive to the class. There are 2 other boys who he is close with and he just cannot keep his hands off them. I also see this at home with his 18 month old brother. The touching, shouting and grabbing is never done maliciously but always out of excitment. Also, when there is something he wants to touch he will touch it no matter what, like he has no control over his hand reaching for it. Often when he is playing with kids he gets so over-excited and doesn't know when to stop with the grabbing and hugging. A friend of mine suggested OT for him as it may help him find other ways of expressing his feelings. I understand that he may always be a high energy kid but when it's disruptive to those around him I feel I need to help him make some changes.

I have tried everything in my playbook: getting down to his level and calmly explaining that it can be dangerous or not fun for other kids, timeouts, raising my voice. But 2 minutes later he's at it again. It's like he can't NOT do something. He is a smart, caring kid. He sleeps well, eats well, has friends and is overall a wonderful person but this thing is becoming exhausting for me and a problem at school. How can I help him think before he does gets rough or grabs things he knows he shouldn't? Again I don't expect these to go away completely as he is a young kid learning about the world but I don't want it to snowball into him being a kid who no one wants to play with and who gets in trouble all the time at school. Thank you.

From: Amanda, Boston

Dear Amanda,

When a preschool teacher says a child is being disruptive, it usually means they've been through their bag of tricks, which tells me that your son isn't responding to what works with a typical child. I'm a firm believer that preschool teachers have a good basis of comparison, especially if they've been at it for a number of years.

Sometimes a kid like you're describing may respond to rules -- "The rule is, no touching anyone unless you ask if it's OK to touch." Even so, he will likely benefit from professional help to recognize and respond to social cues. The suggestion to start with an OT is a good one, but he might also benefit from a developmental evaluation. In Massachusetts, your school district is a good place to turn for help.

BTW, I applaud you for recognizing behaviors that aren't typical and wanting to get him help; research shows that when kids need intervention, getting it early makes a big difference. Is it possible you're over-reacting and he will grow out of this? Sure. But the teacher is flagging his behavior and that, to me, makes this a no-brainer.

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3 comments so far...
  1. Your son sounds like my son when he first started pre-school! I know exactly how it feels. Once I noticed that it was more than curious toddler behavior I talked to his teacher about other reasources for him. Turns out they were offering 'play therapy' sessions for children to were having some trouble adjusting. Fast forward 3 years later and my son is 6 yrs old in the first grade. I now understand that my son has different sensory needs and is a "sensory seeking" child. I didn't have my son officially evaluated until he entered K2 but you can do it early, at 3 yrs old they offer early intervention which is an amazing service for children 3 years old and younger. My son's need to touch everything has not gone away, but we now have the skills to cope with these needs at home, out in public and play different "games" that help him keeps his hands busy. I urge you to look into play therapy, early intervention and OT. The can be a huge help!

    Posted by Gina November 30, 11 11:31 AM
  1. I agree with the suggestion for OT. I wonder if this child has a sensory integration issue. I am sure thatthis is over the top but just a thought. I agree that getting an evaluation can't hurt. If nothing, then at least you learn other techniques as to how to help him control his urges to constantly touch things.

    Posted by jd November 30, 11 12:03 PM
  1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder comes to mind for this level of inability to control or remember the rules. Good luck with treatment.

    Posted by Irene December 1, 11 08:45 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. Your son sounds like my son when he first started pre-school! I know exactly how it feels. Once I noticed that it was more than curious toddler behavior I talked to his teacher about other reasources for him. Turns out they were offering 'play therapy' sessions for children to were having some trouble adjusting. Fast forward 3 years later and my son is 6 yrs old in the first grade. I now understand that my son has different sensory needs and is a "sensory seeking" child. I didn't have my son officially evaluated until he entered K2 but you can do it early, at 3 yrs old they offer early intervention which is an amazing service for children 3 years old and younger. My son's need to touch everything has not gone away, but we now have the skills to cope with these needs at home, out in public and play different "games" that help him keeps his hands busy. I urge you to look into play therapy, early intervention and OT. The can be a huge help!

    Posted by Gina November 30, 11 11:31 AM
  1. I agree with the suggestion for OT. I wonder if this child has a sensory integration issue. I am sure thatthis is over the top but just a thought. I agree that getting an evaluation can't hurt. If nothing, then at least you learn other techniques as to how to help him control his urges to constantly touch things.

    Posted by jd November 30, 11 12:03 PM
  1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder comes to mind for this level of inability to control or remember the rules. Good luck with treatment.

    Posted by Irene December 1, 11 08:45 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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