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Help with aggressive DS

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Please…. I’m feeling a bit discouraged, and hoping that I can gather some insight/advice/suggestions from others in this forum.   My son just turned 4, and we just received email from his preschool teacher about his recent increasing sensitivity (e.g. translates aggression with other students/teachers) at school. He has been attending a Montessori school for the past 2 years and we’ve had  a few email discussions (and one meeting) with his teachers to discuss the fact that he is sensitive (read: hits, yells, doesn’t use kind words when things are not “as he wants them”).  His teachers recommended Raising the Spirited Child last year, which I read; he certainly does seem to have a number of these “spirited” tendencies (maybe a 6 out of 10 overall, based on my assessment?).  Ironically, over the last 8 months or so, things are much better at home.  We do certainly still deal with “unkind words” and some (now at home very minimal) hitting……but now I’ve received 2 emails from lead preschool teacher (the second email was received today) indicating that he has had increasing frustration over the last 2 months……including hitting, kicking, pushing, yelling at other kids and teachers……

I can tell I am still processing this - and the possible solutions:   the disparity between his behavior at school and at home suggests a need for a change.  However, his teachers always comment how he doesn’t do well with change so, given that we just bought a new home (change) 2 months ago - and the school changed locations last month,  DH and I are somewhat hesitant to make further changes without serious consideration (such as remove DS from preschool and place with full time nanny , which we would not exclude although it would be difficult financially…and certainly require finding the RIGHT nanny, not easy)…..Or half day preschool and half day nanny?  Our observations (and the teachers concur) when he is having “good “ days he is an incredibly gregarious, precocious, and sweet boy.

First and foremost, we feel we to need to insist on an in-person meeting with his teachers and the school director.  However, I’m still processing what the realistic goals of this meeting should be, precisely what should be outlined and addressed, etc.….Sorry, this post is getting quite long.  I'm tired, but if any of my comments/experiences resonate with any of you and you have suggestions, we welcome them…


post #2 of 7

His behavior is trying to tell you something, but the question is- what is it? I am not sure what you mean by he is very sensitive. Is he sensitive to certain stimulus, like loud noise, crowds of people, lights, smells? Is he sensitive to the actions of others, maybe misunderstanding the intent of others and then having his feelings hurt when someone didn't mean it that way? or something else?

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 

I say "sensitive" because we  (and his teachers like to) use this word instead of "difficult", which I imagine is how some people would describe him (you would not describe him as a quiet, mellow kid) .  I think the most notable and relevant issue is that he gets frustrated extremely easily (with people, with conditions, with something he's working on, etc.) and that frustration quickly manifests as hitting, yelling, etc.  When he was 2 there was a lot of biting, hitting, yellling.  Now that he is older he (at home anyway) very rarely will hit us but he may throw something, and certainly will express his frustration by yelling.  Obviously he has to learn how to deal with frustration appropriately and we thought that generally things were heading in the right direction....but now this last email from his teacher suggests that he's not controlling anger at a developmentally appropriate level?  certainly we need to have more discussions with them regarding this.


Of course I am now feeling lots of guilt that we haven't dealt with his anger properly, been too slow to recognize and respond to a problem, etc.  

post #4 of 7

I couldn't read this & not respond right away (though I only have time to right a quick response right now). Your son sounds a lot like mine & I was actually visiting to look for similar advice. DS is 3 & has started pushing some of his classmates (he just started at a Montessori school a month ago).


It sounds like by using positive language your school is supportive--is that accurate? If so, you should absolutely meet with his teacher(s) before making any decision about pulling him. And if you trust them, then hopefully you can develop a plan together to address his actions. He just turned 4 so he may still be experiencing those big 3 y/o emotions & with all the transitions (& knowing that spirited children really are sensitive) maybe this is something that you'll be able to address---It sounds like he has a really solid foundation at home, so it's a matter of convincing him to keep that sense of respect with him all day.


Maybe ask the teacher when his expressing himself by acting out--is it also around transitionary moments in the day? a reaction to something he perceives as threatening from other children? is it really as simple as things aren't going his way (seems unlikely based on his behavior at home)?


Just some ideas. Good luck!

post #5 of 7

Look into sensory processing disorder.  Information here:  starcenter.us.  A good round of occupational therapy 3x/wk for 5 weeks just made gigantic shifts for my son.  Basically, when the stimulus of these "spirited" children is too much, they just can't cope like they would if they weren't trying to deal with the sensory overload.  My son would have a very difficult time at school.  I have chosen to not deal with that stress and just homeschool, as I'm finding many other parents of spirited children do, but that isn't for everyone.  Occupational therapy by a therapist who specializes in SPD is very, very helpful, both for getting your son well-regulated and teach you and the school great strategies for assisting him in staying regulated. Invaluable.  Can't say it enough.  The aggression was 80% higher 5 weeks ago than it is now.  School is a large, chaotic environment filled with tons of different stimuli that can impact your son.  Good luck to you!


post #6 of 7

subbing my son seems to be aggressive and his preschool teacher brought up some sensory concerns. 

post #7 of 7

My first thought would be to find out about the typical response to these behaviors.  How well do they (teachers, staff) seem to understand him?  How much do they seem to expect the issues to "resolve" (as in, stop happening) as a result of contacting you, versus how much do their communications seem to be about keeping you up to date with what's going on at school and welcoming any input you may have?  How much faith do you have in the school's philosophy or approach concerning behaviors & feelings, conflict, and how to respond when kids are having some difficulty with transitions, relationships or big feelings like frustration?


So, they identify that he gets frustrated easily (and that he acts out this frustration with some problematic behaviors), and I would want to explore how they typically or routinely respond to the frustration or difficulty he is having.  When he expresses or indicates frustration (with something he's attempting to do, with a situation he dislikes), how would the teacher typically respond?  How do they respond (what sort of thing might a teacher say) when his words are not kind?  Given an example of him yelling at a kid or a teacher, what is the response to him in that moment?


Take a look at these routine responses to his complaints, body language or actions and see if the responses are likely to help him feel "felt" or if they are more likely to stir things up and increase his agitation and defensiveness.  Does it seem likely that he feels able or "allowed" to have his feelings, or is it more about smoothing things over and stopping anything unpleasant?  (This kind of smoothing/stopping effort, such as relying on reasoning with or explaining things to an upset child, can escalate things.)  It is not that you would want responses that "feed into" his frustration, but just to give some space for it, so that it in itself is not somehow a "problem."  And so that he has the supportive presence of a regulated adult so that he can process those feelings of frustration (flow through a process, finding internal resolution), rather than getting stuck in defending & asserting his upset feelings as valid!


I would wonder if the overall approach to his frustration tends to be one of solving/fixing a problem, and then getting frustrated when it doesn't "work" and his behavior or emotional expression escalates (the adults in the classroom, I mean.)  Or if the response focuses on resisting and correcting anything problematic or unacceptable.  I understand needing to address problematic things like unkind words, but if the focus is on correction without any sort of connection or acknowledgment, it can tend to create more of a problem than would have to exist.  Hearing what he says and "hearing" the underlying emotional content (and reflecting it back in a way that communicates acceptance and understanding of those feelings) tends to avoid escalating frustration AND it accomplishes the goal of modeling what the teachers likely desire from him, which is a more acceptable, less problematic way of expressing the same feelings.


A response that focuses on instructing him about what he "can't" or "shouldn't" say pretty much accomplishes the opposite.  The problem in those moments tends to be that a child can't think and needs some connection to soothe him and to return to his "higher" brain functioning, not that he doesn't know/remember what is appropriate, or doesn't care.  Responding in a way that helps in that moment of having "downshifted" to emotional reactivity can make a dramatic difference in the way things play out.


So anyway, that's what I'd be wondering and exploring, initially.  Also simply reflecting on the purpose/goal of the email communications and what the likely expectations seem to be, and what feelings I'm (as a parent) bringing to these updates and what responsibilities or obligations I might be taking on.

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