Could New Year's resolutions help kindergartner with transitions?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 31, 2012 06:00 AM

Our son, who just recently turned 5 and is an only-child, is in a half-day Pre-K program at a private school. Because we require a full-day setting due to our work commitments, he also attends a combined Preschool/Pre-K half day class and is in an extended day setting after school as well. He was in a daycare-center setting from 9 mos until this past August. He was doing great there, learning quite a bit, though sometimes having trouble following friends with disruptive behavior. We planned his transition to his new school with his preschool teacher during last school year, trying to work on his confidence and knowing what is acceptable behavior at certain times. We purposely moved him to the private school (that we plan to send him to for elementary school) before Kindergarten as he can be a “slow to warm up” child at times. We thought it would be beneficial for him to not be the new kid along with a new school transition when there are some academic expectations as well.

Our son did great in the beginning of the school year. He was excited to go to school and didn’t want to leave when we would pick him up. The transition seemed a little too easy to be honest. But, as the school year has progressed, we have been receiving reports of some behavior problems at school. Primary behavior issues are not listening and complete disregard for teachers’ instruction/direction, class clown-type behavior during meal settings and the more formal learning parts of his day, and disrespect towards the teachers. The issue with listening and following direction is one we struggle with at home as well. Additionally, our son is very tall for his age and is often thought to be 1-2 years older than he is, meaning it is easy for adults to have greater expectations of him.

His teacher for the combo class has him (as well as some classmates) on a daily behavior sticker chart. Once we started using some positive reinforcement at home regarding how many stickers he gets every day, there has been definite improvement in that class. However, there has been no improvement in his Pre-K class. We have met with both teachers and discussed the situation. We all agreed that he is seeking attention and that positive reinforcement is the best approach to use instead of “scolding” him all day long for what he is doing wrong. But beyond that, I am at a loss on how to help him.

In hindsight, the transition from daycare to school with the multiple transitions during the day was probably not the best situation for him. However, at this point, we don’t want to change schools as we plan to send him to this school for Kindergarten and beyond. We don’t expect him to behave perfectly all the time. We expect that there will be reminders of what is the good choice to make, etc. How can we address the attention-seeking behavior he is showing at school but not necessarily at home and how can we help him to listen to direction both at school and home? Also, are we just expecting too much from him? I don’t want him to get labeled as a class clown or a troublemaker and have it turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

From: Concerned Mom in Southern NH


Why doesn't her son like to hug?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 27, 2012 06:00 AM

Dear Barbara, my only boy is 16 years old and still doesn't like to be hugged and kissed by myself or his sisters leave alone grandmothers or any other person. He will tolerate us, but then pushes us away. He likes it when I rub his back or massage him, but pulls away from any physical affection. We are a stable, loving family and we spend a lot of family time together and he will participate normally. What I also find strange is that he doesn't make eye contact with adults or teachers and the teachers find this offending. He listens to them by turning his ear towards them. There is nothing wrong with his hearing either. He is a good mannered child with no rebellious actions, but I am worried that this will cause problems in adulthood. Please advise.

From: Affectionate Mom, Namibia


What's behind this preschooler's cruelty to step-mom's cat?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 24, 2012 06:00 AM

I need some guidance in handling my step son. Before he started going to school, he was the sweetest little boy, not a single problem from him. Since he started school at age 3 (Trauma during birth caused a bleed in his right brain. Suffers from seizures. Taking medicine for it. Physical therapy and speech therapy since he was a baby. Early school program.), he seems to have transitioned into being cruel to people and animals. My cat, for example, he finds it hilarious to pull his tail, or push down on his back until he has him pinned down. I even caught him choking the cat twice. He only bothers him when he sees him or knows where he is. He sometimes seeks him out under the bed and drags him out by his tail. Because of the no corporal punishment rule his mother gave me, all I have is verbal and time out. So each time I have caught him doing these things to the cat, I have explained to him what he has done wrong, told him those things aren't allowed and explained that what he does is hurting my cat, and put him in time out. When it's time to allow him to get up, I ask him to tell me again what he did wrong, and he usually does. Then I allow him to get up. I do 1 minute for every year he is old for time out.

He is also cruel to people, too. His teachers get bit on a daily basis. Children in his school get hit with toys, and if they won't give him a toy, he stomps on it until it is broke just to hear the other kids cry. With me at home, he throws toys at me, bites, kicks, punches, claws, pulls my hair, grabs my ankles to watch me fall. He's pulled his privates out and peed on me, spits on me. During bath time, he had a pitcher he uses to pour water on his head. With him only being Preschool age (4), and having a disability (his seizures) me or his father have to stay present during his baths. The few times I have sat in there with him, he's thrown pitchers full of water in my face and laughs when I start choking. To reiterate, I don't have the option of swatting his hand or butt. Just time outs and verbal. He doesn't do this to his mom or his dad. I've been around him since he was 2. His parents were separated for a while before that, and I don't think it has to do with me coming into the picture. He was fine before that. I just don't understand what it is. Or even if it's because his mother keeps telling him not to listen to me (He told me she said that, she denies it, but kids repeat what they hear, right?). I need help. Badly.

From: Jessica, Ashland, MA


Mom of toddler, traumatized by Newtown murders, is afraid to take son out in public

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 20, 2012 06:00 AM

Dear Barbara,
I am the mother of a preschooler. Like all parents, I am deeply saddened and stunned by the devastating events in Newtown, CT. My son is unaware of this tragedy, and I obviously intend to keep it that way.
We are on holiday break now, but I find myself very fearful of sending him back to preschool--or even bringing him out in public at all lately. Is this a normal reaction, and is there anything that you can recommend I could do to ease my fears and feel empowered again? It is a scary world in which to live and raise a child.
Thank you in advance for any guidance.
From: Concerned toddler mom, North Shore, MA


Grandparents worry about "over-stepping" the mark

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 19, 2012 06:00 AM

I have five grandchildren. We have issues with one and a great relationship with the other four. The five-year old boy is bullying children and is rude to adults, including his grandparents. When he is with children his own age or younger, he is often confrontational. He continually interrupts adult conversation and his parents accommodate this behaviour. As a grandparent, I find it difficult to approach Mum and Dad with my concerns as I don't want to overstep the mark. Should I be brave and in a diplomatic manner, without children being present, express my concerns to Mum and Dad?

From: Mick, Macquarie fields, NSW, Australia
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Nitty-gritty of talking to your kids about Newtown

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 17, 2012 06:00 AM

The best you can do after school today, tomorrow -- any day, really, from now on -- is be prepared. Starting today, your children will have more information than you've given them about what happened in Newtown. Some of it will be accurate, some of it won't be. Depending on the age of a child or the age of the child who passed along so-called information, it will be tinted by magical thinking, that wonderful, imaginative ability children have to make connections that have no basis in reality. So, yes, we have to be prepared because something she or he will say may take your breath away, may confound you, may move you to tears. Please -- this is a good place to share those snippets and to share your struggles. If you have questions, I'll try to be as helpful as possible and to respond as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, let's start with ourselves. If you find yourself welling up in front of your child of any age, you don't to need hold back. It's OK to have honest emotion in front of your children. To a child of any age, but especially those under 8, say simply, "This just make me so sad." Here's the caveat: You need to recover and move on, and they need to see that. Wipe your tears, offer a hug, and continue with whatever you were doing. If you can't do that -- if you are so stricken by fear for your child or you're unable to stop crying or control when your sadness strikes -- seek professional guidance.

In general, here's what's true for any age child:

They will have questions, they will want to talk about this, but when and how depends on each child. Some children will need permission to talk about it: If this comes on the heels of a trauma or loss in your family, even young children may worry that talking about Newtown will upset you more so they will avoid talking about it.

Here's how you give permission. Ask an open-ended question: "Did you hear about Newtown (or whatever word you've been using to describe the tragedy) at school today?" With children under 6, if you haven't established a baseline conversation, ask this question instead: "Have you heard about a place called Newtown?"

Some children will say "No," even if the answer is yes. Maybe they just aren't in the mood to talk, maybe they are still processing what they've heard. Here's where the permission piece comes in. Say, "Well, Newtown is a town in Connecticut. if you have any questions about it, it's OK to ask me." You don't need to connect all the dots for children under 7, all you need to do is let them know you're available.

If a child says yes, here's your response: "Tell me what you know."

This is perhaps the most important words you can speak. Your goal is twofold: to help your children process information, and to make sure they know you are an askable parent --THE person they can come to for honest, truthful information. But you want to give children under 10 information they can handle, in sounds bites they can digest. The best way to do that is to speak to what they are thinking about. So you need to know what they know, you need to know what piece of all the many pieces they are processing, at this moment in time. It may not be what you expect. Maybe your first-grader blurts out: "Teachers died"!"

Keep your response simple and truthful: "Yes, that's true." That's enough to say. Allow for a pause.

"I don't want my teacher to die!"

Now your job is to affirm his feelings: "I know! Of course we don't want your teacher to die."

Allow for a pause. See where he goes. And now here comes the piece that you may not feel 100% but you need to say for your child's peace of mind: "Your school is doing everything it can to keep your teachers safe, and the students, too."

Again, pause and see where this goes. That may be enough.

Dear readers, this is a hard time for all parents, for all kids. Keep the channels open. Please send in your questions about conversations you have with your kids of all ages. I'll respond as quickly as possible.

Youngster attaches himself to "strangers"

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 14, 2012 06:00 AM

I have a 2.4 yr old and a 1.2 yr old. I try to give them both their own mommy time and encourage both of them. When my son does not like something that he is told or does not get what he wants, he runs to strangers and grabs their legs and refuses to let go. As soon as the stranger responds to him, he pulls away as if he does not know why they are engaging him. It has been really hard and I am not sure what to do about it.

From: Entregada, Powder Springs, GA


Middle child crying -- figuratively and otherwise -- for more time with mom

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 10, 2012 06:00 AM

I have 3 children ages 2, 4, and 6. My 4 year old son has been very difficult lately. I've followed your blog for ages and try to use the tips I've read here but I am at a loss. Maybe this is a phase and I just need to wait it out but I'd love some advice.

Over the past few months, my 4 year old has been very actively misbehaving. Not with violence but with doing exactly what we ask him not to do. I try to stay calm and give him options but he will just ignore them and keep doing what he's doing. [Here's] the most recent example from last night. He was playing and having a good time with my 2 year old but he was throwing toys. I calmly asked him to stop. He looked at me and did it again. I picked him up and moved him from the room and said that it was dangerous and I didn't want him to keep doing that. But he squirmed away, ran back and threw again. So I picked him up, put him on the bottom stair and asked him to sit there because he was not listening. He sat there but started bawling and screaming "Mommy!" at the top of his lungs for 15 minutes. Finally he stopped and I told him he could come back into the room.

This exact thing happens every day. Not with throwing but it's always something that starts very small and ends very big. I ignore when he's screaming because I don't want him to get the idea that screaming and making himself cry is what gets attention but I also know you've said not to leave kids alone during tantrums. There are times when I have figured out how to handle it (e.g. I ask him to get dressed before he eats in the morning or else he'll eat, then say he doesn't "feel like" getting dressed and it ends up being a battle as I'm trying to get 3 kids out the door. This doesn't happen anymore because I just keep saying, "Sure, I'll get you breakfast as soon as you're dressed.") But there are so many other times when I can't do something like that and these long daily battles are getting beyond frustrating.

From: S.E.K., Boston


Cell phone for a 5-year-old? Tell me you're joking

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 7, 2012 06:00 AM

My son is five years old. i would like to get him a cell phone to only call his sisters and grandparents and myself.

From: A parent (no location given)


Coping skills for a change-adverse child

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 5, 2012 06:00 AM

I have a question about Kindergarten preparedness. We just moved to a new town and my 5 year old daughter will be starting kindergarten next fall. She is bright, very friendly/outgoing, and I'm confident she will do great.

I have noticed with her that she has a lot of anticipation anxiety. For big changes (when her brother was born, and when we recently moved) we had the most trouble before the big event happened. I've tried to not talk about things ahead of time with her. Even if I think it would help me, I know it just makes her anxious. That said, she is very used to her routine of preschool 3 days a week and switching to 5 days at a new school will be a big adjustment. Do you have any tips on how to help a kid who has anticipation anxiety prepare for a big change? I don't want to over-talk but I also want her to know what's going on. Thanks!

From: Jessica, Belmont, MA


First grader doesn't want to go to school

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz December 4, 2012 06:00 AM

Hi Barbara,

My DD recently turned 7. She is in 1st grade. This school year she has started crying and complaining of stomach aches in the morning when we are getting her ready for school.
I've worked her whole life and she has always gone to daycare and been away from me during the day.

Last year in Kindergarten she was excited to go to school. This year about 75% of the time she either starts crying that her belly hurts or is just sobbing that she doesn't want to go. I've spoken to her teacher (who is male) and he has said she is great in class and hasn't complained of stomach aches or been crying. I mention that he is male because DD has said that she misses us and that no one takes care of her like we do. And perhaps having a male teacher is less nurturing? I'm just grasping at straws here.

She's been going to an in-home daycare for the past 18 months after school and it's been fine, but in the past 2 months she is telling me how much she hates it. But the lady that watches her is telling me she is having a great time. This past Monday, after being at home for a week for Thanksgiving Break, she actually went to the nurse at school complaining of a belly ache. This is the first time she has done that. I think she was trying to get sent home. But the nurse put her on the bus since it was the end of the day.

Her bus driver has told me that she is mostly chatty and having fun with friends on the bus to and from school everyday. She has lots of friends. I don't think bullying or teasing is really the issue. DD has stated many times that she just misses us and it makes her cry. This morning we tried sending her to school with some pictures of the whole family so she could look at them if she needed to. Yesterday my husband included a little note in her lunchbox. But she said she read it and it made her cry!

How do we stop the tears? I think she is mostly fine during the day at school once she is with friends and having fun. The teacher said he never would have guessed that she was struggling to get on the bus every day. Should we ignore it in the morning? We are trying to keep her getting on the bus and going to school. Once in a blue moon we will have to drive her because she missed the bus while in the bathroom saying she has a stomach ache. Her pediatrician says it's anxiety and to keep getting her on the bus because once you let her stay home, she will try to do that again. So, do we ignore? Talk to her more about how she's feeling? This morning I asked about it and it sent her from not crying into a 30 minute sob fest. She said she felt stupid crying but that she couldn't help it.

Help us!
From: Kristen, Burlington (Ma? Vt? LW doesn't say)


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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