5 Year Old Is Stressing Daddy Out!

Updated on March 10, 2017
N.R. asks from Ann Arbor, MI
11 answers

My son has had a few incidents at school which have us pretty upset. He was getting in trouble for touching, kissing, etc. Then it got worse. he stole a brand new lego toy from a classmate then he lied about it to everyone. We made him write a letter to everyone he upset , no tv for the weekend. We also made him use his entire 6 dollars life savings to buy a new toy for the kid. Next a week later he stole an eraser from the school. Arg. A month went by. Now today we get a call from the principal. While sitting on the rug, he pinches a girl on the bottom so hard she didn't calm down for 15 minutes. Principal told us this is his last chance. (Not sure what that means)
His birthday is in 2 weeks. Wife wants to cancel at the laser tag place as she's embarrassed that we would be celebrating when he doesn't deserve it. Want to have a small family only party. Thoughts ?

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E.B.

answers from Beaumont on

I agree with canceling the laser tag. A small party would be more appropriate right now. Call the school and schedule a meeting to discuss what is going on. You all need to be on the same page. Want to offer you hope. My son was a WILD child. He's 15 now and has much more control over himself and is actually called "a good kid" by his teachers. Hang in there Dad!!!

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

Absolutely do not cancel the party. That is not going to help this situation at all.

I don't want to say this behavior is completely normal for a 5 year old, but it's really not abnormal, either. It's more on the boarder of behavior that needs to be addressed. It's not really that uncommon for 5 year olds to behave this way, and schools generally do know how to address it and deal with it.

Since the school is struggling, I would definitely schedule a conference to talk about what is going on, what the school has tried and find out what they would like to do about this here on out.

There really isn't a whole lot you can do, in the way of punishment, that is going to make a difference. Whatever happens at school is a lifetime ago to your son once you are able to talk to him about it. A punishment from you is not immediate, and any connection to what happened at school is lost to him. Also, writing a letter of apology is asking a lot of a 5 year old. No tv for an entire weekend is definitely to harsh for a 5 year old. I understand, as an adult, the severity of your son's actions, but a 5 year old cannot. That message was lost on him.

Talk to the school. They might need to brainstorm a bit, but there really are things they can do to help. You might want to consider having your son evaluated. He might have ADHD or a learning disability or something that could affect his behavior. there are behavioral specialists that can help.

But this is really something you need to work with the school on. Punishments at home are not going to help.

Please don't cancel the party.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

He's 5, so canceling something that's 2 weeks away has no relevance, in a child's mind, to what happened this morning at school. He needs more immediate consequences whenever he commits an infraction - and that is classroom management.

I understand why you made him write a letter to those involved, but even at 5, kids aren't really "sorry" if you know what I mean. I agree that it made sense to put him through the exercise, and certainly to spend his saved money on a replacement toy (excellent idea), but that's not to say that he's truly sorry. That's a developmental stage he hasn't reached yet. So he can learn that there are consequences that affect HIM, but it's not enough to make him really feel true remorse. I do think you can reinforce this when he wants something new or wants more money for something - your attitude must be, "It would be nice to buy some candy, but unfortunately you decided to steal the Lego toy and so you, of course, had to buy a new one. Maybe next time you won't make that decision." Keep the emphasis on each decision that he makes, and tie the immediate consequence to that.

I have no idea what the principal means by "last chance"!!! They are not going to expel a 5 year old, for heaven's sake. So find out what that means. So sitting on the rug, he needs to keep his hands to himself - but that's a common lesson every day in preschool, kindergarten and first grade. A lot of schools use carpet squares from the remnant store for that very reason - to keep kids in their own space. It would seem to be a very simple solution to have him sit right next to the teacher and maybe have something on the other side - a chair, a stack of books, or just a bigger space. If there's a teacher's aide in the class, that person can help. If there isn't, ask if there is a floating aide who can be in your son's class at a specified time when a problem activity might be involved.

I think it's perfectly fine for him to have to play at recess near the playground monitor - but he does need to get out and run off his energy, so I don't think he should have to stay in.

I do think a system of rewards is good. You don't want the teacher to have to do this with all of 20-25 kids all day, but many schools have a sticker chart or a stoplight/clothespin system (clothespins on the green light portion of a poster, first offense the clothespin gets moved up to the yellow light, and 2nd offense it goes to the red light when privileges are suspended). In my school, the kids moved their own pin up to the next light, so it really imprinted on their brains. You could have a small reward at the end of a certain number of stickers or good reports. Work this out with the teacher - I'm 100% positive this has happened before with other children in other years!

I think canceling his birthday is not a good idea - I think it sends the message that he's not lovable or deserving of a birthday. Don't think about the embarrassment in front of other parents, but do think about the free-for-all environment of laser tag and whether that's a good setting. Also, have other adults on hand so that you or your wife can immediately take him out in the event of a problem behavior, and still have enough supervision of the other kids. Of course, he will have a meltdown if you take him away from that, so perhaps a lower key party is good. Have you ever done one with the old fashioned games (sack races, potato/spoon relays, etc.)? We used to do those for our kids, and I got older books out of the library with great, simple and inexpensive ideas. Kids LOVED them because they were such a nice break from bounce houses and ball pit parties. Kids this age don't need big venues. (We also kept parties very manageable in terms of size - when our kid turned 6, he invited 6 kids. Period. If you are having a huge group, it's overwhelming for most kids so you need to be very structured.) However, your invitations are out, so you can't rescind them. If you change the venue and the other kids are disappointed and are only coming because of the activity and not your son, then they aren't great friends. Or they can learn to adapt. At home, it's easier to remove a poorly behaving child, even the guest of honor, for a quiet time in his room and let the other kids continue with games. If he wants to return to the group (which he absolutely will), then he'll settle down. Take him out every time he's physical with other kids. Every time. Again, have other relatives or friends there to run the party so you can be in charge of your child. If, however, you are committed to the laser tag party, then have a system to remove him from the party and take him out to the car (zero stimulation) every time he is inappropriate. It's energy-intensive for you, but it will give him the message that it's his behavior that is the problem, not his worth as a birthday child.

This is so normal for a 5 year old. If you are consistent with consequences every single time, no matter how inconvenient it is for you (and it will be!), you will get much farther with him than if you talk to him about it over and over. Use a very, very brief term (like, "hands to yourself") that covers everything from pinching to hitting to even excessive hugging or high-fives). They don't hear us after a while - they just don't. And often the talking/reprimanding gives them attention, even negative attention, that they thrive on. But they absolutely get the idea that it's terrible for their OWN fun and enjoyment if they engage in this behavior and are separated from the family or the group.

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

Does he misbehave at home or only at school? What about in other places (at grandparents house or church Sunday school or when playing at a friend's house). If it's only at school, I think you need a sit down with the teacher and/or principal to figure out why. If it's only at school, narrow down some more - kids in elementary move between classrooms at least a little bit for art, music, library, etc. Does he misbehave for all the teachers, or just one? All times of day or is it always at the beginning or end of the day? Maybe you can think through all the situations he's in and try to narrow down where and when these things are happening.

If it's more than just at school (eg, school and at grandma's), then you think about what those things have in common. Does it happen when he wants attention or does he have a hard time with transitions? If you can narrow it down, you could work with the school to come up with specific strategies for those situations. That's a whole lot more useful than having the school just label him as kid who's on "his last chance".

Good luck.

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H.W.

answers from Portland on

First off, the school stuff. If you feel "this is his last chance" is ambiguous, it's long past time to have a sit-down conference with the teacher and principal so that everyone is on the same page. I would not let this go without clarity. As your son's parents, you and your wife need to be having these conversations in light of the challenging behavior your son is presenting to his classmates.

Let me ask you this: have friends already been invited to the birthday party? Would you be embarrassed to celebrate because of other parents' perceptions, or because you are trying to 'teach a lesson'? Honestly, I'm all for consequences, but I think if you've invited friends to come already, it would be more embarrassing to cancel and make a show out of punishing your kid. Unless you feel that the activity in question (Laser Tag) would be likely to cause more misbehavior, which, then, I could understand.

(when my son was in first grade, I decided not to let him attend the party of classmate who had a lot of acting-out behaviors. The proposed party environment was not conducive to helping the kids stay in control of their actions, and from later reports, I was glad we made that choice. That's where my own suggestion comes from.)

So, start with better communication with the teacher, schedule a conference and ask what she is doing to help your son manage himself. Think about what you can do at home to encourage thoughtfulness and impulse control at school. When our son was challenged in school, he was able to earn media time (his "currency") for every day he had a good report. A small motivator for staying on task. Talk to the principal about what this proposed "last chance" (for what?) means. Work with the school as a team and stay in touch on a regular basis. Some of this doesn't sound too far out of range, behavior-wise, for a kid this age, but you do need to check in with the teachers, so they know you are supporting them and willing to work together. And critically think about the party, the reasons why you might want to cancel, and what you can do to help him stay on task and on track. Canceling a birthday party to 'teach a lesson' is far different than choosing a more 'in control' activity because you have concerns about behaviors. Different considerations entirely.

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B.A.

answers from Columbus on

Schedule an appointment with the principal and guidance counselor and ask them to help you come up with a behavior plan. Five year olds are still learning about boundaries and social skills, and they will make mistakes. It may be that he just needs some extra supervision while at school... To be the teacher's shadow so she can intervene before he acts inappropriately.

As far as the birthday party, I wouldn't cancel it. Just know that one of you will probably need to watch him at all times. But it's also a good opportunity for you to observe how he interacts with other kids and guide him.

What bothers me though is your wife's feeling that having a birthday party would be celebrating when he doesn't deserve it. Every child deserves to celebrate their birthday! He's not a bad child-- he's just making some poor choices. He went for a month between the Lego incident and the pinching incident. That's a long time in the life of a 5 year old!

Keep emphasizing all of the positive, good things that he does. Especially this late in the school year, the last thing you want to do is end the school year with him feeling like a failure.

ETA: I don't want to minimize your son's behavior, because it needs to be addressed. But keep in mind that even at such a young age it's possible for a child to develop a reputation as a problem child. And once that happens it becomes much easier for other kids to use the child as a scapegoat. I saw it happen first hand at my son's school today. I had to actually tell a 2nd grade teacher that what her student (not my child) was accused of doing in the cafeteria never happened, despite what her favorite students told her. I saw the entire incident, and it never occurred to her that the other kids were lying.

I remember when my nephew was that age, my sister got called to the principal's office almost every week. One time, it was because two girls claimed he scratched them so hard it left marks. My sister showed the principal that his nails were so short he couldn't possibly have done that. It was at that point that she realized what was happening.

That's why it's so important that you be his advocate and remain in his corner. You want to hold him accountable, but you also want him to know you believe in him. Ask him open ended questions. Instead of saying 'did you pinch Sally', say 'Sally was really upset about something. What happened?' 5 year old children will sometimes confess to things they didn't do just to appease the adult who is asking them.

And none of the things you mention are extremely unusual. My son has had classmates kiss him and touch him. And his school no longer even allows then to bring legos, trading cards, etc because the inevitably are

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R.A.

answers from Boston on

First off, he is five. Second, he is limit testing. Third, sounds like he has poor impulse control.

Consistent discipline, coinciding with natural consequences can help minimize these kinds of incidents. Limit setting, behaviors that consist with positive rewards at school and home will help. Also, he is learning about everything at this age and will be curious.

Small family party would suffice. If you've already given out invites though, that's tricky.

I'd have a meeting with the school and come with a plan to address behavior and ways to avoid other incidents.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

We received a lot of calls from our kindergarten teacher with one of our kids. So part of this might be the teacher. Keep perspective. Teachers have a lot on the go managing their classrooms now and some have zero tolerance for disruption. I remember thinking my sweet child must have been absolutely wild at school due to the number of notes, etc. but nowadays, with no touching policies etc. they call about stuff our own teachers back in the day, would never have bothered parents with.

One of mine took a few things - at school and once from a friend's home. We just made him apologize and return it. It was a testing the limits phase. He then stopped. Good opportunity to explain that he wouldn't like it if something nicked his stuff. Don't go overboard - at age five, you don't want to really punish your child so much as just deal with the problems.

As for the pinching - I'd look into why he wanted to pinch and hurt this girl. Maybe she was bugging him. Maybe he needs to learn how to deal with his frustration more. To me, I'd get to the bottom of why he is doing things. You can talk to the teacher, principal, counsellor etc. if this is different behavior than what you see at home or with friends.

I personally would not cancel the party. One of mine did not get a party and I felt so awful afterwards. They are a big deal to kids this age especially if he already knows about it. And I would never cancel if you've sent out invites. If your wife is worried about what other people may think, tell her that's their business - and quite frankly, no one cares about it. If people judge you, then that's their problem. Most people are more concerned with their own kids than to worry about this.

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C.C.

answers from New York on

When the Principal told you that it was his "last chance", and you were aware that you did not know what that phrase meant, what did you say? Why did you not ask for clarification right then?

You should go back to another conversation with the Principal. "I should have asked this last time we spoke - exactly what did you mean when you used the phrase 'last chance'?"

Do not cancel the party. But DO get a handle on what the school is thinking about in terms of "next steps" here, how they intend to move forward in their dealings with your son (which is why you need to know what "last chance" means).

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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

He needs immediate consequences, something two weeks out will have little impact. I am assuming that by "last chance" she means he may be suspended or expelled if he can not control himself. Does he understand this? Have you talked to him about why he has done these things? This is the age where kids start to develop empathy and it sounds like he is struggling at the moment with it. If you are not sure how to deal with that ask for some referrals from the school.

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N.B.

answers from Oklahoma City on

Your child needs you to let his teacher control his situations at school. His consequences need to happen AT SCHOOL. Talking about his actions at home are of course important but he will not associate what's happening at home to his behavior at school...what I mean to say is he won't stop before he pinches someone and think..."If I do this impulsive action I won't get to have a birthday party next month". He'll simply react to the stimulus to pinch that person. If he has gotten in trouble for it at school, instantly, then he will start associating "If I pinch this person my teacher will catch me and I will get in trouble so maybe I don't want to pinch this person".

We tried the stuff at home and it had zero impact. Once the teacher started managing consequences it pretty much stopped.

If you consistently bring the problem home he never learns to regard his teacher as his authority figure. It is imperative that he does that. You are mom and dad, but his teacher must also be an authority figure or your child will continue to act out in class because he knows the teacher can't do anything about it.

Ask for the school psychologist to observe him in class to see if they see any reason for your son to be evaluated for anything at all. It might be that the teacher is not managing this classroom well, the kids might be completely bored and start doing stuff like this for fun, I know I would likely be volunteering and going in class as much as they'd let to see what the teacher is like and how my child is responding to the stimuli in the room.

As for the accidents. They tell kindergarten kids to bring extra clothes and a plastic bag for a reason. Almost every kindergartner or near that age goes through a time when they start having accidents again. It stops on it's own. There isn't much you can do about this either. It's like telling your child to stop puking when they have a stomach virus. It's biological and not in their control.

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