Strong Willed Little Boy!

Updated on May 17, 2012
S.K. asks from Plano, TX
11 answers

My son just turned 4. He goes to preschool 5 mornings a week (9-1). This is his second year of school (he was home the first 2 years). His first year was all about play, social interaction, etc, as it should be. I feel strongly that preschool should not be too academic, and should be play-based and not rush kids into things that are not age appropriate.

This year, thought, they've started working in more of that stuff. Its a natural progression and they don't sit the kids down to do worksheets or anything like that, everything is built into other activities.

He is a bright, curious child with a great sense of humor and a great imagination.

The problem is, now that things are getting a little harder for him, he's starting to refuse to participate. Its like he only wants to do things he's already good at. I've explained the concept that you have to practice to get good at things; he's watching his baby brother learn to crawl right now and I'm constantly pointing out that he keeps trying and trying even though its hard and now he's getting good at it. But it is not carrying over.

Where most of his classmates (according to his teacher) are interested to learn letters for example, and are excited when they learn to recognize or write a letter, every time I try to talk about letters with him he says "I don't want to talk about letters." When he can't immediately draw a sailboat or whatever he's envisioning, he drops the marker and walks away. Teacher is getting the same thing. If he's not interested, he just flat refuses.

Its got me a little concerned. He's heading into pre-K next year and will turn 5 next April, so age-wise that'll be his last year before Kindergarten.

I try to be very creative, work those concepts in to every day experiences we have, etc. I do not hound him or make him sit down to practice, I am trying to spark his natural curiosity and let him find his own way there, but when I see that his classmates are able to produce much neater drawings than he can, etc. it does bother me. Of course my husband keeps telling him "when I was your age i could read already!" (my MIL confirms this is true) so I'm sure that's not helping.

Any thoughts, suggestions, words of wisdom? Thanks in advance.

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answers from Boston on

He will be just fine. It will change when he is 5 and is in K. A little time makes all the difference.

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answers from San Francisco on

When your little guy turns five or shortly thereafter you will notice a big difference in him! Letters are not important to him since they don't have meaning in his world yet. Now, mind you I have had worked my my son a bit at home preparing him for kindergarten and he was like your guy, if he didn't want to do it, he didn't want to do it. They find something they can master and stick with that for a bit (it builds their confidence, go with it!) Now (at age 5) ? He is trying to figure out what letter words start with, asking how to spell words, and tying his shoes? He sat down with me yesterday to learn and now he's tying shoes like a champ! He starts kindergarten in the Fall and can't wait. Try not to let what "most" of his classmates are doing scare you. Some kids have been reading for a year by the time they hit kindergarten (there is no prize given for that by the way!) but by third grade most of the other kids have all caught up and they are on equal playing ground. Just keep working with him in a non obvious way, randomly pointing out letters here and there but avoid sitting him down to work. He will be ready soon enough I promise!!!

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answers from Washington DC on

Have you talked with his teachers about what they recommend you do, or don't do, with him at home? They may surprise you and say not to try to go over letters etc. with him. He may find that stressful right now and they may advise you to leave that to school hours for now, until an interest kicks in. Or they may have good strategies for discussing it. I'd ask their advice.

You don't say it here, but I wonder if your mind has gone to the idea, "Maybe he doesn't 'get' letters? What if he's...." Fill in the blank with any condition that occurs to you. Many Mamapedia posts are moms worrying that their kid has this, that or the other, when the child is just being their age. So if there is any underlying worry like that, ask the teachers if he needs further evaluation if they see any issues (vision? hearing? inability to tell the letters apart? etc.) but otherwise, relax. You could consult some parenting books that discuss children's stages and what is age-appropriate behavior--which includes the things kids resist and dislike at each age, and that may include persevering at something that's new or hard.

As for the neater drawings by classmates: You will soon find you get over that, to be honest. I see fifth grade drawings that range from meticulous to scribbly! Some kids just take longer to get into drawing, others scribble then blossom at it, for others it's never their thing. When he does a drawing, do you ask him, "Oh, is that truck?" and he gets mad or upset when he replies, "No, it's a boat! Can't you tell it's a boat?!" If that is the dyamic sometimes, try eliminatiing specifics from your comments and instead say, "I love all the red in this picture, it's so bright! Tell me all about what's happening in this picture!" That lets him take the lead. HE knows what his drawings are meant to be, and to him they depict things just fine, so let him articulate that to you. Don't suggest that he do this or that to "make it look more like a fire truck." That can come much, much later.

Regarding the "lesson" of his baby sibling learning to crawl: I get your point and it's a nice one -- but at four, I don't know if he really is connecting what his brother is doing on the floor to his own issues with not wanting to do what's hard. You and I get it, as adults, but to him it may just feel like you're saying the baby's doing something so well, and why can't he do something well too? I would leave off any comparisons, however gentle and well meant, with the baby's efforts. Your son may be saying "I understand" but I have found that kids his age will say that to end a conversation or make the parent happy -- not because the child actually gets the parent's point.

And yes, you are right -- your husband saying "I could read already by your age" may seem like harmless joshing to your husband but your son won't hear it that way. I'd ask dad to drop it, even in jest.

I'd read and read to him and continue what you already do to spark his interest, and point out signs and say how you need his help today with "reading" them, or get him to fetch things from the supermarket shelves. Put letters and short words up on the fridge and change them daily but don't make a big deal of it -- just ask him, "Hey, what can you find in the kitchen that's different today?" And so on. If he resists, cool it.

You have another full preschool (pre-K) year before kindergarten and that is great. He will change and grow a LOT in that year and you may find he soon embraces letters and develops enough maturity to try something tough a second time. But for now, don't push him too much, and do consult closely with the teachers on specific strategies (or on not using any strategies for a while and leaving letters and numbers for school, temporarily).

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answers from Portland on

I agree with you that preschool should not be focused on academics. Preschoolers learn by playing.

I suggest that your son is not ready to learn letters. I would not push him. Let him be himself. The more you push him now the more likely he is to build up a dislike for them. He will learn when his brain has matured enough to be able to grasp such concepts.

If you're concerned that he may have a learning disability call the school district office and ask to talk with the early education evaluators. They will either be able to reassure you over the phone or will suggest that they talk with your son to conduct an evaluation.

I believe that he's most likely very normal and is just not interested right now. He will mature and become more interested if his lack of interest isn't considered a failure. Let him learn at his own pace.

Some kids don't know their letters until they're in first grade and that's OK. Some kids draw better sooner than other kids. Both are OK.

My granddaughter who is now 11 and in the 6th grade can draw well. However, in Kindergarten she was sloppy and didn't particularly want to draw. Her handwriting was sloppy while other student's handwriting was well formed. Her handwriting is fine now.

Cheryl B. My granddaughter didn't color inside the lines until she was in second or third grade. I think it's just more fun to scribble. Also staying within the lines takes small muscle co-ordination and some kids develop that later than other kids.

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answers from New York on

Give it time. It's amazing how much kids change every 6 months and you still have a whole year of pre-K ahead of you.

Your son sounds very similar to mine. He doesn't like trying things unless he's perfect on the first go. Of course, I keep preaching to him about "practice makes perfect". A year ago I remember my son having a huge tantrum over trying to draw something and it wasn't coming out the way he envisioned. A year later, just a couple days ago, he drew me a picture of Tom and Jerry (up on the fridge now). It's far from perfect, but he was so proud of it and I was so proud of him. He doesn't draw as well as several of the kids in his pre-K class (particularly the girls), but he's coming along.

It's a maturity issue - nothing to do with his intelligence or abilities. It will come - just keep working with him in small doses and he'll be fine. And yes, I'm all about play-based learning too.

Best of luck!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I would look for a more play based school. Alternatives might be a Waldorf school or possibly a Montessori - the children learn in a child led way. I would also evaluate whether you praise a lot - this can lead to children who are afraid to fail and take fewer risks.

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answers from Kansas City on

Is he the oldest child? It's pretty common for first borns to have that "perfectionist" trait. It doesn't make it any easier to deal with necessarily, but knowing about some of those first born "things" can make your approach a little different. My daughter was a little bit like this with things, still is sometimes too. She's also 4.5 and the first born! ;) I agree that maybe he just isn't ready b/c he is still inside his own head and only wants to do things he knows he'll succeed at. I think your approach is pretty good so far. Don't force him, but encourage it, but don't press the issue. He'll probably come around. In the mean time, I would make sure he's exposed to text of all kind, even if you're reading to him, playing games, puzzles, etc. They also make stamps with all the letters on them and maybe he'd just like to play with them and stamp random letters. You don't even need to turn it into a lesson as much as just having him see the letters over and over will eventually help with his writing too.

I really think it will work itself out eventually, just keep being aware of it. It might help too if you narrate your own "mistakes" and emphasize that you just had to try again to do something b/c you didn't do it perfectly the first time. I do something "wrong" at least once a day, so this would be easy for me! ;) j/k

Hang in there, I know this can get annoying from your perspective! ;)

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answers from Denver on

Well just keep encouraging him! since its new it may take him a while to get acclimated! he will do just fine! and try the reward system when he does do something good or do something new give him a ridiculous amount of praise!
Best of luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

I think you are right that your hubby's comments are not helping. In fact, they could be adding to the problem. He may feel "less than" your hubby because he can't read yet. Tell hubby to quit saying things like that.

The one thing I thought of while reading is for you to cut the letters of the alphabet out of construction paper. Then take an "R" and stick it to the front of the refrigerator. Take a "T" and stick it to the television. You get what I'm saying. Don't say anything to him, but don't doubt that he'll notice. Then just let him come to you or say something to you to start a conversation about the letter, it's sound, etc.

Give him the tools, but don't shove them down his throat. And please do tell hubby to stop making him feel that he isn't as good as his daddy. It really is detrimental.

By the way, my five year old granddaughter came over this weekend and asked to paint. I got her a picture and painting supplies and was astonished to see her just scribbling like a 3 year old. She has no desire to try to color or paint inside the lines. I thought that was a bit worrisome myself.

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answers from Dallas on

My oldest was a bit like this. A perfectionist and a "I know it all" kind of attitude:)
We got the movie "The Letter Factory" and the coinciding magnets and he really enjoyed watching the movie and then getting to do it himself.
I think others have offered some great insight/advice, but wanted to offer up a concrete product that helped my kiddo get into the whole letter thing. Best of luck.



answers from Boston on

Lots of thoughts, so I'll list them.

1. Children learn best through play. He is not ready for the fine-motor work they are having him try. He is resisting work that has a "correct" end-product. He should be free drawing, coloring, working with play doh, finger painting, sand-drawing, etc.

2. Perfectionists are born and then they learn more perfectionist traits from those they love the most. Model being kind to yourself and always give yourself a break. This will be very anxiety-reducing for him.

3. Neat drawings are not a goal of preschool. Please back off and rejoice in what he does produce. See the energy, the message, not the execution. And please talk with Dad about backing off those hurtful comments. What is the point of shaming his child? If he is trying to encourage him, it's not working , is it?

3. Is the teacher worried? Testing through the public school system is free, if you all have questions about your son's learning style.

4. I hope the teacher knows the methods to encourage your child to try his best on a choice of activities, in order to decrease his refusal to try. You can help by not asking "what" he did each day, but rather "what was good about today", or given his sense of humor, "Did anything funny happen today?" My perfectionist son said "gym" 99% of the time!

All my best.

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