Help for 3 y.o. Boy Who Is Having a Hard Time in pre-K

Updated on October 23, 2019
C.M. asks from Philadelphia, PA
17 answers

My 3 year old son is having a difficult time at preschool. He went last year and had a few weeks of drop off crying but quickly got used to it. This year, he’s perfectly fine at drop off (even excited to see his teacher and play with his friends) but every day when I pick him up we get a negative report. He’s uncooperative when switching to activities he doesn’t like, he won’t hold hands to walk to the playground, he won’t sit for circle time. He hides under the table and cries if there’s an activity he isn’t into. And yet he’s completely content at the playground and during free play when he’s first dropped off. Any suggestions as to getting him to settle and participate with the class would be great. It seems like he’s not ready for the more structured schedule. It’s so strange that he acts this way. He’s very easy going at home. I’m at a loss. Thanks for any suggestions or recommendations!!

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answers from Miami on

It’s not strange that he acts this way. He’s a 3 year old. Circle time is for older kids. Go find another program. You are trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Good advice below. If you don't have to work, then maybe you could find another preschool or pull him out and put him back in when he's older. I pulled my 3 year old out because she cried all day, but I was a SAHM so I had the option.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Boston on

Sounds like he loves free play and doesn't like structure. That's very typical at this age, and it's new in the school year.

I think it's totally up to the staff to handle this - there is nothing you can do at 7 a.m. or 2 p.m. to affect what he does at 10:30 a.m.! Nothing! He's 3. Nothing you say will carry over to a new situation. Same goes for when he's 5, 7, 9.

Either the staff is skilled and nurturing, and able to handle giving him a two-minute warning before a change in activity and willing to handle a crying jag, or they're not. Either give it more time or find another program. It's a little bit of a red flag that you get a "negative report." If you mean they tell you he had a hard day and you see that as negative, then I'd say to relax and let them work on it. If you mean they tell you something in a disparaging way and expect you to handle it, then I think it's time to have a sit-down with the director or find another school.

Try working together about using the same phrases at home and at school when it's time to move on to the next thing, time to sit still at the table, time to run around and play. Consistency helps.

And if he's just 3, why is this "pre-K"??? That sounds developmentally inappropriate. He should be in preschool, period. Is he going to K at age 4? That's not going to work.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

You said it yourself: he's not ready for a structured schedule. Now, that doesn't mean that your son can't or shouldn't start learning some basics (like holding hands when in a parking lot or walking on a sidewalk to a park, or obeying an adult who's in charge when it comes to safety or playing nicely). I doubt if, at home, you have circle times and activity times that are guided by the clock. Sure, you may have meal times, and rules about being at the table, and you may have bed times, and rules about staying in bed, but most likely you let him play with his trucks or cars or blocks or the cat or his super hero stuff as long as he's playing nicely and not breaking things or hitting the cat. Playing at very young ages is actually learning. Their little brains are figuring out that the toy can be almost anything, and their imaginations and creativity are developing.

But at 3 years old, a child shouldn't be in anything called Pre-kindergarten. Kindergarten is a big step for kids, and it can shape the path of their future education. Kindergarten is where they'll learn foundations for reading, and counting and science and geography, and most of all, being part of a class. Pre-K is just the step below that. At 3, they're still learning to share, to play with other kids (especially if there aren't a lot of brothers and sisters at home), learning to remind themselves to use the bathroom properly, to wash their hands by themselves, and simple things like that. Play is such an important part of learning, and at 3, they should be playing.

If you have your son in Pre-K because you hope he'll be ahead of the game as far as writing, counting, reading, etc, then I believe you have been misdirected. He's at the play stage. When he's 4 1/2, he can enter an actual pre-kindergarten program, and he can succeed, because he learned how to play, how to be a friend, how to listen. Don't rush him.

If you have your son in a setting like a preschool because you work during the day, or because he doesn't see any other kids due to living in a remote area or in an apartment building where there aren't any young families for example, then find a less structured play program. Let him play, learn to interact with other kids, learn to respond when the adult in charge gives a basic direction (like "line up" to come inside after playground time), learn to use his imagination, and most of all, be 3 years old.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

He needs a more play based situation.
He's not being difficult - he's just being 3.
Perhaps you are expecting him to behave like he is more mature than he is.

Our son use to get this all the time.
He was always the tallest in his class and people thought he was way older than he was.
I had one parent who was picking up at daycare same time as I was and this other parent thought my son was 6 years old when he was 2 years old.
To be fair - the parent was barely 5 ft tall and their oldest child who was 6 was shorter than our son.
He might look older but he was still 2 and certainly could not act like he was any older than he was.
I had to go over this with quite a few of his teachers in early elementary school.
He might look older but he's acting exactly like his actual age.

Adjust your expectations.
If it doesn't settle down in the next month or so then I would look for a play based preschool.
Too much structure too soon doesn't do anyone any favors.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

3 is so young. I would pull him out and try again next year. He’s got plenty of years of structured schooling ahead of him. Let him play at home and bring him to library times and other activities in your town.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

It sounds like he's not ready for preschool. OR, maybe this isn't a good fit. My kids went to an accredited, play based preschool, three mornings a week. Other than morning circle time and outside time they were free to explore any kind of activity or play they wanted to (teachers offered guidance and structured activities for those who wanted to participate in that.)
If you need him to be there for child care I would consider switching to a center or home daycare that is less structured so he can play freely and have some time to mature. You don't want him to start hating/resenting school at such a young age :-(

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

sounds to me like a very very young human who wants to spend his time doing what he's hardwired to do— play. if this were my little fellow, i'd immediately pull him out of this preschool, which sounds much more like a conditioning camp to 'prepare' him for the rigors of school life than a nurturing environment for the very small person he is right now.

in two years he'll be much, much more mature and ready for the highly-structured environment of school. why does he have to be in the pressure cooker now?

if letting him stay in his home and play, with plenty of 'enrichment activities' (a clunky term for what used to be going about in the world with your kids and letting them experience a plethora of things), then please find him a pre-school that has its emphasis firmly on play.

any school that would present a parent with a 'negative report' every day because a tiny little guy had trouble transitioning or going along placidly with the herd would not be one with which i'd trust my precious children.

is he in preschool because your schedule demands it, or because you think he needs it?


5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

At three my son went to a Mother's Day Out type program 2 days a week. They had a schedule but it was free inside play, free outside play, coloring, lunch, nap, and more free play until we picked them up. Very loose and free range because they are three. (If it rained they would go play in the gym with balls and other sport like things.)

They offered storytime for those that wanted to go sit and listen while the others continued to play. Coloring may have been two or three scribbles or a whole sheet, then they excused themselves to go play.

I did it to have a small break twice a week to shop or go to the doctor...and allow him to play with other kids, learn to share, work on skills like swinging/climbing/etc as we didn't live close to a park or playground, and learn to listen to other adults.

The only report I got was if he used the restroom and what he ate a lunch. Unless there was an injury or incident then we were told about a scrape or bruise and what happened.

I'm thinking your program might be a bit too structured for him. Do you need it for daycare? Maybe a different style would fit him better like a Montessori. Good luck!!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Sounds like he's not ready for this kind of program, which is fine. If he's there for childcare, I'd look for a play-based daycare type of program that doesn't put these expectations on the youngest learners, either at a daycare center or a home-based program that is really just about keeping kids safe and supervised while they have fun doing activities that they choose (within reason). Maybe a Montessori-type program would be a good fit if you want "curriculum" but I think regular daycare at this age is totally appropriate. He'll have to sit in school for at least 13 years - he'll be fine if he waits until Kindergarten to start a more formal program that doesn't have the freedom and flexibility that your 3 year old seems to be craving.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

My initial thought was that their expectations at the preschool are very unrealistic and how odd they give you a report at the end of day like this. This was not the case where we went - which was more play based, and this would not have been a big deal.

Honestly, my mom (a kindergarten teacher during her career) had a lot of kids who struggled with this at age 5, and that was to be expected.

So I find it strange they are writing this up. They sound inexperienced.

It all depends on the teacher - I used to work with 3 year olds years ago, and you give advance warning, get them interested in next activity (or going outside, whatever it is), and handle it - you don't put it back on the kiddos.

If he's a handful, and is dirsruptive, and causing issues for the teachers and class - then I can see them talking to you - but I think you'd have a sense of that already. I can't tell from your post if that's the case (doesn't sound like it). It could just be that this place is not the right fit for him (sounds like it). Whatever the case, teachers handle circle time stuff and don't expect parents to talk to kiddos or to handle it at home. I also wouldn't want to hear about it every day - you don't need that stress. I think we might have got a report once every quarter but they weren't about stuff like that. They were positive and pretty upbeat.

We only got reports at end of day if they were an 'incident report' in that if a kid bit another kid or there was an accident or something of that nature.

Hope that helps. My suggestion is - meet with the director of the place, share your concerns, ask what you can do .. ask if this is a 'bigger issue' and it's just being handled in daily reports ... otherwise can you just let it go? You're not sure what you're to do. Then decide if you want to stay there, and in meantime - explore other preschool options. Is he happy there? Doesn't sound like it. I think he might be happier elsewhere if this is going on during the day. More play based.

It's great he can handle drop off and play outside, but at three - he may need more nurturing and a different approach? You'll get a better feel once you have a sit down meeting I think. Good luck :)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I don’t understand why he’s in pre-k at 3 years old. That is a program for 4-5 years olds in this area. He is just not ready. Take him out and put him in a play based preschool.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Hi C., welcome to Mamapedia.

As you can see from some replies below, you will probably get more “helpful” responses from everyone here if you can add some information. Why did you decide to enroll your son in a program? Why did you choose this specific program? You refer to this as “pre-K” in your title but as “preschool” in your question, so it is a bit unclear exactly what type of program you are describing.

Of the parents on this site who sent their children to kindergarten outside the home, there are a bunch who did not even do that until the child was 6 years old (“redshirting”), so the idea of a structured school-day for a 3-year-old sounds a bit premature to many people. But if you can provide more details maybe we can all understand your “parenting goals” for what you are hoping that your son will experience during the day.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

He’s not ready for this. He would like a playgroup and probably do well.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I also wonder about what sort of program this is and whether it is a good fit for him. What was his program like last year? I would expect a good preschool teacher to be able to help him prepare for transitions and gently engage him in non-preferred activities. That is, unless the activities are really inappropriate for a 3 year old? What is “circle time”? What other activities are they wanting him to do? See if you can learn more about the activities so you can assess whether they are things that are appropriate for his age, and if he is capable of doing them. What does he say about these activities, about why he hides under the table?

Is this a full day or half day program? Will he hold your hand when you are walking with him? Whether or not the activities are appropriate for his age, he should be able to hold hands while walking to the playground, which is a preferred activity for him, unless he has some sort of sensory challenge.

If the other activities seem totally appropriate (no worksheets, any activity should be short and simple and fun), and If he is totally positive in his attitude about school, you can try brainstorming with him some ways to follow the routine. It is early in the year, you can see if he would like to “play school” at home and practice changing from one activity to another, holding hands, etc. But if things don’t improve, and you don’t need it for day care, then I’d probably just keep him home for another year and let him grow up a little. You can attend story times at libraries or bookstores for a more gentle introduction to structure.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Richland on

Hi Caitlyn,
I am sorry to hear that. That happened to my daughter as well. When she was three, she also doesn’t want to do stuff that your son doesn’t want to do as well. There is a time when she doesn’t want to switch activities, because she loves it so much and her teachers said she has to, so she switch activities. So, holding hands is important for little kids to go on the playground, because little kids tend to run around a lot. Plus, how about you tell your son, “I know that you don’t like to do it, but for your whole entire life you have to do stuff that you don’t want to do from baby to death.” This is what one of my teachers said.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

He's just not ready for structured activities yet and that's ok! Hopefully he is at a play based preschool. What methods do the preschool teachers use to deal with kids who do this? If he is like my kids in half a year he will be 100% changed and may love circle time and specific activities.

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