Our 4.5-year-old has been in daycare since three months, and at the same daycare for nearly four years. His behavior at daycare has generally been a little up and down, mostly good days with some bad days (as reported by his teachers). The usual toddler stuff; hitting, pushing, name calling (he was never much of a biter).

Lately, he's been in a class with 4 or 5 other rambunctious boys and we frequently hear of him (and them) getting into "trouble". My impression is this consists of a lot of roughhousing and play fighting that gets out of hand, some biting (seems to be all of them at one time or another). My understanding is at least one of the boys may have behavioral problems. The daycare doesn't do anything to discipline, no time outs for example.

So pretty much every day for the past month plus, whenever we pick up our son, we hear that he's had a bad day; i. e. hit his friends, wouldn't follow directions, running around at nap time. What are we supposed to do at home to address this? Usually, he has 'bad mornings' and does well at lunch and after nap. So by the time we get him, the bad behavior is ancient history. We haven't been asked to address it, seems like the reports are a mix of my wife or I asking, and them volunteering if it was a particularly bad day. I personally get the sense they expect us to do something because one of the teachers was asking us if we did timeouts at home.

We've talked to him about staying away from kids who get him trouble, we've talked to him about being kind, patient, and listening to his teachers, not hitting or kicking, etc. We've been talking to him about these things since he was two actually. We do timeouts at home which are pretty effective with him, one minute per year, one warning then timeout. At home his behavior is fine 95% of the time. He has a younger sister he gets along with well for the most part.

About the daycare, I will say they have (what seems to me) to be fairly high turn over. His most recent teacher was let go for not being able to manage his class. Now his class has a variety of teachers from day to day, the same four or five women. My expectation is that they manage this stuff, separate these boys if they can't get along. The last thing I want to do is be down on my kid in the evening for stuff that happens during the day. So how should we handle this at home?

  • I watch kids and it started because I was asked to and remains only as I am asked. I am not a daycare. I was asked for situations like this, where a child has reports of bad behavior at daycare, The 1st child I took was kicked out actually at 3 places. When I am watching a child like this I want to know what they do at home, but I don't want them to help me. My "job" is to help the child learn how to interact appropriately without parents in this case. I agree with you on that. Are they asking you to address it or just giving you information via these "reports"?
    – threetimes
    Aug 24, 2017 at 2:29
  • rambunctious - Beautiful. I will definitely add this to my vocabulary ;) Aug 24, 2017 at 5:26

3 Answers 3

  • At home his behavior is fine 95%
  • ...fairly high turn over
  • the reports are a mix

You volunteered this information. You must have come to the same conclusion that I did.

Taking care of kids is hard and stressful and if the people doing it aren't good at it, it's not difficult for them to mistake typical kid behavior for bad behavior. You've painted a picture that the people watching the kids might not all be very good at it. You've mentioned that you don't even really know what kind bad behavior he's getting into.

I'd bet money your son is an angel 95% of the time at daycare.

Next time you get a report of bad behavior, insist on details. You can't give him an accurate punishment without details anyway. The punishment should always fit the crime.

If I'm wrong though, and he really is misbehaving at daycare, it's probably because of the no punishment environment and the only way to change that is to punish him at home, even though it stinks to have to do that. You could try a positive re-enforcement thing where he gets something special for every day with a good report.

  • 2
    Thanks, I'm open to the idea that he is misbehaving, but it hasn't been presented as "your kid is a problem" by the staff. Far from it. I just have trouble introducing punishment at home, 8 hours after the fact. Is a four or five year able to make the connection between something they did in the morning, that evening? Or is the parent just undermining their self esteem at that point? You seem to indicate that punishment after the fact is ok here.
    – markt
    Aug 24, 2017 at 13:23
  • I think there is a rough age at which they are better able to connect actions with delayed results. Unfortunately I do not know when that is. If he was 3yo, I would guess he was too young, but it sounds as if he is closer to 5yo... Perhaps someone familiar with the stages of child development will chime in (or perhaps its worth another question?). Aug 24, 2017 at 16:30
  • @Iwrestledabearonce.: As I said, he might be old enough for that to be effective. I'm not sure what the age is where that cognitive ability is sufficiently developed. I think we can agree that a baby cannot connect a punishment with an action 5 hours prior. Similarly it is obvious that an adolescent CAN do this. So obviously at some point the cognitive ability to do so is developed. The age at which this is should be what is in question here. Not some random disorder. Aug 24, 2017 at 17:33
  • @Iwrestledabearonce. here: cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/itf09cogdevfdcae.asp Cause and effect is only "fully" developed at 3 years of age. As I said, I was not sure of the age this happens. A kid ~1yo can probably tell that biting makes people say "OUCH" but wouldn't be able to connect more abstract cause and effect concepts together such as someone falling and then limping hours later. According to the linked article: by 3 they have a concept of past events and predictions of events. So, I guess 3 is the minimum age where punishments for events hours past may be useful. Aug 24, 2017 at 20:05
  • I am confused by what is meant as "daycare age". Daycare merely means a child is being looked after while parents work. For my kids that was 6 weeks old. I understand some have more time, but many also do not. It is not uncommon where I live to see most babies starting daycare at 6 weeks. Maternity leaves are short in the USA.
    – threetimes
    Aug 27, 2017 at 5:57

I think you need to talk to the daycare about discipline. I don't know of any specific research, but everything I've ever read about discipline says that the consequences should be immediate (or as immediate as you can make them).

In addition to the risk that the child will not associate the act with its consequences, if you are expected to apply sanctions such as time out or withdrawal of privileges once you get the child home then you are being set up as the bad cop in a game of good-cop-bad-cop.

Children learn discipline from having a consistent set of rules and expectations which are enforced by the adults around them. The daycare is as much a part of this as anyone else. If they don't enforce the rules then the child will learn that the rules are not being consistently enforced.

Also, your child will be moving on to school in a year or so, and they will definitely have rules and sanctions. You don't want this to be a shock to your child.

The daycare should have a set of rules about acceptable behaviour and a set of consequences that the staff will invoke when bad behaviour occurs. If the daycare is not willing to do this then you need to move your child to a daycare that can.


For very young kids, punishment/disciplining should always immediately follow the problematic action. If your son is well behaved in the evening, there's no point giving him any time out at that time.

What you can do is talk to him. Ask him if he started a fight or he was defending himself. Give him some examples of similar situations from your own childhood (even make believe) while explaining what's appropriate behavior and what's not.

Regarding running around during nap time, I think some kids just don't like naps - mine didn't. I requested the daycare folks to make her solve some puzzle or play on the slides or anything else when other kids are sleeping. They didn't initially agree but trying to get her to nap was proving quite difficult so they finally relented. She started sleeping earlier in the night as she was active throughout the day and that was okay for me.

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