|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
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
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 fully.
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
"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 system can.
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
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.