Three Year Old Misbehaving at Preschool. What's Going On??

Updated on May 23, 2011
K.V. asks from Lynnwood, WA
30 answers

I have a 3 year old boy. He's in a daycare center, it's 20 kids in his room!!! Well, for like a month now, every day when I go to pick him up I have complaints from the teachers, that he hits, that he screams, or now is that around 3:30 he cries and cries. I don't know what to do. He was in the other room up until january, when he was moved to the 3 year old room, all of this started, I think most of it is that my son copies everything he sees the others do. I'm not saying he's not hitting, he's super active, but he doesn't hit at home. He has fits and stuff, notrmally I'd say, he tells the teachers "no", and I know that he learned from the others. I told the teacher she needs to be firm with him, but she says she can't "make " him do stuff. At home, he doesn't tell me "no", but if he does, I take his hand and tell him that he's doing what I said because that is what he's supposed to do. Every day I'm stressed now, I have to go to work, I NEED to work, and I'm stressed about what complaint I'm gonna get. Sometimes is he didn't sit and listen during story time, sometimes I think thay expect too much from little 3 years olds. Any ideas??? is there something wrong with my little one?? is he going to be labeled as "agresive?????? I'm sad and stressed about all of this. Should I change him to a different daycare????

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So What Happened?

I cannot thank enough to all of you!!!!!!!! I was so worried about him being labeled, you know??? I have a n 8 year old girl, so he's not only child, he does not hit at home, my daughter doesn't hit him, and when it happens, because it does happens sometimes of course between siblings, we don't allow it. We have a no hitting rule, saying sorry and giving love after. I know it's not just him, but every time they complain, that is the way I see it. I'm starting to shop around, because I thought too, like many of you say, that he's over stimulated there, too many kids. Also, we know with my husband that he's not napping there. when he gets home, he has dark circles under his eyes, and in weekends he takes three hours naps, he's over tired. Thanks to all of you, wonderful mommies that understand the concerns better than anyone, because you live them too. Thank you!!!!!

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answers from Seattle on

You have quite few good answers here but I would like to ad my 2 cents. Around age 3 is the age when the testosteron hits. In fact the percentage of the testosteron to theirs body mass is much higher than when they are teenagers. And yes, some boys have more than the others. This is the main reason of all those changes around 3. I would look for a smaller day care where I can work with the teacher toward calming down all the agression in my boy. Good luck!

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answers from New York on

Yes, I would look into other daycares with smaller class sizes. The thought of 20 children in one room makes me want to throw my own tantrum! Way too much for little ones! Also, is the ratio ok by state law. My son is in daycare as well and there have been classes where i feel the teachers handle him so well and then there are some that complain all of the time and are just negative. It is hard enough to go to work and come back after a long day and get negative feedback all of the time. They should at least give you a positive to start with. You should ask for one..say, is there anything he did well today? That should send them a hint. I mean, i understand that kids are tough and little boys have a ton of energy yet ask them for suggestions and let them know the behavior does not mimic his at home! Ugg, i feel for you as i have been there. I did not find another daycare and once i told them i was leaving, they quickly worked with me and changed a few things.

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answers from Portland on

Maybe there are too many kids per teacher/instructor? It sounds like he's lacking attention and maybe not getting a rest time. Could you maybe research a smaller day care or one with more adults? I have just 4 yr old twins - they are in an in-home day care that has a better teacher to kid ratio, and it's much less expensive than the "centers" like Learning Center, Kindercare, etc., and they get preschool instruction. I used the county website for daycare research, just filled in a questionnaire and they emailed me a bunch of places that fit my criteria. Good luck!

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answers from Portland on

Hello K.-

As your son's teachers if he is napping during the day. In a room with that many kids, it's quite possible that he is not napping OR that class may not enforce naptime. If that is so, your son is probably tired and as we all know a tired child cannot control themselves.

He may also feel frusterated by the lack of attention in his class. When kid's don't get the attention they need, whether it's a need for a sip of water or a need for a hug, kids start yelling & reverting to behavior they know, crying.

20+ kids in a 3's class is a lot, even if the teacher/child ratio is lawful.

I hope this helps.

R. Magby

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Too many kids.
Over stimulation.
Too high of a ratio of kids.
Not all kids do well in a big group at a young age....they either act out like your boy... or turn inward to shut out the commotion.

Next, How does the care providers handle kids like that? Its not only your son, believe me. No child is a saint at that age.

Don't expect too much from him... he is only 3. Their emotions are NOT even fully developed yet at this age, much less their coping skills.

When there is too much expectations for a child that is NOT age appropriate... then frustration ensues.

I would switch to another daycare. Maybe a smaller one...

All the best,

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

ROFL... sorry, but when I read the title... that would otherwise be known as "normal".

What is abnormal is a) how the teachers are handling it (as if they're helpless), and b) HOW many 3 year olds are in that room??? Yikes.

I'd say it's time to look for a different school.

Mmmm... if you're in South Lynnwood, and open to Montessori... try checking out Chelseahouse Montessori. They're in Lake City. There are usually between 10-20 children, all together from 2.5-6 years old. Having the older kids there is a TREMENDOUS balancing force on the younger ones, because they have kids to pattern their behaviors off of.

They are, hands down, my favorite preschool on the planet for many, many reasons. The lead teacher Pasha has been doing this for over 30 years now... and I've never seen her flustered. Kids in her class aren't "mean" or "misbehaving", they're "learning how to be a good friend" or they're "having some problems being a good friend today"... and both the kids and the parents are given positive comments and feedback about how to encourage those positive behaviors.

It's not daycare though... but preschool. So they only have hours from 9-3 (or 330?) (morning and afternoon sessions or full day... so the shortest time would be 3 hours 3 days a week, and the longest would 6 hours 5 days a week. Because they don't offer daycare, they *usually* have spots open year round.

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answers from Denver on

It definitely can't hurt to shop around. I worked in a preschool and it's crazy for the teachers to complain to you. There is nothing you can do concerning his behavior if you are not there...that is their job. If they can't hack it, they are not good daycare workers. However, if they are simply letting you know about his day, that's ok. I know as a parent I can sometimes feel defensive and sensitive to not the most shining reports concerning my children and my perception can turn that into something that is not intended. If this is the case, you have a 3 year old and it is ok if he doesn't act like an adult no need to stress. Good luck to you and your little boy.

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answers from Birmingham on

Twenty three year olds!!! I worked as a day care teacher, and at our school we only had 14 kids in the 3yr old class and only 16 in the 4yr old classes. Even that is kinda big in my opinion!!! I really think you should look into other daycares, this one does NOT sound like a good fit!

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answers from Seattle on

Ugh... Tomorrow, when the teacher says something about his behavior say, "Okay, thank you - do you have suggestions for specific ways I can work with him at home to duplicate your situations here at school and he can practice?" I think I'd shop around too, just to see. First of all, 20 three olds seems like a lot to me. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't have a lot of experience with daycare, but it seems like a lot to me. Second, if they're complaining about him not listening during storytime... Ummm.... Welcome to age 3 - and 4 and 5 and 6 and.... :) I agree with Susan - it can't hurt to shop around. Is it possible for him to go back down to the old classroom for a couple more months? Or is he just past the age limit? One thing not to worry about is that he's NOT the only one - in that daycare and in general. Look at the three or four posts about three year old behavior changes right before your post - haha! Oh my, what I have to look forward to with my 2 year old?? Darn mama... I'm sorry. So stressful - hang in there.

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answers from Portland on

I understand that you need to work, because I do too. But, could you take half a day off once or twice and observe your son in daycare? Perhaps you could offer them some insight on what you think he's reacting to.

Of course I don't know where your son is at, and sometimes the institution doesn't matter as much as the teachers. Maybe in this case it's both, since the institution is putting 20 kids in a preschool class and the teachers are not effectively connecting with and managing the kids. Maybe he does need a smaller place at this age. I'm wary of home daycares as there is little oversight and visibility, and I would check it out very carefully, not do it unless there were several staff and I connect personally with them, and I would heed any uneasy feelings I got. Centers such as the YMCA have financial aid programs if you need it, and we've been very happy with the care our children got, and the responsiveness of the staff, but then again each center will differ because of staff personalities and philosophies.

I wish you the best for finding a solution to bring your son back to a happy state. He deserves to be a happy child all day long, not being forced into things that sit wrong with him. Plenty of that when he's an adult!

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answers from Syracuse on

I think switching daycares might not be the best solution. At this age, transitions are hard to handle! I wonder what the teachers are doing to stop the behavior - do they redirect? Say "we don't hit our friends"? When I lived in NY, our daycare wasn't allowed to use time-out, only redirection. Which can be really tedious and doesn't work for every child. Ratio might be an issue, but whatever your state allows, you may not have a choice in that, depending on your budget...Speaking of budgets, have you looked into Montessori at all? I don't know your son, but maybe it would be worth looking into. Here in KY, the pricing is the same as other preschools.

My other suggestion, which has worked with us for EVERY ongoing behavior problem since 2 (I have 2 toddlers), is to go to the library: check out picture books on your problem, and read them with your son. After the book, repeat the lesson to him on his terms. A children's librarian should be able to help you with titles. Or you can message me - my stepsister is a librarian and has made some great suggestions for biting, hitting, problems at bedtime, missing mommy, etc. This is super normal stuff, by the way. I also have a friend who asked her daycare teachers to take pictures of her son for a week with her digital camera, and then she developed the pictures and talked with her son about the good stuff they did in school - this helped his behavior issues tremendously and he had a little album of his classroom and the fun he had!

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answers from Florence on

It is hard for me to believe that is legal to have that many kids in one room. What the ranges of the ages? I would definitely check those things out. It could be that he is frustrated because he feels like he is not getting enough attention in that room and who can blame him? I would definitely look for another day care because just how diligent can his teacher be with that many kids in one room? I feel like the daycare is the problem and maybe even the teacher. I mean I know that 3 yr olds are rambunctious but how could anyone stand all that calamity that probably goes on? Good luck.



answers from Colorado Springs on

I'm so sorry for your little boy. He needs consistency and he needs his mommy. Those little babes can't cope with their main caregiver (daycare provider in your son's case) being switched. How old was he when you went to work? Was he with you, then another, and now another person who takes care of him? Perhaps he's confused and feeling very insecure. You said you NEED to work. Your son needs you. Hard choices, I know. I'm so sorry.



answers from Seattle on

My son was not doing well in a big daycare enviroment. Don't be afriad to look into other option out there. My son was at a Bright Horizon. Pretty expensive and I learn expensive doesn't mean better. My son's need were not being met. They wanted force a schedule that was not situtable for my son at that moment. I moved my son to a homecare. He has improved siginificantly because they were able to meet more of his needs. I know there is a year difference between Bright Horizon and a home care, but now my son knows his colors, his ABCs, numbers. My son has a friend the same age that is still at Bright Horizon who still struggles with most of that my son learned in a year. Bright Horizon is good for one type of mind set and type of child. It all depends on their personality. I know with home care, I do pay less, so that is also a plus. Research and start interviewing other daycare and homecare (as an option) even if in the end if you don't move him out of his current daycare, at least you can make an informed decision.



answers from Washington DC on

My son is 4 1/2 and he is having the same problems in his daycare. I do think that 20 + kids is too much for one room and lets be honest, the teachers are just babysitters with the title of teacher. My son screams, throws toys and runs out of the classroom while having major tantrums. I have had to leave work several time to get him and when I arrive to pick him up he seems fine. I think they do expect too much of these small kids who are still learing how to deal with fustration and anger. I do not think there is anything wrong with your 3 yr old! Unfortunatley like you said, we have to go to work and are at the mercy of the daycare. All I can say is to stay possitive and maybe start a reward program with your son. For example; if my son has a good week we do something he sees as special like going to the zoo or park or even taking him to the dollar store and letting him go crazy with $10! Good luck!



answers from Seattle on

I know what works for my son: sleep. My son is five, and in kindergarten... and he started acting up pretty bad. We still have a few issues (impulse control, mostly), but he is doing so much better now that I've moved up his sleeping an hour. It's lights out for him at 7:30. I know that sounds early, but it's worked wonders for him.

On the daycare end, 20 is a very large number of kids in one room. How many caregivers are there? Depending on the state, the requirements might be as high as four at any given time. Even if only two are required to be in there, ten is a large number to handle at one time, especially with so many kids in a confined space. Honestly, I would consider taking your son elsewhere, to a more intimate, home-like setting, with a single caregiver taking care of no more than five or six children. Just the large number of kids may cause children to act out because they feel overwhelmed and overstimulated.

It's just my two cents, but when I had to work, I know the stress this kind of thing caused. Take care of yourself, and I hope you find the solution!



answers from Portland on

I understand your need to work, but he comes first. So since you need to work, we do need money, you have to get him into another preschool. This is vital! He is not a bad kid, there ar eno bad kids, they just react to things & obviously he is reacting & letting everyone know that he is upset about this environment. I know that Song Garden Preschool has an opening right now.Very small, 8 kids & gentle school. 20 kids in a room might get anyone angry. So remove him from the situation that is bothering him so much, keep working, put him in another smaller & more gentle preschool. But listen to what he is telling you, you are obviously concerned & should be. It will be a transition, but obviosuly you don't want to leave him in a situation like this even if it's just for a few more months.



answers from Eugene on

20 kids is a LOT of kids for three year olds. He may be having problems adjusting to the new room and new teachers, if he has those too. The kids need to be very scheduled and have a number of aides/ teachers on hand for that many kids. Kids do better with routines and visuals as to what they are doing and what is expeceted of them. Do they offer that here? I am so sorry you are feeling so stressed about it. I would do. You have to work and you need to feel you can trust them. DO you have any other child care options? When children hit another child, at three years old, the adults should be carefully and calmly teaching the child that hitting is not okay! The teachers and aides should be trained well enough that they should know how to handle these things and know how to re-direct them. Hope this might help. Good luck to you!


answers from Boca Raton on

Hi K.,

20 sounds like a lot of kids in one room for him. It could be overwhelming especially if he's left his other friends he's made behind.. My son is 3 and can be a total angel at home but at school I hear from the teacher sometimes that's he's making bad choices and having a hard time following directions... Sometimes it's because he's over tired (didn't nap at school) or just being a typical 3 year old boy that's trying to express himself..
Maybe your son needs a more personal daycare with less children. Or maybe he's smarter than the other kids and his brain isn't being stimulated enough with the activities there doing there...
Good luck!



answers from Portland on

Yike! You should totally switch daycares. I'm glad you are looking into it because if he's only acting this way in daycare then the problem is probably with them not him. It's not to say it's a bad daycare but rather a bad daycare for your child. To me it sounds as if he's overstimulated, overtired and not getting enough focused attention. My son always starts the yelling, hitting and general aggressive behavior when he feels he's not being heard. You poor things! It's hard enough to leave your kid everyday the last thing you want is to hear that he's not adjusting well. Things will work out.




answers from Seattle on

It sounds like he is probably over-stimulated by all the other kids and if he is an only child and there are that many other kids he is probably having a hard time sharing/playing with others if he's used to playing by himself or even needs his own quiet/self time. This can be a hard transistion for a kid and at this age they naturally have a hard time sharing anyway.

Also, with this many kids he probably isn't getting the attention that he wants or needs and hence is acting out to get that attention. Which is a pretty common behavior for kids.

I would talk to your husband about what to do but if it were me I'd probably look for some other daycare options. Ones that aren't so crowded or that have more structure (sort of like a preschool), a place that is helping learn the proper words or behavior to use when he wants a toy that someone else has or when someone else takes a toy from him. A place that isn't just reprimanding him for hitting but helping him to know what he should have done instead of hitting (ie getting the teacher if someone hit him first, asking to play/share a toy with another child, respecting that child if they say "no", and in turn the other child respecting him if he says "no" to sharing). If their are so many kids that the teachers aren't able to supervise and witness the conflict to tell you exactly what happened/why the hitting occured, then I'd definitely be looking for another place for him to go.

I have two kids and my sister has 5, and so I know that different parents have different concerns about hitting. For example, my sister's son got bit by another kid at our church's nursery which is for kids 18 mo - 3 years old on Sundays. Well, the teachers saw who bit him and told both parents about the incident. Again, they were between 2-3 and my nephew started playing with a toy that this little girl had been playing with, but apparently she wasn't done because she came and bit him so hard on the arm that it bruised. When my sister tried to talk to her friend about it (the mother of the little girl), her response was very carefree, like it was no big deal, because this little girl has older brothers and that is how she defends herself against her older brothers at home so they let her do it. Needless to say we were both shocked because instead of teaching this little girl how to respond to conflict appropriately they are teaching her that it is ok to bite or hit someone if they upset you. And my belief is, if you don't teach them while they are young then when do you teach them? If you teach them the right way to do things first then you don't have to re-teach them later.

Good Luck! I'm sure your son isn't aggressive, he's just overstimulated by his environment and hence trying to "fight back" the chaos.



answers from Portland on

I think that sounds like there might be too many kids in his classroom for him to feel comfortable. If you can check out some smaller childcare options, that might be better for him. There are so many different personalities for 3 year olds, some are quiet and can sit many more are active and get frustrated when they don't get their way. :) I'm sure he's fine and this classroom just isn't the right fit for him. Good luck!



answers from Seattle on

I worked on the Psych unit at childrens hospital for 5years asapediatric mental health specialist ( ages 3-19) and in a public school with kids ages 5-9 for 3 years...I've gotta say, Alot of daycare workers just want all the kids to behave and be abnormal, kids that don't make mistakes. Kids do things until they are taught not to or taught more functional ways of getting their needs met...sometimes daycare workers are limited in their knowledge of teaching kids appropriate ways to get their needs met, that's where you come in....ask your kiddo, "why did you hit so and so...were you mad? 3 year olds have a hard time knowing their feelings unless an adult helps them figure it out..."wow, you look mad!" then they associate that feeling with what's going on...then once they know the name of the feeling you can start teaching them things to do when they are mad...Like, 'I'm mad you took my toy, Give it back to me please,' and if the other kid doesn't, then have your kiddo go tell....The main thing here is yo teach your kiddo the feeling, what he needs to do when he feels it (Words first, then tell) if the kid doesn't do right then tell on him...tattling isn't good in grade school all the time, but at age 3 it is the most appropriate thing to do. Use your words not your hands and if that doesn't work get help from an adult, this also teaches trust in adults....if you find later he/she is still getting negative reports of hitting, start asking your kiddo..."Did you tell?" They may say Yes...but the teacher didn't do anything. This is a sign your child does not trust the adults around him to defend/protect him...if that's the case...YES, I would switch daycares. Its important that if your kiddo cannot handle social situations beyond his/her level that there are RESPONSIVE adults to help, assist and teach...if kids are already hitting and its a daily problem, either your kiddo needs to know "words first and identify his.her feelings" then get help or the adults aren't really that helpful. Just my opinion hope you find it helpful. Bets ofluck! =)



answers from Seattle on

Excuse my briefness: It sounds like there are too many kids in that room. I personally would find another daycare with less children, more space, and more teachers. He needs to be able to lay out and take a nap. He needs to be able to choose to not listen to the story. He needs to choose from different activities. You should look for a place that has no more than 15 students and 2 adults.

PS ex kindergarten teacher



answers from Seattle on

When my son was in daycare I had the same problem. He even kicked his teacher in the leg (after another child kicked her). I was asked very nicely to find another daycare. I'm a single mother and staying at home was not a option for me. What worked for us was putting him in a home daycare. Where therr wasn't as many children and it wasn't in a center. He calmed right down. It didn't take away all of our problems but I did help. Good luck to you and your son.

D. M.



answers from Seattle on

If at all possible, spend some time with him at preschool and just watch what happens. Try not to intervene, just watch. It may be the teachers are overwhelmed, it may be your son is overwhelmed, or both. But if both you and your son are uncomfortable with the situation, by all means, find a place where you can both be happy.



answers from Medford on

Time for a new daycare!!



answers from Denver on

Try a home daycare. It is more relaxed like being at his own home. Plus, there are fewer kids and just one "teacher", who most bond with quickly. The structure is more relaxed and there is more time for "free play". Sounds like he is overwhelmed. You could also try going down to PT, if that is possible.



answers from Portland on

Hi K.!

My name is D. and I run a certified child care facility in Oregon. I have some insight that might help along with a couple of ideas.

I completely empathize with your situation! It's not any fun to come home after a long day at work and find that your child has had yet "another bad day". What I am hearing in your story is that your son in most ways is behaving in a typical manner for his age. It is very normal for a three year old to regress somewhat and go back into hitting and having more temper tantrums. To add to this normal stage of development, he has been taken out of his normal environment and put into a new classroom.

Change can be hard on all of us and especially more so for our little ones. What I am also seeing is that now that he is moved up into the new room with other children his own age and he is overwhelmed. A child at this age should not be in a classroom setting with 20 other children. Can I ask what the child/teacher ratio is? Do the teachers move up with the children or does he have all new teachers?

If he has all new teachers this can be causing him distress as well. He has a bond and attachment to one or more teachers in his old classroom and now he feels alone and unsure. Children will misbehave if they feel that their needs aren't being met. And in your son's situation, I strongly feel that this is what is going on. He isn't a "bad" kid learning "new" bad habits. He just feels lost and by misbehaving he is screaming out for help. Is there any possible way to have his former teacher come in and spend time with him? Or maybe they will let him visit his old classroom for an hour or so to have that reconnection that he desperately needs.

I would be interested in hearing how this plays out and whether or not your center will accommodate his needs or are continuing to put him into the "one box holds all" theory that seems prevalent in our society.

I wish you all the best!!



answers from Portland on

It might be best for him to be in a home care setting until he is older. Both my children were in a "home" school from 3 to 5 and then went to kindergarten. It is a gentler setting with about 8 children and not as overwhelming as a school. He might need more time before being able to handle a classroom size group. I think being in a social group with 20 children could be too much for him.
Making sure he gets a good nap and snack will help him get through his long day. A daycare that gives the children a balance of physical and quiet activities that understands the needs of a young child. Story time should be okay for a child as long as they have had enough outdoor time too.

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