April ’18 Q&A – “Bad” Preschool Behavior, Racism and Screentime

“Bad” Preschool Behavior

Q. Our 31/2 year old grandson just started preschool, and has already gotten an email (in 6 days) about how bad his behavior is.  Not listening, not being nice with other kids, etc.  I don’t think he is old enough to verbalize what is bothering him, so how do we figure out how to help him? I remember your story about your child when she was young and even now you said it almost breaks your heart because she couldn’t say what was bothering her.

A. If your grandson’s preschool is complaining about his behavior,

  1. They don’t know how to handle impulsive children
  2. He is not ready for school
  3. This school is not the right place for him

Or all 3 of these may be true. In any case, I would remove him from this school immediately. If they see him as having “bad” behavior (not true), they do not understand behavior and it likely means they have already decided too much about him that will color all their interactions with him going forward. He needs a preschool that will understand normal, impulsive, boy behavior and how to respond to that behavior effectively. However, if his parents do not NEED him to be in school, then I might keep him home for another 6 months. Or if they can, hire someone to be with him at home. In terms of him verbalizing what the problem is, it is hard. His understanding is from a 3 y.o. perspective, which is not objective at all.

The reason I think it is important to take him out of this school, is that angry, punitive reactions to his behavior will confuse him at best and damage his emerging sense of self. He will not understand why he is getting the treatment he is. Parents often don’t understand impulsive behavior and react harshly, but teachers should know how speak to him and redirect his impulsivity so he doesn’t feel wronged or criticized. 3 y.olds do not do a very good job at listening. And if his behavior is aggressive with other children, he may not be ready or he may be overwhelmed with so many kids. He could use some growing up time. He does not have to be taught to socialize. He will do better when he’s older. In the meantime, having supervised one-on-one play times with children his age will help him.


Is this racism?

Q. I’m a long time follower since my twins were born in 2012, and I first want to say thank you for your refreshing and positive approach. I have a concern with my 6 y.o. daughter. My kids, their dad, and I identify as Caucasian. We live in an integrated neighborhood, some of their best friends at school are kids of color, and even their favorite teacher is, too. Books on our shelf include several with role models of different races and faiths. In short, we really do try… Over the past couple of months, though, my daughter has said some things about brown people that I’m scared to admit sound racist (ie: I’m glad my skin’s white and not brown; brown people probably threw that litter; and brown people are so loud). 

Based on my intentionality described above, her comments really hit a nerve for me. I’m sad that she is expressing bias so early in her life, but I also know that unloading my own baggage around her comments will only make the situation worse. If you have any suggestions or a way that I can share this with other readers to get their feedback, I would be grateful.

A. I doubt if this is as serious as you may be taking it. It sounds to me like you and your husband provide a very positive and open approach to all people. We as Caucasians cannot possibly do it all. We are white and like it or not we are the privileged race at this point in time. No matter how open-minded we are, no matter who our friends and spouses are, we cannot fully integrate into another culture or race in order to understand their experience and say confidently, “I am not racist” or my favorite, “I don’t see color.” Then we are denying our differences when we should be honoring and admiring them.

Living in an integrated neighborhood, your daughter sees and hears all that happens to a diverse population. She has inherently learned that she is glad to be white. This would be a great time to ask her why she thinks being white is better than brown. If you hear her making a statement like, “brown people are so loud”, you don’t have to say, “I don’t ever want to hear you say that about anyone”. Instead you can say, “Hmm, I wonder what gave you that idea. You know that friend of ours (white), so-and-so? I’ve always thought she was quite loud. I don’t think loudness has anything to do with race.”

You are right not to unload your baggage on her experience. It may well be that her experience (and statements) do not mean the same to her as they do to you. The calmer you are about her remarks and your opinion, the less focus you put on the offensiveness of her remarks. To “brown people probably threw that litter”, you might say, “You know before I knew enough to care about our environment, I must confess I threw litter as well. I think it takes understanding of the big picture of what harm litter does to decide not to do it.” No mention of race at all.

Your daughter also may be influenced by friends at the moment. If she is hanging around kids who talk like that, she may do the same to feel included. This does not condone whatever she says but it may change the way you think about the problem. It’s not coming from her—it’s more about others. You might say, “That doesn’t sound like you. I’m sure you don’t really think that way. Have you heard others say that?” If so ask her what she thinks about that other child’s opinion. No matter what, this is fertile ground for discussing and learning.



Q. I am having a real issue with my almost 14 year old being on gadgets. I give consequences and it works for a bit but then she is back on them. Would setting a schedule with mutual agreement help – or any other advice?

A. Mutual agreement involving both you and your daughter discussing the amount of time you each think is reasonable and why and then finding a compromise, is a better way to go. Consequences leave her in fear of having her gadget taken away, and so she hordes what time she has. The best method is to let her do whatever she wants so she can self-regulate. But that does not work for all. And at her age, it might be difficult to start that process. You would need to insure that she has lots of other things she enjoys doing. If she is involved in many other activities and is willing to help around the house and does her school work, then you might try that.

If she seems obsessed with her devices, I would go with the mutual agreement plan. Come to a compromise and agree that you will re-assess in a weeks time to see if your agreement works for both of you. If she can’t adhere to it, say nothing until the appointed time. At the week evaluation you can say that it did not work for you. You then need to go back to the drawing board. Give her a choice of trying the same plan again and following it or changing the plan. That could even mean giving her more time. This is not a punitive measure. It just means that the time agreed on was too hard for her to stick with. Figure out why. The problem might be her transition off. She might do better if she decides ahead of time what she will do right after her gadget time is up.

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.


When Your Kids Push Buttons BookWe punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.



Related Links:

How to Set Limits Effectively

Communication 101: How to get your child to listen


Give Up Screentime Fights