Preschool Behavior

Dear yayas,

How do we limit bad behaviors our preschooler picks up from school? 
We have one child, an almost four-year-old daughter who is in preschool a few days a week. Lately, she’s been coming home from school and yelling “stop it!” in an ugly tone to us (and even at inanimate objects) in various situations and has started to get annoyed with me for trying to help. We suspect she has picked up this “stop it” thing from other kids at school since this isn’t something we model at home. I tried to say that’s not how we talk to each other and ask if the kids say that at school or if she says that to friends at school a lot, but she didn’t like that and got upset. So, my question is, how do we correct or limit behaviors that she picks up at school that we don’t want in our home?

– Perturbed Preschool Parent

Dear Perturbed, While it’s not possible to limit the behaviors she’ll pick up in other environments, it is okay to set up firm expectations for behavior at home. It sounds like she could be trying to exert some independence too, so you may want to give her some space to explore that and let her know you’re there to support her. With that said, you can also help her use gentler words to ask for space (instead of “stop it”). –Diana

Dear Perturbed, In our family, we’re big believers that our kids can pick up on our true feelings and not just the message we are trying to get across. I’m not sure what your reaction is in the moment, but if the constant “stop it!” is starting to make you mad, I would bet money your preschooler picks up on that. We try not to give unbecoming behavior a lot of attention in our house and casually set the boundary. For example: Child says “blah blah blah” Parent says “Oh, we don’t say ‘blah blah blah’ in this family…did you mean this?” We move on right away from the negative thing we don’t want to see. (I say “try” because it’s harder than it sounds. Some things just trigger us and we don’t always have the patience for calm reactions every single time). You could apply this to any unbecoming behavior or words that your child brings home. Set the boundary without emotion and hope they leave bad habits at the door with their clear understanding of your family’s boundaries. –Lori Beth

Dear Perturbed, You know the first thing I would do, I would ask to observe the class (without being a part of it) before I did anything, to find out what was going on. Maybe she is upset about something happening at school. When she says “stop it” at home I would say “We don’t talk that way.” –Grama Claire Bear

Dear Perturbed, Four-year-olds are great imitators  They “try out” other children’s behavior to see how it “works” for them—especially if it causes a reaction. This is actually great learning! You can have a simple phrase to help with this, (since this will come up many times over the years!). Something like “we use our kind words” and just state it without emotion. It becomes a boundary and a security for knowing that this is what we do. –Taren

Dear Perturbed, My first reaction would be to ask my child what the person or inanimate object did to upset her. The great thing about children this age, versus a 2 year old for example, is that they can express themselves, to a degree. You can provide a kinder way to say it, such as “Please, stop it,” or “Please, step away.” “Please, step away,” is honestly one of my favorite statements I have heard my children learn to use from their teachers at preschool. But I always want to understand what it is that has upset my kids if they really have been upset by someone (or in the case of inanimate objects, perhaps they are frustrated?) If she will let you know what has upset her, then talk her through a solution. If it’s frustration with an object, help her learn how to use it properly. If it is with a person, help her process what has happened. If it is really something she just says, I’d first ask what she was asking the person or thing to stop doing. Just to maybe help reset your daughter’s thoughts and realize what she’s saying is just to say it. If it still doesn’t stop, then I’d move on to setting boundaries, we don’t use these words. For your sanity, I hope some of the advice on this page helps! –Lorelei

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