Adults keep cool, and cut biter no slack

October 29, 2012 

Q: My 3 1/2-year-old tends to react physically when he’s mad at a classmate. We have all encouraged him to use words when he’s angry, but he doesn’t seem to get it. Today he bit a classmate and got sent home. I fed him lunch and confined him for the rest of the day to his bedroom with books and some trains. I plan on sending him to school every day with a “behavior report card” on which I’ve listed hitting, not obeying, not sitting still during circle time, and taking toys away from other kids. I’m asking his teachers to give him a mark when a problem occurs. If he misbehaves five times in a day, I will confine him to his room and put him to bed early. Biting will get him sent home immediately. Comments?

Boys are more aggressive than girls. Unfortunately, in most preschool settings these days, boys are being held to female standards of behavior. This is not to say that aggression in boys ought to be overlooked, but female teachers and mothers are more shocked by it than are males, including most dads.

When the perpetrator in question is a 3-year-old boy, there is no apocalyptic significance to the sort of behavior you’re describing. Even occasional biting is not pathological at this age. However, “occasional” is the operative word.

Language is not boys’ natural problem-solving medium. Trying to persuade your son to “use words” when he’s angry is laudable, but you’re not likely to see much success with this approach for another year or two. This is another example of women expecting boys to be more like girls. As you’ve discovered, boys respond to concrete consequences. At much earlier ages, girls respond to words.

Your “Five Strikes, You’re Out!” plan is along the lines of the approach I generally recommend in situations of this sort. I would only add in 10 minutes of time-out when one of the misbehaviors occurs. Taking him out of the group for that period of time will give him an opportunity to calm down and “reset.” It will also strengthen the “Don’t!” message. And yes, if he bites, his teachers should remove him from the group and call you to take him home.

In the final analysis, the success of this plan hinges on everyone keeping their cool and cutting him no slack.

John Rosemond:

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