|Subject: Hitting and tantrums at preschool
My three-year-old has begun hitting in preschool.
In the past, when this happened, we were able to tell him to use his
words instead of his fists, as he has a very large vocabulary. He is an
only child, and his mother is home with him every day except for the
three hours he is in school, three days a week. When we talk to him
about the hitting, he only says that he likes to hit. We have also
noticed that his tantrums at home have increased in frequency, duration
and intensity. What alternatives do we have in handling this behavior?
|Out of clutter, find simplicity.
Out of discord, find harmony.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
"In the middle of difficulty lies
opportunity." When a child exhibits unwanted behavior in a
particular situation, we have several opportunities. We have the chance
to interpret that behavior and to understand what it is that the child
is attempting to communicate. We can also reexamine some long-held but
false assumptions about the needs of young children, and about the
nature of learning. So I thank you for these opportunities which spring
from your questions about your child's behavior.
Whenever we think there is a "problem"
with a child's behavior, we can be sure that false assumptions are at
work. Why? As Rick Lahrson, Executive Director of The Kids' Project, has
written, "In early childhood, nearly everything we do is either an
attempt to contribute to another or an attempt to improve our ability to
contribute, or an attempt to survive - in order to contribute. Misbehavior
in children is an attempt to communicate, when all else has failed."
Because of the many false assumptions about childhood in our society,
children are mistrusted and misunderstood to the extent that unwanted
behavior is seen as an isolated action to correct, rather than an
important communication from the child to those who care about him.
With misbehavior in a preschool setting, there are
three such false assumptions:
1. Our society assumes that every child of
three should be capable of spending hours at a time away from his
parents in a new environment. Yet research has clearly shown that
the "clingy, dependent" toddler, who is given sufficient
opportunity to bond closely with his parents and is not required to
mature faster than he is capable of doing, is the child who grows up to
be an independent, self-reliant adult. Conversely, the child who is
forced into independence before he is able to handle it, may never fully
mature, because his emotional needs have not been met at the proper time
in his development. The Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce
offers a fascinating look at this aspect of child development.
No one would expect every flower in a garden to
bloom at the same time, yet our society expects every child to be ready
for school at the same age. In fact, there is no "magic age"
when all children suddenly become ready to spend time away from their
parents. As with all developmental stages, each child has a built-in,
unique schedule. Parents who accept and cherish their child "as
is," who willingly meet dependency needs as they arise, and who
allow the child to indicate in words and behavior when he is ready to
move on to the next level of development, are doing their job in the
easiest and most effective way.
2. A second assumption that should be examined is
that preschool is the best preparation for school. Here, too,
research has proven otherwise. Even one year can make a significant
difference. A seven-year study of seventy schoolchildren in Cincinnati
revealed that 81% of the boys who waited a year to start school had
above-average grades, compared to only 47% of those who started early.
100% of the girls who waited had above-average grades, compared to only
60% of those who started early. In fact, many studies have shown that
the longer a child waits to start school, the better his performance
when he or she begins. Those who have homeschooled throughout their
childhood score the highest, on both social and academic measures.
3. The third false assumption is that school is
the best preparation for life. Again, researchers have found that
former homeschoolers are often more successful in social, academic, and
professional areas than their schooled peers. Many famous and successful
persons homeschooled: Andrew Carnegie, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward,
Charles Dickins, Isadora Duncan, Thomas Edison, Claude Monet, and Mark
Twain, among many others. Clearly, school attendance is not a necessary
prerequisite for a creative and successful life - and for many, it can
be a hindrance.
As you may be suspecting by now (despite what
relatives and friends may be telling you), a child of three is very young
to be spending several hours at a time away from his parents. A
three-hour separation may not seem long to an adult, but it can be
extremely stressful for a young child. Research studies have clearly
shown that children who remain at home during their early years are
happier, more cooperative, and score more highly in social, verbal, and
other developmental tests. My article "Homeschooling: Nurturing
Children's Natural Love of Learning" covers these topics more
Unless there are other stressful factors in your
family situation, I strongly suspect that your son is trying hard to
tell you something that even a verbal child may find difficult to
express: he does not feel ready for something that he is being asked
to do. Preschool has probably been presented to him as the
"right" thing to do. If he finds the separation or the
preschool environment too stressful, he may be feeling inadequate and
guilty about his failure to meet his parents' hopes and expectations.
It is often the brightest and most creative
children who recognize early on that the structure of school is stifling
and restrictive. A child who "misbehaves" in a preschool
setting may simply be trying to do instead the work all children are
meant to do at that age: to develop and maintain a close, trusting bond
with caring parents. In a paper titled "A Nation Really at
Risk", Dr. John Raven wrote:
"Not only does schooling at this [early] age
not have an effect on subsequent educational attainment, the research
evidence points increasingly toward the home as a much stronger,
and much more important, educational agency than the school - especially
in relation to the really important qualities which young people need to
develop. Schools are, in general, very much worse than most
parents at developing adventurousness, inquisitiveness, self-confidence,
and curiosity in children.
"If educators wish to promote the development
of young children, their starting point must be with community support
networks for adults... which will enable more parents to relate to their
own children in a sensitive, developmental way. It is parents, and
parents alone, who are in a position to give each child the individual
attention he or she needs, and to "read" the meaning of his or
her gestures in such a way as to be able to create a developmental
environment which will lead the child to develop his talents."
Let your heart hear what your son is trying to say
with his behavior. Forcing a child to do something that he is not
capable of doing - or should not be doing - at his present developmental
age will always backfire. Expecting one's child to fit into a certain
situation because other children appear to fit in is unrealistic. Each
child develops at his own rate, and each child has his own best style of
learning (see my article "Learning Disability: A Rose by Any Other
Name"). One of the reasons I recommend homeschooling is that it
takes individual differences into account, in a way that no school
A key factor in a situation of this kind is choice.
If a child is being asked to do something, and given no choice in the
matter, he may find it an impossible task. If the same child is
presented with a choice, he may actually choose what the parents had
been about to require. One reason that former homeschoolers usually do
very well if they try school at a later time is that they know they
always have the option of returning to homeschooling.
In the following books, the authors discuss the
nature of children's learning and the value of helping them learn at
home for as long as possible.
The Hurried Child by David Elkind:
Dr. Elkind discusses the issue of children
pressured by the many forces of our culture into growing up too fast.
Teach Your Own by John Holt
This is the single best "how to" book
for homeschooling families.
In Their Own Way by Thomas Armstrong
This book describes various learning styles found
among children, that schools do not take into account. An awareness of
these styles can help parents to identify and work with their child's
personal learning style.
How Children Learn by John Holt
John Holt's classic of educational thought, How
Children Learn has sold nearly one million copies. In the belief that
young children tend to learn better than adults, Holt urges parents to
trust their children. I consider this an essential book for all
parents, regardless of whether their children attend school.
I hope that these suggestions are helpful for you
in finding a good solution.