Kindergartener Having a Hard Time Adjusting to School

Updated on April 12, 2011
N.G. asks from Sebastopol, CA
6 answers

My son is almost 5 1/2. He is a smart, creative, funny boy. 99.999% of the time he's really sweet but sometimes... I swear he grows devil horns!

He has been complaining for a few months that daycare is "boring". He's obsessed with numbers and letters and with learning to tell time. So he started Kindergarten last week.

The school went sent him to assigned him to a very strict teacher who on Thursday sent home a note that said my son had stomped on a bee even after she had asked him to stop. She suggested meeting and setting some positive discipline. My husband and I said "OK, no problem" and decided to meet with her this week. My husband, who does the after school pickup, had told me about a couple of incidents in after school care: namely that on Tuesday he had let himself out of the gate and the care provider (who was on the computer) found him standing in the school parking lot and that on Thursday he had a potty accident and the same care provider hadn't noticed (he was also the last kid there for the day).

On Tuesday, I got a call from the District Superintendent. My son had been extremely disruptive in class, screaming and hitting other students. When the teacher tried to get him to stop, he hit her! The Super said he was fine now but he was to not go back for the day. I went to get him and she and I started to meet.

After a couple of minutes, he looked at me and said "I love you!' several times. Then he spun out of control, screaming, hitting the Super (and the teacher when she entered the room) and hurling insults. The teacher left the room shouting "In 41 years of teaching I've NEVER seen such a badly behaved child!" and "I wish you all the best in your life!!" The school had no suggestions when I called later that afternoon except "try to work it out with the teacher". So we decided to change schools. He spent the rest of the day playing quietly in his room.

Wednesday, he went to his old daycare and he did just fine.

Yesterday, he started at the new school, which is in our district and has all his friends going there (I should mention they also have resources available for kids having a hard time). He did fine until about noon, when I got a call from the Principal that he was out of control again. He sat in the Principal's office for about a half hour, went back to class, and was fine the rest of the day. We opted out of after school care for the rest of the week.

I have an appointment on Monday with the psych department at the local hospital. I want to get my son tested for ADHD, ODD and anything else we can think of but I just. don't. get. it. He has never acted out this way before! What could be going on with him?

Also, does anyone have any *positive* experiences to report with their kids?

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answers from San Francisco on

It sounds like he's capable of settling down, so I would hesitate to believe a blanket diagnosis of ADHD right off the bat. It seems likelier that the upheaval of changing classes might have upset him, some kids just don't react to change well. He sounds bright, so I hope you can find a way to help him deal with his feelings and get back to learning. I also wonder if he's reacting strongly to this particular teacher's style. Maybe she's authoritarian and he isn't used to someone coming down hard on him? Maybe she overreacted to something he did which set off a cascade of interpersonal conflict between them? Teachers react to kids on individual levels too, and have biases that are beyond reason. I'm just speculating. But that fact that he settles down after one brief outburst in an otherwise calm day speaks volumes: that he's acting out about something and probably not suffering from a generalized disorder. I think he's responding to something specific, but by all means I'd take him somewhere to get to the bottom of it.

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answers from San Francisco on

Wow, this is a tough one, there could be so many causes.

I'm not a big fan of the whole ADHD thing, if he's never acted like this before I wouldn't pin that one on him.

Sounds like he really doesn't like school/those schools. I would try a more touchy/feely school: any good charter schools in your area?

This is a very interesting case. Let me know how it goes.

p.s. - Hey, you're in Sebastopol. There are definitely touchy/feely schools there. Go for one. They make a difference.

p.p.s. - I put my kids in a charter school when my youngest constantly complained of being bored in school. He didn't have behavior problems but was too bright for the standard rote way they were teaching. He never said he was bored again.

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answers from San Francisco on

N., I think it's wise to look into this situation with the help of professionals right away. They can help you begin to help your son before his behavior becomes a deeply entrenched pattern and he develops a negative self image. Besides the testing for ADDH, and ODD, I would recommend seeking counseling with a child therapist to get to the bottom of his behavior, and to provide you with some new tools to use when discussing his behavior with him. Any diagnosis needs to be followed with counseling, and any behavior difficulties will benefit form it.
It's difficult to tell what is going on with your son without being there. I think you would have noticed ODD at home as well, and ADDH would have been mentioned by his day care. It sounds like he's reacting that way because he's overwhelmed, but why is he overwhelmed? When you find out you can make changes in his life, and teach him some more effective coping strategies.
Is the school day too long? Is he getting good sleep? Many children have undiagnosed sleep apnea which affects their behavior during the day, and is misdiagnosed as ADD. Has a new food been introduced into his diet at school (food sensitivities can alter behavior)? Is he impatient with waiting his turn in a large class, or impulsive, and there's too much pressure from the teacher to be self controlled. If he is used to a day care person who does not pay much attention to him (as you described above) and used to quietly doing activities on his own, a teacher's attention may be overwhelming to him. Maybe he is overly sensitive to the noises and movements of a large group of children.
Besides psychiatry you might look into occupational therapy for your son if there are any sensitivity issues and they can even help with ADD/ADDH.
As a teacher, I want to apologize for your son's teacher's comments. A child's behavior should NEVER elicit judgement or blame. I am so sorry she made those comments to you, they were not helpful. No matter how frustrated she was. It is a teacher's job (in concert with the parents) to work through a child's behavior challenges and to assist and encourage him to find effective ways to communicate and cooperate within a group setting. If extra resources are needed, they are available and teachers (and parents) are responsible to seek them out.
I have used a resource called CARE (through 4Cs) which will send a trained child development professional to visit (at least pre-school classrooms) to observe a child (in his classroom) who is having difficulty. the professional then works out a plan with the teacher and parents. CARE usually has a waiting list so it's good to find out right away if they can be of assistance to you and your son.
Finally, even though your son wants to learn numbers and letters, he may not be ready for kindergarten the way it's structured nowadays. It may just be a matter of waiting a year, when he is more mature. Boys often have a better school experience if they enter school at an older age. They mature in a different way than girls.
So if you decide that his overall readiness is the issue, you might find a pre-school that is academically based. That would meet his need for challenges, and his desire to learn letters and numbers, and yet provide a more flexible structure for him. And although tantrums, hitting other children, and hitting the teacher are not common nor acceptable behavior, they do occur more often in a pre-school than in a kindergarten. Preschool is a good place to work out these issues before entering public schools, where the expectations become higher.
Wherever you go, you want to find a teacher who will build a relationship with your son from the first day. Children yearn to be seen for who they are by the important people in their lives. When a child feels truly valued, he will have the desire (maybe not all the skills) to work WITH the teacher. He would do well with a teacher who would give him lots of positive attention, listens to him, "gets" who he judgement, no blame. Some children need this extra "being held" by the teacher, in the earliest years. They feel adrift, and the attention and connection can help to anchor them. I hope you find a good teacher next time.
The best actions you can take with your son is to assure him that her is loved and that you are there to help him change his behavior (not him). A child this age may not make a distinction between his self and his behavior, so making it clear that he is good, and it is just his behavior that needs to change (and that changing his behavior will make HIS life better) needs to be stated over and over.
Your son is fortunate to have parents who seek out help for him. It must be confusing and worrisome for you right now, so I hope you get some answers quickly. It may turn out that there is an easy solution to this situation. I hope so!



answers from San Francisco on

I don't know that it's the specific school that's the issue (although that first one sounded awful) or real chemical issues for your son. Sounds like he's entrenched in some really long, challenging days and he doesn't know yet how to handle it. Interesting to me that he had a half-hour of quiet in the principal's office and did fine the rest of the day. Kindergarten can be a huge adjustment, as is bouncing around to different schools and meeting new authority figures. And he doesn't have the skills yet to explain how he's feeling, but I think these actions are showing he feels out of control, angry, confused, exhausted, or all of the above. My 5.5-year-old son has been acting up lately too, we just moved across the country before he started kindergarten, and he appears to be handling things OK on one level, then he head butts me or talks back or whines more, and his night terrors have gotten worse. Some quality time talking with you or dad can help -- try to pull out how he feels when these incidents happen, and come up with strategies to behave better in class. Teaching him to count to 10 when he's angry, or go get a drink of water to have a minute alone. He also needs reminders from you that all grown-ups at the school need to be respected, even if he doesn't know and trust them yet. Remind him also that it's OK to be afraid or confused or overwhelmed, and that it's going to get better.
Good luck, hang in there!



answers from San Francisco on

I am so sorry that you are having this trouble. While I can not offer too much advice, what I can tell you is that your son is not totally OUT OF THE NORM. I am sorry that you have not found some help. I teach preschool and have two kids in kindergarten. It's the fact that the ratio is 1 to 20 so they can not accept the behavior and direct all attention to one child like in preschool where the ratio is 1 to 12 and have more funding. There are so recourses and here is one we used when the school district thought my daughter was ADHD. Her name is Deborah Madansky and she is highly respected and charges an arm and a leg. Many believe she is worth every penny as she has an MD and an MFT. Your son may just need shorter days, more attention at home from his parents, yes, structure is EVIDENT as we had the same problem for my daughter but her's was not distructive behavior but lack of focus and over stimulation. Please check out Dr. T. Berry Brazelton who is a huge infulence in the child development world. His books and videos can help. THe library has them! Understand your child just needs extra support! If you want furture contact we can chat. My e-mail is [email protected]



answers from New York on

Hi - You might want to have him evaluated by an Occupational Therapist. He sounds like he might be a sensitivity kid. Does he have a hard time with change regularly but is fine once he gets used to new situations? Does noise or visual stimulation bother him? If he is over stimulated he has no way of explaining what is bothering him but by acting out he is getting what he needs which is to be removed from the situation that is causing him problems. Usually sensitivity kids get over stimulated because their nervous systems are immature. My son is 9 and has sensitivity issues which always get better with age but it does explain your son's behavior. He may need a quiet small classroom compared to what other kids his age can handle.

OT helps out a lot and there are many things that can be done in the class room to help him. He is trying to tell you something and you need to listen to him. He doesn't want to be miserable he's just trying to tell you it's too much for him, now you need to investigate and find out why. I just started reading a great book "Suffer the child", it's great. If you have time I highly recommend it. Good Luck!!

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