My 4-, soon to be 5-, year-old daughter has temper tantrums at preschool. She does not have them for me and has not had them for me for the past couple of years. I never fed her temper tantrums. It took my husband longer to get the point, but thankfully she has quit having them for him as well.

The problem I have is that she is doing great academically. She can read, write some, color, spell, and some very basic math. Her preschool teacher insists she thinks she is on the autism spectrum due to her "behavior problems". They treat her temper tantrums like she can not control them. But she can and she does. My daughter does not like to do certain things. She does not like to color, but loves to play with crayons. Don't get me wrong, she can color and stay in the lines...but it is not her favorite activity. So, if she is required to color for an activity at school, she will throw a fit knowing full well she will get put in time out and get what she wants...she doesn't have to color.

My problem is that most people (teacher and other support staff) speak to me as though they feel the temper tantrums are my issue. I strongly disagree. She does not behave that way for me and I don't allow it. If she throws a fit for me I either speak very sternly to her and make clear the consequences (and I follow through every time) or I simply ignore her depending on the situation. The result is that she behaves for me.

What am I supposed to do about her throwing temper tantrums for others when I am not there? These are definitely temper tantrums and not meltdowns as she calms as soon as she gets what she wants...per teacher. Even when she did have them for me I could quickly get it to end.

I agree that temper tantrums in toddlers are often an indication of bad parenting...but what about bad teaching? I feel they are attributing her temper tantrums to something she can't control, when clearly she can.

4 Answers 4


I am surprised that no one suggested you sit in on the "class" several times to observe your daughter's behavior.

To communicate effectively, you need to know (and if to believe, you need to see first hand, so be it) what behaviors of concern your child's teachers are seeing, and for them to believe you, they need to know if what you say is true (if it is, and she throws no tantrums in your presence, they will know it's not a disorder.)

I agree that temper tantrums in toddlers are often an indication of bad parenting...but what about bad teaching?

Instead of trying to assign blame, it might be more helpful to see what's going on and to work with your child's teachers in coming up with a plan to help your daughter deal with whatever she is experiencing difficulty with.

  • 1
    In addition, most pre-schools have cameras. Observing without your child knowing you are there may be the best option, if possible. And I agree VERY much with no blame (and in my mind a 'true' tantrum, where the child has no control can be due to many things, and may not have anything to do with parents or teachers)
    – Ida
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 18:22
  • 1
    I can't believe I didn't think to sit in on a class. How right in my face and I missed it. +1
    – user7678
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 19:14

Small children have very little control over their lives. Most decisions are made for them. So when they figure out how to get any control, they take the idea and run with it.

Your daughter has tried temper tantrums to get what she wants. And she learned that for you and your husband it doesn't work. So she doesn't try that with you. For the preschool teachers, however, it works splendidly. Temper tantrums mean she doesn't have to do something she doesn't want to. And she has achieved control.

As far as what to do about her behavior in preschool, you need to talk to the teachers or administrators there and get them to understand that she can behave, but by giving her exactly what she wants when she has a tantrum that they are encouraging that behavior. (I know going to time out may not look like they are giving in, but the purpose of throwing the tantrum wasn't to go to time out, it was to not color.) Help "train" them like you did with your husband so that they start to see the same results.

Additionally, their jump to autism seems like a lazy attempt to shift responsibility from their inability or unwillingness to properly deal with your daughters tantrums to your daughter / you / something uncontrollable. Don't let them get away with this.

Also, you can try explaining to your daughter that this behavior is unacceptable when she is at preschool and set consequences and follow through. This may or may not work because you are separating the behavior and the consequences by a fairly long time and then it may not sink in as easily.

  • Thank you for the response. Her teacher and I write back and forth in a book about her behavior daily. I read this to my daughter and try to explain why she may or may not have had a good day. If she had a bad day I tell her she can not have her ipad that gives her access to different preschool sing/song videos. Because of the time frame it is hit and miss. I think she gets to school and forgets about consequences that are hours away. I am stuck with this school system and have to figure out some way to work with them.
    – Kelly
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 14:38
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    One possible idea for making the consequence more "immediate" is to give the teacher permission to tell her she will not be allowed to have iPad access at home if the tantrum continues and her work does not get done. While the consequence is still removed in time from her behavior, it may help her to be reminded that a privilege she values (iPad time) will be revoked in addition to the punishment she doesn't mind (sitting in the corner)
    – Acire
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 15:31
  • @Erica beat me to it. Find something the child likes to do at home and make it clear that it's a privilege earned by good behavior at pre-school. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 21:15

It really seems like the teacher just doesn't have time to effectively cater 20-30 different discipline styles so any children that don't conform must be Autistic or ADD or some other trendy excuse for their behavior. This happens because teachers in the US (I'm assuming your in the US) are incredibly overworked and under supported.

So while I'm not trying to "blame teachers" because I feel most are trying to do the best that they can, it does mean that sometimes what they offer is just not what your kids need.

Do you have any wiggle room with this school that you try a different teacher? Or could you put her in a different program?

Alternatively is there a way enroll her in a weekend program where she could practice these self control skills in a setting with a more effective adult? Something like maybe Girl Scouts, or a church group or maybe the Big Brother / Big Sister program.

It sounds like she needs practice and the school is giving her the wrong kind of practice.


At my son's school they sent home daily "report cards" for those children with behavioral issues. These cards addressed five areas of the child's day: morning, first recess, lunch, evening, last recess. They gave a 1-5 numeric grade in several categories ("listened respectfully to teacher(s)", "did work as requested", "respectful toward classmates", etc).

We based our reward/punishment response (extra treats or loss of privileges) off that daily report and it worked really well because there wasn't that separation; the marking of the report card was right out there, immediate, and the child had to carry it home. It was also available on-line, so my son knew he couldn't avoid the consequences by "losing" the card.

It took a couple of years but eventually really caused my son's behavior to turn around. Our situation was very similar to yours; our son knew he could never get away with being disrespectful or disobedient at home but, without exception, refused to accept the authority of other adults without a lot of reinforcement on our part.

Now, I realize that such a system would be a lot of work for an already overworked school system, but it really worked well for our school. Sending home daily report cards was only done for a small pool of hard case kids (and, of course, would have been completely ineffective without parential enforcement) but the teachers told us it was, overall, a very good investment of their time and effort.

Perhaps your daughter's teacher would consider it for a short period of time (a month or so?) Or something similar? My son was in first grade when they started giving him report cards, so he was a little older than your daughter, but she sounds like a bright girl who will figure out how to work the system, which is what you want her to do.

We regulated my son's TV time and computer time and weekend treats based on how many points he got during the school week. First we decided on a baseline; he was expected to have an average of 3 points every day. On any day which he fell below the baseline, no TV in the evening. Getting only one point in any category meant an hour early bedtime and no desert at dinner. A perfect five point day meant we went out to dinner at his favorite restaurant (the teachers assured us he would only get a perfect score when he truly had a great day :)

My son's first grade teacher apparently used a discrete but openly displayed wall chart for showing the kids how they were doing. They each started the beginning of the period in question with five bright red tacks and if someone misbehaved they lost a tack. She commiserated with them when they lost a tack because of "not making good decisions", and sometimes allowed them to earn them back by being extra helpful.

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