Child Caring

Could New Year's resolutions help kindergartner with transitions?

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

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Dear Concerned Mom,

My guess is that there is nothing more going on here than exactly what you suspect: a young child who was over-whelmed with too many transitions. I also suspect this will be even worse when school starts up again on Wednesday.

All kids have trouble after breaks in routines, and it sounds like your son is particularly susceptible. Even though tomorrow is New Year's Day, try to restore some semblance of school-day routine to it -- especially wake-up time (sorry -- you don't get to sleep in!) -- so that Wednesday won't be too much of a shock to his system. At the very least, remind him that the next day will be a school day and remind him about aspects of it that he will be happy to return to. Don't dwell on it, just get it out there. Wednesday might be a tough day for him, so allow some wiggle room into your morning.

The sticker charts are a good idea for children this age and since it's helped him, keep it up, maybe even start a whole new sequence on Wednesday. As new levels of cognition kick in for him, his difficulty with transition will likely ease but some kids just take longer for this to happen than others. Other thoughts:

* Talk about 2013 as a new year, model the concept of New Year's resolutions for him and
suggest that he might like to make resolutions. What might they be? Steer him to the idea of being a good listener in school but be specific about that what means; it's not concrete enough to just say, "Be a good listener." Ask him, exactly what does that mean: to put activities away when teachers say time is up? To not touch anyone during circle time?

* Have you asked him what you can do to make the transitions easier? Sometimes we avoid direct questions like that because we fear the answer will be, "I don't want to ever go there again!" If that's the response you get, tell him that isn't a choice but you would like to help him so it's easier for him to be there. What ideas does he have? A direct conversation like this can put an end to the acting out: once a child sees that you are firm about this, he'll finally move on.

* The behaviors you're describing -- not listening, disregard and disrespect for teachers -- could be caused by a range and/or combination of factors including other kids' behaviors that egg him on; insecurity about his ability to meet expectations; behavioral or learning challenges. From your description, the teachers are on top of the situation and they are your best barometers for whether these are problems that need intervention.

* Click here for Mini Magic, a column of strategies.