Child Caring

Preschooler's acting-out could be kindergarten related

Our five year old son has always been very laid back and calm. Lately he has been acting out more with, "I can't hear you," and turning his head. He often just won't listen or comply and pushes back about the silliest things. It's usually just with us the parents, but lately have heard a few comments from the preschool as they have never had this behavior with him. No, there is nothing new, no changes, nothing different that would indicate a change. Is this normal growing pains for his age? Is there something, or some strategies, that work best here?
From: Lucy, Foxboro, MA

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Hi Lucy,

I wonder if some adult in his life -- babysitter, grandparent, playmate's parent -- uses the "I can't hear you" strategy as a form of discipline? Because what he's doing sure sounds like mimicry. One way to address it is to remind him of the rules of the family: "In our family, the rule is, we say please and thank you. In our family, the rule is, when an adult asks a child a question, the child answers."

When you say he's pushing back about "the silliest" of things, keep in mind that they likely aren't silly to him. Try giving him more choices so he can feel a greater sense of control over his life. You do this already? Do it more. Are the choices you offer real choices? Do you offer choices and then rescind?

Is he going to kindergarten next fall? This is typically a time of year when there's some discussion in preschool about kindergarten; kindergarten evaluations; or just casual conversation about it among parents that kids over hear. For some kids, this can translate to a worry: Am I grown up enough to go to kindergarten? Will mom and dad still take care of me? Even kids with older sibs can vacillate between thinking, "I want to go to kindergarten," "I want to stay a little kid." As they move around on this continuum, it can fuel a lot of unexpected, often regressive behaviors. Address this by telling him (and you can say this out of the blue, it doesn't necessarily need a context): "I heard that some kids wonder when they go to kindergarten if mom and dad will still take care of them. In case you were wondering, the answer is yes. Mom and dad will take care of you just like always." (For those of you who have my book, there's a section on this there.)