A Defiant Preschooler


Dear Dr. Bill,

My son is having behavior problems at his pre-school.  He can be very defiant, because he wants to do want he wants when HE wants to do it.  What do you suggest?



Dear Tracy,

I hate to break this to you, but it’s very rare for a child who is well-behaved at home to be defiant in other settings.  You didn’t mention anything about his behavior at home, but I’m guessing that he is defiant with you as well.

I’m speculating, because I haven’t met you or your son, but I’m wondering if you’ve developed a pattern of giving in to his demands, so that he always gets what he wants.

In his pre-school, he’s now in a setting where he needs to obey other adults, follow rules, and get along with other children.  This is new to him, and he doesn’t like having limits set on his behavior.  That’s why he’s acting out with the pre-school staff.

This may be difficult for you to hear.  You love your son, and you don’t want to think of him as being difficult and defiant.   But if you’re honest, you may need to admit that your son doesn’t obey you at home, and that he often acts out or throws a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to start implementing consistent limits at home.  Your son isn’t going to like this, and his behavior will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.  That’s because he’ll be doing everything he can to convince you to give up on this new discipline system.

You can also work with the pre-school staff to set up consequences at home for misbehavior at school.  Your son needs to learn that if he is defiant, aggressive, or destructive at pre-school, there will be unpleasant consequences waiting for him when he comes home.

Thanks for writing Tracy.

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