How to Support a Preschool Child With Behavior Problems

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Along with their ABCs and 1-2-3s, preschool students learn important lessons in proper classroom behavior. As this is the first classroom education experience for many preschool students, they have not yet developed their understanding of how to behave properly within a class and may, as a result, struggle to follow directions and behave properly. If your preschool-aged child seems to struggle with behavior, you can teach him proper behavior at home that will translate to the classroom setting.

Step 1

Get the child involved with rule making. By making your child follow a set of written rules at home, you can prepare him to do the same in school. Now that your child is old enough to know the basics of right and wrong, you can sit down with him and discuss his behavior. Ask him to help you come up with a list of things he shouldn’t do at home. Write a rule for each thing he mentions, and place the list on the refrigerator. Read the rules to your child periodically, and reference them when punishing him, to ensure that he doesn’t forget.

Step 2

Provide visual cues. Because your preschool child can likely not yet read, you may need to provide him with visual cues that he can interpret. To create these cues, read one rule aloud at a time, and ask the child to draw a picture to accompany each. For example, if one of the rules is “Don’t hit,” he could draw a picture of a stick figure hitting another and place a red X over the image. Hang these pictures next to the list to remind your child.

Step 3

Use the language of choice. By using the language of choice, you allow your child to see that he has a choice in every situation. This helps the child feel empowered and shows him that it is up to him whether he gets punished. To use this language, simply tell the misbehaving child that he has a choice, and present him with two options. For example, if your child refuses to pick up his toys, you can tell him, “Tommy, you have a choice. You can pick up your toys, or Mommy will pick them up and you will not get to play with your favorite race car tomorrow.” Allow the child time to make his choice, and if he chooses poorly, follow through with your threat. He will eventually see that his choices dictate what happens to him.

Step 4

Pair punishments with explanations. If you punish your child without explaining to him why he is being punished, he will not learn from the experience. Instead, always remind the child of what he did wrong and why he is being punished when dispensing the punishment.

Step 5

Make it clear that it is the behavior that is bad, not the child. Your preschooler is still developing his sense of self. If you fail to remind that child that he isn’t bad, he will begin to see himself as a bad child and feel that misbehaving is just what he does. To make it clear to your child that he is not bad, plainly tell him, “Tommy, it is not you that is bad; it is hitting your sister that is bad.”

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