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Preschool: Addressing the Negative Report Card

Nine months after starting preschool and two parent-teacher conferences later, we received the following report:  Carter’s having trantrums, he’s really disruptive, he refuses to participate in circle or help clean up.  It was hard for me to take.  I sat in disbelief.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Carter is by no means an angel, but it did not quite align with our experiences outside of school.   We were full of hope that his preschool which came with much praise and accolades from other parents was the right fit.  We talked about discipline and strategies we used at home as well as schedules, factors that could induce such be behavior.  We discussed consistency at school and at home to improve his behavior.  I didn't walk away feeling like we came to a good understanding on both sides of strategies that we could both use to improve the situation. But we decided to keep him with his current teacher since my husband and I felt that Carter will have difficult relationships with others as a part of growing up and will have to learn to work through them. 

We continued to solicit feedback from his teachers and the reports varied by the day; some better than others.  By summer, it appeared perhaps that the worst of the behavioral issues seemed to smooth itself out until I received the dreaded email:

“… feeling a little concerned about some of Carters behaviour that has been persisting all year and are very aware that he will be moving on to a new class soon…A couple of examples are when we are all sitting down to snack/lunch Carter chooses to wander around the room and refuses to come to the table with everyone else.   Also requirements during 'Circle time' of sitting on the mat and at least trying to learn the games.  He will lie down on the floor or initiate play with other children. Clean up times he refuses to help and continues to play his game until, with the teachers gentle insistance it results in a loud screaming tantrum.

As we've spoken about before Carter is still using the technique of 'Tantrum' when the teacher ensures he follows through with what is expected of him and will throw a loud tantrum, strike out at whatever is close by and call the teachers names e.g "Stupid [Insert Teacher’s Name]".  This can happen some days at least 3 times in the morning….”

That was the final straw for me.  Carter wasn’t exactly thriving in his current situation, and I was agonizing over the fact that I hadn’t been more proactive in figuring out ways of making his current school situation work for him.  I was frustrated beyond belief that obviously he was not getting along with his teacher.  She must have been frustrated too at having such a disruptive child in her classroom.  But ultimately, I felt like it was a relationship issue and as much as she was searching for issues and problems in our home, it came back to her relationship with our child. 

Since then, Carter’s at a different school (we agonized over moving him), and we do hope that the change will be positive.  In hindsight, we might have worked with his school to see if switching classrooms would have been a more appropriate response.  Has your child had behavioral issues in school?  What have you done to address the issues?  When do you realize it’s time for a change in schools or teachers?  I’d love to hear from both teachers and other urbanParents!


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Poor kid, poor teacher, poor mom!
No substantive advice here, just sympathy. It just sounds like a bad fit for Carter at this time. Pre-school isn't for everyone, and there's no shame in that.

Would you consider/can you create a less-structured solution where he wouldn't feel so pressured? A nanny? A grandparent? Something more child-directed where he can be "the boss" of his day?

We've had a total of three preschool days so far, so I don't have my own experience to share. But I've worked in classrooms and other groups of kids, so I can certainly empathize with how challenging this is, for everyone. The only thing I want to offer is to be open to all possibilities here. Sounds like you tried to work with the school and when that wasn't successful you found a different one. That makes sense if you think it was a relationship issue. You know your kiddo best and probably have a good feel for what was going on. Some teachers/programs/whatever just aren't a good fit for certain kids. And at this age, I think it's challenging for some kids to be able to be successful in a big group, for so many different reasons. And boys especially, with all of their "boy energy."

However, and please hear this for what it's worth, even if I'm totally off base. If you keep finding yourself in a similar situation, consider that it could be something about your child that needs to be looked at. I don't mean this in any negative kind of way. I mean, maybe he needs a different type of structure, maybe he has speech/language processing issues, maybe he has some emotional need he's needing to meet somehow, anything. I'm not suggesting your son has a problem or there's a problem at home or "bad parenting," nothing like that. I just know that my experience has been, and I've been guilty of it myself, sometimes parents are very quick to blame someone else and not be willing to look at their own role, or in this case your son's role. I hope I said this right. Good luck to you.

When I lived in NY I was a teacher's assistant in a preschool. The class I had was 3 year olds, mostly boys. They're 3, they all are crazy and have their moments. There was one boy, though...One-on-one (or even in groups of 2 or 3) this kid was fabulous, a great listener, had good ideas, shared, etc., but once we got him in the whole group situation (about 12 kids) he was a totally different child. Pushing, whining, yelling, hitting...I was at the nurse more than anyone else that year. He was 2 in Sept when school started, and when his he turned 3 in Nov. the director of the pre-school pushed to have him tested for ADHD. His poor Mom didn't know what to do, not wanting to get him tested/labeled/drugged vs. these horrible, horrible days of preschool. Being very anti-testing, the teacher of the class and I told the Mom to hold off on the testing and maybe take him to his regular doctor to find out if the problem was more "organic." Turns out the kid had terrible eyesight. He did great in the small groups because he could see and pay attention...he would push to the front of the big group because he couldn't see...suddenly it all made sense. I would love to say once he came back to school with his glasses he was a model student. The change wasn't that extreme, but there was a noticeable difference in his behavior.

I'm not saying your son has eyesight problems, but maybe it is something as simple as that.

I'm the mom in this scenario. Just to steer the conversation back (no offense taken for any of the comments), we stuck with the same teacher for 9 months. We really did give her a chance. After we notified the school about our impending departure, they were stunned as to the feedback that we were getting. They said that it was off-base and that they've actually seen tremendous growth. Another teacher also confided that "they didn't seem to get along." I'm not sure about the disconnect. But being emotionally exhausted from the current circumstances, we decided to switch schools.

My son is 4.5 years old, and in my opinion, maturity has helped him deal better with his frustrations. I don't think it's as easy as blame the teacher or blame the parents; but taking a holistic view to figure out the issue. My frustration with the situation was that I didn't feel like his teacher tried any new techniques or ways of working out Carter's issues. We didn't have the same issues at home so we were at a loss on any helpful advice. I definitely think there'll be challenges and personality issues throughout life; this being the first of many I am certain. However, when things aren't going well at a child's school, how have parents and teachers dealt with the situation? How long do you wait before you change the current dynamics? Do you go with your gut?

We had some issues with my son's preschool -- a teacher who incorrectly thought his giftedness was some sort of autism-spectrum disorder, and then said he was jealous when we discovered that our son had an IQ of 156. The teacher also thought he had sensory integration disorder when our son got upset when he got drenched in freezing cold water.

I wish I could tell you that I addressed it constructively -- I instead ignored the issues and merely gloated when the teacher reported in a later parent-teacher conference that our son had grown out of all "concerning behavior." What I wish I would have done was to gently confront the behavior. Teachers carry their own issues into their jobs, just like the rest of us (seriously, being jealous of a 4 year old?) and I think I would have done future kids a service by gently putting up a mirror so the teacher could see the affect he was having on us (hours and hours of me Googling "autism spectrum disorder and loosing sleep at night).

I totally sympathize with your situation -- it's hard, in those moments, to envision a different situation/transition, etc, even if the first is really not working out. It's courageous of you to move on when your gut told you to.

well, if it's any consolation, we're having extremely similar experiences with everett in kindergarten so far -- but for him, it happens both at home *and* at school (the tantrum/outbursts) and no matter what the authority figure (six different adults were defied in one day according to his kindergarten teacher). after several emergency meetings with teacher, principal, our favorite parenting coach, and a couple of other assorted therapists, we've decided that our rather chaotic home environment and constant friction over discipline is at the root of his troubles. so, we're changing a lot of things, getting coaching, and couples counselling to try to work out some of our differences.

I think you're in a much better situation than we are (at least for now) -- you're only experiencing the behavior with the one teacher. I've seen what you're talking about before, the special sort of antagonism between a child and a caregiver -- often it can be as simple as the fact that the child is very much like a sibling, child, or other person close to the caregiver. to me, with the feedback from the other teachers supporting your theory, it seems the right approach.

the big concern is, of course, that you're swooping in to "protect" your child when he'll have plenty of hard relationships down the road. but I think you guys gave him plenty of chances to work it out on his own -- you're not going to end up with a kid who can't fix anything b/c his parents fix everything for him! you let it go as far as you could, and then made the change when you had to.

it's also interesting to note that we've never had teacher/principal in Everett's case really probe us on what we're doing at home with him, i.e. blaming us (if anything they're searching for a "diagnosis" for him, which is sort of troubling still but definitely pointing fingers at us for being bad parents -- bad though we may be!). when it gets to the point that a teacher is struggling to find a source for a behavior in the home, that's just poor social skills imo!

I feel for you, having gone through this. I would underscore one of Sarah's comments, in that you have not immediately kicked into "mama bear" mode to swoop in the protect baby bear. It is true that you offer Carter time and space to work out issues.

How long to wait before changing the current situation? Well, I think a couple or few months, but less than a year. We had "issues" with a previous caregiver, when we lived elsewhere. With Philly crying at drop off many mornings and with her less than enthusiastic replies to "how was your day?" made us feel like something was amiss. It went on, and we did not really feel like we had good lines of communication with her caregiver. I recall feeling dull each morning dropping her off, I always had an ounce of worry. We felt that we could talk with administrators or other caregivers in other classrooms, but not hers.

After about 3 or 4 months, we expressed that we wanted to try another classroom. It was an awkward request, and we expressed how we felt like communication was strained between us and the lead teacher. They honored my request, and said that Philly seemed content. We pushed it and said that Philly had expressed interest in being in the other classroom, where she had made several friends. The transition happened after the winter break, so it seemed somewhat natural. The difference was apparent and immediate.

I always find myself trying to be sensitive to the caregiver/teacher, trying to give him/her the benefit of the doubt. I don't want to seem like a pestering parent who likes to meddle. I like for the children to learn to work out differences and to only come to us when all else seems to have failed. I try not to jump to conclusions or make rash decisions, though I probably often feel like it.

In the end, I feel that most mamas and papas have a sixth sense about things having to do with our little ones, that we can sense when our child isn't able to realize his full potential. I think you really gave it a go, and probably gave it more time, effort, and emotion than I would have. I think that is admirable, but I am happy that you are now moving on. I hope Carter is happy at his new school.

I agree with some of the other posters who said you trusted your gut and that is what matters. I don't think you should feel bad that you didn't do enough to work out the problem. Your child wasn't thriving, and really, at age 3, I don't think any child should have to thrive in every environment. It just wasn't working, despite what you did to try to fix it. Whether it was the teacher or your son's behaviour, I just don't think it matters. He was only 3 years old.

I haven't had any issues with my son's behavior at his preschool per se, but we did have some issues with bullying by the older boys, and my son lashing out in very mild ways. My biggest problem was that I wasn't really able to make a good judgement about it since I wasn't there to see it. All I heard was what he told me (negative things) about his day, and the way he acted at drop off (I don't want to go to this preschool anymore). My "momma bear" instinct was to immediately remove my baby from the situation, but I did end up working it out, though not with the director of the school whom I do not get along with. I went directly to his teachers, who I do respect, and they were able to facilitate some relationships with my son and some older boys and that solved the problem. I do still have a bit of worry sometimes that he's not in the right place.

However, at one point I did decide we were going to pull him out completely, and at that time I did NOT feel bad for my decision because after all he is only 3. He is almost a baby still, and forcing our kids to deal with big-kid realationship issues at 3 seems a bit too much...especially since they have so much still to learn in preschool. The way I see it, my son will have the rest of his school life to deal with difficult people, if it's making his life miserable at 3, he should be moved to a better situation.

I say make the very best of Carter's new preschool and know that you did the right thing for Carter. Hopefully he will be happier, and have a positive experience which will allow him to grow in many ways, not just 'getting-along-with-difficult-people' ways. Good luck!

Trust your gut. Trust your gut. I think as parent we really do know best..

Here are a few suggestions. Set up a better communication system between the school and home. I have a daugter that has some transition issues. We use a notebook that the school uses to send home a little note about the day. And we can send a note about how she is doing. It is structured so we can talk about her day and what happened each day. "Why was it so hard to stop playing and join the circle today?" It helps teach her how to express her feelings and addresses the issues as they arise before they have been forgotten about. Honestly I can not believe that they sprung such big issues on you during a parent teacher confrence. Why hadn't they been mentioning it to you on a regular basis.

Perhaps your son would do better in different environment, Montessori vs. Waldorf. Perhaps he really does not connect with that teacher. Also, just in case keep an open mind about potential issues that might be lurking, sensory integration perhaps, hearing, eyesight, processing.. not to say that is the issue but just in case. Therapists, OT, Speech and PT can be very helpful.

Good luck.

My youngest son is three and a half and has just started a new Pre-School. I am having a very hard time connecting with the teacher and we even bumped heads a bit about school logistics. My son is very energetic, boisterous, loud, chatty, animated, and probably at least a little difficult in class.

I am surprised though that he seems luke warm about school and doesn't want to talk about the day. This is so different from his personality, it is really worrisome. Today, I tried emailing the teacher because I felt like I needed some insight on what is going on. Her response didn't address any of my concerns at all and was generalized to apply to the three year olds.

I am conflicted and wondering if I should press it in email with the teacher, try to get a conference, trade days with another parent so that I can be a class room helper sooner than later. I could also talk to the school's president but is that taking it too far? He has now had three days of school so I could be overreacting but this post and all of your comments make me think that I should not settle for a wait and see approach.

Our issue is the other way round... problems surface at home.

I read a great book recently, "Raising Cain," that talked about boys and the many challenges of raising them with attention paid to their emotional development. There's alot in there about school settings and how these are/aren't a good fit for boys. It's worth checking out with regards to some of this.

Cindy, I'm not surprised to hear your boy is ambivilant about school. The way you describe him is exactly like the kind of child that may struggle with the limits of the classroom, being quieter, following so many directions, etc. I've had my own difficulty sending my 3 year old to preschool for some of these very reasons. At what age do I expose him to the structure that will likely bump up against some of his energy that he'll have to learn to harness eventually, but is three too early? Right now my son isn't talking much about his day, but I've been the parent helper already and I can see that he's doing okay and the teacher is handling things well with the whole group. I'm thinking his not talking about it is his way of processing the whole experience. He tends to go into something slowly so I'm waiting for the day his real personality comes out!

As for the original question, try to work it out, but don't make your kiddo suffer. If it's not working, it's not working. That's where that gut thing comes in. I suppose it's easier now in the preschool years with so many options out there. I don't know how easy it will be when they hit grade school and it's a much more structured world.

If your kid doesn't like to talk about his/her day at school, don't worry. The teachers reassure me that most kids don't talk about it. It's not necessarily a sign that something's wrong.

Donald and Cindy: We started our son in preschool at 2.5 (just a few months ago) and his response up until only recently to various questions like "what did you have for snack today?", and "what did you do at school today?" was always..."nothing" Not exactly the answer we were hoping for! He'd talk about his day in a more conversational way later on, and sing songs that he's learned there, but would never really respond to our probing with much information. His teacher told me that it's very normal for them to do this, and he's since started talking a lot about school--who he sat next to at lunch, what he did, songs they sang, etc.

I think it can be hard to come to the realization that our kids are developing their own lives outside of our homes when they go to school and it's hard to strike a balance between letting them do so and watching them thrive, and fearing the worst and swooping in to rescue them too soon. Good communication is key, I think, and it needs to be open and honest. His teacher and I do not exchange daily reports on how things are going, but we've agreed that if anything is concerning at any point the door is open for discussion. We view her as our other right hand for raising Anders--she spends a good chunk of each day with him and sees him growing, exposes him to new experiences, guides him in his relationships at school, etc so she needs to know that we respect her and trust her instincts if she sees something alarming.

The week we brought our 2nd baby home from the hospital she called one evening to talk to us about some concerns she had about Anders behavior that week...my new mama hormones were obviously in high gear...she kept telling me that everything he was doing was "textbook" and very much within the realm of normal, but my biggest fear was that she was going to kick us out of preschool! It was an awful feeling to know that my kid was causing disruption in the classroom--I felt so guilty! She gave us some wonderful advice about helping with the transition at home that seemed a bit counterintuitive at first, but was definitely the right thing to do. And since the new school year started 3 weeks ago, she's said he's a new kid and having his best days at school ever...music to our ears!


Sounds like you guys just trusted your instincts; good for you. I would be so angry if my 3-4 year old was reprimanded for playing too much at preschool...playing at group, playing at clean-up...Children will come to circle and sing when they are ready, IF they choose. And they usually will, eventually. Playing at circle is just NOT a behavior issue in preschool. I'm so sorry you (and Carter!) were made to feel badly. I find the fact that he was acting up at school and not at home very interesting. It's almost always the other way around. It seems like he was letting you know that he was unhappy in that situation, and you heard him loud and clear! Ultimately we are the expert on our own children, and have to be ready to be their advocate if they need it.

On another note, we just met with my son's Kindergarten teachers yesterday to discuss his adaptation to his new classroom, (which has been rocky) and I could not have been happier with the conference. I feel like they like him, (oh so important) see him for who he is, have realistic expectations of him, and want to see him thrive in school and in life. I did not know them very well yet, and I was a "hard sell," to say the least. But I am feeling 100% supportive, and I have to say, it's a really good feeling. How can we have it any other way? There is nothing more important than our children.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Just a (perhaps) silly tip about getting kids to talk -- my son has a favorite monkey puppet who has an elaborate place in my child's life (long life story, very conversant). My son won't tell me some things, but if I have monkey ask, particularly at bedtime, it's amazing how much info I find out. It's almost as if my son really enjoys educating his monkey about what school is about... We lost the monkey recently and I'm pinning my hopes on a current ebay auction to get another. It's almost like I lost a part of my son...

I agree with Kristin that if your child has a favorite lovey, perhaps that will help with the communication. I learned a LOT about my son's day early on by listening to him telling "old piggy" about his day at preschool (and, sometimes, re-enacting situations). This was actually where I realized there was bullying going on in that he would bully old piggy saying things like "you are a bad piggy" and "no, you can't play with me, you are bad", etc. I then learned that this was some of the bullying going on towards my son at school and began investigating how to deal with it. "Old piggy" is really my son's right hand man (or pig?) and he gets the truth even when our son won't talk to us.

As a preschool teacher and a mama, I emphatically echo the theme of keeping the communication open between teachers and parents! Kids notoriously don't talk about school. Be in the classroom as often as it feels right, talk to the teacher for a couple minutes every time you pick up your child, email, phone! Sometimes teachers forget to touch base often enough with every family, but any decent teacher is happy to respond to parents wanting to know how their child is doing -especially if the child is having difficulties.

I realize this is diverting the conversation a little, but I wanted to share this tip: When I ask Clara what she did at school and she replies "nothing," I say: "Did you sit on the floor and stare at the wall all day?" She usually smiles and then tells me a little story. Or, she tells me she'll save it for dinnertime or something like that.

Carter's been at his new school now for a week, and I've noticed quite a change in his demeanor. He seems happier overall. He's quickly made a couple of new friends, he loves the outdoor spaces and classroom, he likes his teachers, and seems to be adapting quite well to a new rhythm. I also wondered about him not talking about his day, but I'm glad to hear that others have experienced the same and that it's not really an indication of how they feel about their school. Since being at his new school, he is more willing to share bits and pieces of his day. Here's one success story where change has been really good. Yes, I'm glad I made the decision to switch schools.

Speaking of boys...Legacy Emmanuel is putting on a workshop regarding "Problems Facing Boys Today" on Oct. 17th. You can check the urbanMamas calendar for more details: http://urbanmamas.typepad.com//urbanmamas/2007/03/urbanmamas_cale.html

SPD Portland Area Support Group Meeting (SPD = sensory processing disorder, kids with sensory challenges)

A newly formed support group for families with sensory challenges. Our second meeting is coming up (March 5th). If you are in the Portland metro area and know of a child with sensory challenges - please pass this information along.

Meeting Information:

Mark your calendars! Everyone's been talking about it - nutrition, enzymes, probiotics, neurotransmitters, food intolerances, gluten free, dairy free.... HELP! What do we do? How do we know what will work for MY child? How do we use these things to help our kids? What do we buy? How much do we give? Where do we start? Where do we get this stuff? What do we do!

Well, come find out. Dr. Sarah McAllister's here! A Pediatric Naturopath in Portland who can answer our questions - and more importantly, help our kids. Come find out all the practical information that can help your family daily.

March 5th, Thursday

7-8:30 pm

Advanced Pediatric Therapies

4444 SW Multnomah Blvd, Portland

fine print:

be prepared to stay later than 8:30 - Dr. Sarah has agreed to stay later to answer questions (Thanks Dr. Sarah!)
Dr. Sarah can answer a lot of practical questions - she lives the life and is a great cook!
Remember, no kids at meetings
If you haven't been to a meeting, yet - No Worries! Low key, great time for sharing & learning, & hanging out with others who understand sensory challenges. And, Advanced Pediatric Therapies has a great sensory gym - if you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out.
Special thanks to Advanced Pediatric Therapies for donating meeting space and for Lynette Burke's time for opening/closing APT for us!
See you March 5th!

Teresa Denney (spdportlandoregon, tdenney24@verizon.net)

P.S. Help spread the word - send folks the link to the yahoo messageboard site, post on other messageboards. Let's help our kids, by starting the conversation.

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