Q: My 3-year-old started preschool about two months ago. He did great. However, this week he began being defiant and not following directions. Then he kicked, screamed and spit at his teachers. We’ve taken away his blankie and bicycle and put him in his room for about 30-45 minutes each day. We talked to him about why this is unacceptable, but we are afraid this might be the beginning of a new phase. Any discipline suggestions to stop this?
Discipline suggestion No. 1 is to stop talking to him about why his behavior is unacceptable, alternatives, good choices, and the like. To a 3-year-old, a long-winded explanation is nothing but blah, blah, blah. He may listen. He may act like he understands. He may even nod his head when asked “Do you understand?” He may not be clear on what you’re telling him, but he knows how to make incessant talking stop.
The further problem with explanations is they sound persuasive as opposed to authoritative. In this case, an explanation of why certain of his behaviors are unacceptable is likely to come off as though you are beseeching him to please stop kicking, screaming and spitting. Parents often end with the squishy word “Okay?” They are examples of what I call “wimp speech.”
Suggestion No. 2 is that you simply repeat to him what happened that day: “You kicked the teacher when she told you to pick up your toys, you screamed at her when she told you to stop running and you spit at her when she was walking you to time-out.” He will understand a concrete description. Better still, he will realize that you are backing the teacher’s authority in the classroom. Declarative statements of that sort are examples of what I call “leadership speech.”
Suggestion No. 3 is that you begin using consequences that, from your son’s point of view, are HUGE. So, after making a statement along the lines of No. 2, put him in his room for the rest of the day and to bed immediately after dinner. That will make an impression on him. Five to 10 such impressions should be sufficient to restore his good classroom behavior.
Suggestion No. 4 is that you make clear that you will tolerate absolutely no misbehavior at school.