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My oldest child (5 year and a half son) has been more agitated lately in pre-kindergarden and often will make other kids laugh or disrupt activities in class.

We have been getting more feedback like this lately (from his teacher) and it is a bit discouraging for me and my girlfriend as I am unsure how to tackle this and we are afraid this behavior is going to carry on in kindergarden.

I have talked to him a couple of times already about the fact that it is not acceptable to disrupt classroom like he does (or talkback to his teacher). However, as much as he seems to understand it is not fun to get distracted like that (I made him relate to the fact that he doesn't like when his two years old sister talks during the time I read them stories for instance) he keeps doing it.

Background information:

He goes to pre-kindergarden twice a week (during the morning). My girlfriend is a stay-at-home mom and we also have two daughters. We get weekly report cards from the teacher and they used to be positive but, as stated above, lately he has been "losing stars" on his cards. He knows he's going to school soon (in September) so we are thinking it might be related to anxiety (new stuff tends to makes him anxious but he breaks the ice quite easily). For the last two or so weeks, he started crying when my girlfriend leaves from the pre-kindergarden class. He will sometimes hug her leg, just like little kids do when they are younger (again, separation anxiety?).

Additional information:

  • He's always happy in class and participates a lot, he just seems not to listen to instruction or disrupt activities.
  • His teacher told us that our son had talked back to him (ex:"Let's do activity A", (him) "No I won't"). And sometimes just laugh at instructions given to him. This is something I realized we had a problem with a while ago. I used to let him argue with me. However, I have tried to eliminate that.
  • He is a smart kid, and has got a whole lot of stimulation when he was younger. During diner, he often talks on an on. Out of my 3 kids, I would say he is the one who requires the most attention still.
  • I have an anxious personality. While I try to control myself and not let it show to him. I am afraid he can still sense it sometimes. I would not say, him going to kindergarden is something that makes me anxious however.

While I do not see this has a huge problem (since this is pre-kindergarden) I don't want it to snowball. I also do not like the fact that he might be bothering other kids or be impolite to his teacher. Could any of you shed some light of what we might be doing wrong or what we could be doing to help the situation?

Thanks in advance.

EDITED To Add: Nothing new or odd is happening aside from the from the fact that I think he is more aware that school is starting soon. It's good to note that we had remarks similar to the one above from his teacher before (or other play groups), but it just wasn't a common occurrence. At least to me it was more normal. As far as discipline; it's normally time out alone in his room if he's too agitated or if he hits/hurt he would go in the corner. We do use the reward system from time to time (grid with sticker, etc). I've stopped arguing at home by simply letting him know that no means no. For instance if he asks for the tablet and I don't want him to, I used to argue on the reasons of why he could not have it with him. Now I will tell him, for example, "you can't have the tablet because reason X". If he try to argue about it, I will ask him "what did I just tell you?", to which he will repeat what I just said for instance, and I simply let him know that my answers stays the same.

  • Can you tell us about his mother, and if there's anything going on there? Is there anything new in his life? What system of discipline do you use at home? Do you use rewards and time outs/other? How is it working? How have you stopped him from arguing with you at home? I know I've just bombarded you with a lot of questions, but the more we know, the better we can advise. Finally, welcome to the site! :-) I hope we can help you. – anongoodnurse Jun 10 '15 at 3:53
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    Thank you @anongoodnurse. I'll try to answer some of your questions in my post above. – gturc Jun 10 '15 at 15:48
  • Have you asked him why he does this, and if so, what was his answer? – Erik Jun 10 '15 at 18:27
5

It seems to be fairly common for boys of that age to start getting disruptive. (Not that girls can't be disruptive too, but it's less common for girls to directly act out that way - http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/marianne.bertrand/research/papers/the%20trouble%20with%20boys.pdf ) It's good that you are addressing the problem early. Having the report card is a great start. Now, what do you do about it when you get the card? Simply getting a piece of paper isn't going to mean anything to him.

He's very young now, but setting the groundwork for kindergarten and later years is very important. Show him that you are a part of what is happening at school, and that will give you far more influence over how he behaves there. Show him that you are going to back up his teachers, and he will be more likely to listen to them.

Rewards are far more effective than punishment, and so I would set up a consistent and very visible system of rewards for a good "report card". What does he love? Offer him more of it (you may have to cut back at first just to set up the contrast). As an example, we use electronics as a reward for our son. He would watch TV and play video games all day if he could. We cut him way back to nearly nothing (as a result of bad behavior) and now he has to earn all his time. This has produced a very positive change in him.

Maybe you could offer some sweet treat that you don't like him to have normally (if you have all stars on your report card I will take you to Baskin Robbins for ice cream). Or an outing (all stars gets you a trip to the bouncy house). Or a choice (all stars means you get to pick where we go out to dinner on our Saturday lunch). Offer lesser versions of the rewards for lesser performance.

It is important to clearly define what is expected, what the reward (or punishment, if that becomes necessary) and to absolutely stick to it. If something is to be an effective reward he can't be thinking he can just wheedle it out of you if he falls short. That will undermine its effectiveness. And just as important, if he earns it you need to deliver or you'll lose his trust.

It doesn't sound as if you are doing anything wrong. He's approaching the cusp of independence (a little early by most standards (http://www.pbs.org/parents/childdevelopmenttracker/five/) but every child develops differently) and these behaviors are to be anticipated. All you need to do is learn how to gently channel your little guy down a path that leads to a more mature set of behaviors.

Dr Sears has some advice on how to deal with disruption in school (http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-disruptive-in-school).

A good reference on six year old emotional development (I know your son is five but he may be progressing just a bit ahead of schedule): http://childparenting.about.com/od/physicalemotionalgrowth/a/6-Year-Old-Child-Emotional-Development.htm

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    Could you please support your claims with some sources, e.g. "It seems to be fairly common for boys of that age to start getting disruptive." Why do you say this? The SE model is for verifiable answers. While we value experience, we really appreciate references for further reading. – anongoodnurse Jun 10 '15 at 3:45
  • Well, googling produces, right off the top parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-disruptive-in-school – Francine DeGrood Taylor Jun 10 '15 at 17:53
  • ...but mostly it's just personal experience that leads me to this observation. I spent my twenties working at over a dozen different summer camps, from Catholic Youth and Boy Scouts to MeRe and 4-H. I supervised groups of boys and groups of girls and there's a noticeable different in their behavior, on average. None as young as six, but I did have some 7 year old campers. Boys don't ask for attention, they demand it. (look at me!) Girls tend to be less direct (my feet hurt, there's dirt in my hair, etc) – Francine DeGrood Taylor Jun 10 '15 at 18:00
  • I also heard from my son's teachers that boys tend to be louder and more disruptive and prone to egging each other on. Girls exert their growing independence in quieter ways. Six years old is usually the cusp of their first push for independence (childparenting.about.com/od/physicalemotionalgrowth/tp/…) Rebelling against authority in little ways, like being disruptive in class, can be part of that push. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Jun 10 '15 at 18:06
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It's great that you've got the self-awareness and the honesty to recognize your own anxiety.

You may want to observe the class once, or volunteer to help out one day, so you can get a feel for what's going on.

Some of the change you're seeing may be that pre-school is no longer challenging or fascinating for your son this far along in the year.

Some of it may be that as the weather warms up, children gravitate to outdoor, active pursuits, and get more easily fed up with being confined in a classroom.

Some of it may be related to the teacher being stressed about something, which might not even have anything to do with the students or the school.

Some of it may be related to the child being underchallenged.

There is tremendous variation among teachers and atmospheres in early childhood classrooms. So, the current situation may or may not be an accurate predictor of what will happen next year. What you could do now, in terms of channeling your anxiety positively, would be to write a letter to the principal letting him or her know what type of situation your son does best in, to enable the school to place him with a teacher that will be a good fit.

If you haven't tried a parent-teacher conference yet, you might give it a shot. Make it short, bring the teacher a card or a end-of-year thank-you gift, and ask the teacher if she has some hunches about the decline in behavior.

If behavior is an issue in kindergarten, you can ask for occupational therapy services, which would give your son a break from the classroom. These services could give him an opportunity to run around, play in a ball pool, slide around with a yoga ball on a mat, etc.

You might want to mention your concerns next time you see your son's doctor. If only to let the doctor know to be watching your son's trajectory over time.

Your son sounds like a dynamic individual, full of life, with a lot to offer.

  • Parent-teacher is a bit late for this year since it was his last class yesterday (and it went well despite the whole class being agitated). I think it might be a combinations of points you mentioned (summer, challenge, etc). I will try not to get too worried about it right now and re-assess the situation once he is in kindergarden in september. – gturc Jun 11 '15 at 11:42

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