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Violent behavior in preschool

09/17/2007 08:38AM


am working in preschool with child care ages 4 & 5 years old for 15 years. This year we had a little boy that is violent towards other children (scratching on the face, hitting, choking other child and punching). We tried talking to the parent, but they make excuses and most of the time we feel that they do not acknowledge our concern. Is this little boy have a mental problem? The mother of this child works with Special Ed. children. What approach we should use for them to understand that this concern is serious?


Young children are violent towards one another. It is normal and it requires that the parent sets limits and helps the child learn that this is not the way to handle anger and frustration. It is also true that persistent aggressive behavior that does not respond to redirection and limit setting often means there is a serious developmental or mental health problem underlying the behavior. It may be that his mother is more tolerant of this as “normal,” expectable behavior because of her work in special education where these types of behaviors are very common. If he is at all language delayed, the likelihood of a developmental problem underlying the behavior is greater. Any family history of learning problems, ADHD, reading disabilities,school failure or drop out also increases the risk for an underlying developmental delay.

I would ask his mother to come and meet with you and his other teachers. Invite her partner and/or a support person as well so that she does not feel as though you are all ganging up on her. Tell her in as straight forward a way as possible that you all are very much worried about her son’s behavior and need to work with her to find solutions. Ask her to talk about his behavior at home, how she handles his anger and frustration; limit setting strategies she uses, what she has found that works and does not work.

Set up a plan to handle his problem behaviors using as many of mom’s strategies as possible and proposing strategies of your own for problems she has yet to find a way to handle. Put it in writing so that it can be shared with all of his caregivers. Ask mom to agree to use the same strategies at home, and to share them with others who care for her son. Send home daily reports to her on how he is doing. Set another team conference with her and her support people in 3-4 weeks time to re-evaluate. If there is little or no progress, strongly recommend or require that he be evaluated by a pediatrician who specializes in behavior and developmental problems. These specialists are located at Children’s Hospital Medical Centers or his pediatrician may have someone to whom he or she prefers to refer the family. These are NOT passing behaviors that he will outgrow without help. They need to be taken seriously and addressed now.

Your concerns are well-founded.  I have found over many years of practice that sitting down and expressing your concern for the welfare of a parent’s child with empathy and a non-defensive attitude opens the door to discussing sensitive and difficult topics. I hope these ideas help you to help the child and family.

For more information:

Go to the Children’s Health health topic.