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I have a 5-year-old granddaughter. She has only been in kindergarten for two weeks and has been in trouble three times for not following instructions. No walking in line without touching wall or jumping to not following teacher instruction to do something. Her punishment has been no TV, iPad or gymnastics. Her mother has even spanked her. When ask why she cannot follow directions from teacher, she says it's hard. What can we do?

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Punishing a 5 year old for something that happened hours previously is not useful; they cannot really connect the punishment with their actions, and to the child it just feels like being welcomed home with a punishment; not a good way to make your child eager to share their experiences or discuss what has been happening, good or bad.

Spanking or other physical punishment is particularly problematic as it teaches a child that violence is how to get your own way. Expect the child to follow the example she is being given.

If she is reasonably well behaved at home then discipline at kindergarten is the school's problem, not yours. They will tell you if she has been in trouble because they want to keep you in the loop, not because they want you to add extra punishment.

Also, you should try to explore more about what the problem is. Sometimes it can just be a child who isn't used to following instructions, and it will sort itself out once she gets used to it. But these things can also be the first indication of a wide variety of perceptual, motor or cognitive difficulties. Sometimes these are simple to fix once you know them, other times they can be long-term problems. Either way, you need to know. If the problem persists then try to find out exactly what she was being told to do, and why she found it hard.

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Find out as many details as possible, prioritize what you want to change, practice the desired behavior by simulation and playing, use more praise and less punishment, and avoid spanking.

  • Find out more details from talking to the child, the teacher, by watching the child in the classroom (yes, some classrooms allow that - ask the teachers), and from other parents and children in the same kindergarten.
  • Decide whether you actually need to change anything, and what the "positive behavior" should be in each case. For example, you may decide that "not following teacher instruction" to wait your turn to play with a toy should be changed (just an example). The "positive behavior" in this case could be taking turns and letting others play as well. But "no walking in line without touching wall" may seem lower priority (again, just an example - I do not know the details of your situation). Some schools and teachers expect behavior that may not seem age-appropriate to you in your child's case - use common sense in addition to the teacher's feedback.
  • Simulate (by playing) the behaviors for which the child "gets in trouble". Do this outside of the kindergarten - at home, on the playground, etc. For example, you (or the child's friend or sibling) and the child can take several turns playing with a desirable toy. Practice the positive behavior daily if possible. Reward the desired behavior mostly by praise. Put most of the effort into rewarding the positive behavior, no matter how rare it may be at first. Remember that even great pianists started by playing simple things, not Beethoven sonatas.
  • Punishment should be the smallest part of the entire effort to change the behavior. In particular, avoid spanking, since there seems to be evidence growing against physical punishment. See, for example: When is physical punishment appropriate? - Parenting Stack Exchange.

SEE ALSO:

The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child: Alan E. Kazdin, Carlo Rotella. Lots of useful tips for parents. Based on a body of research and on the extensive experience of the authors.

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