Behavior: Handling a Preschooler's Aggression

My daughter recently made the change from day care to nursery school and her behavior at home has become very aggressive. Though she is very well behaved at school, at home she shouts, cries and hits her younger sister. She also prefers to watch videos, rather than join in family activities. What can I do?

Question:

It sounds as if your daughter is having an extreme reaction to being in an overly structured environment all day. (Nursery school is often much more structured than a day care setting.)

If school is a place where she has to be perfectly well-behaved all the time, then she could be "letting off steam" at home. When young children are asked to stifle all their impulses, they have to let those impulses out somewhere. Usually, that place is home, where they feel safest.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your daughter get time to run around and play during school?
  • Is she allowed to cry when hurt?
  • Can she express her feelings if another child hits her, or hurts her feelings?
  • Is she allowed time each day to choose her own activities?

If these things are not happening, then there may indeed me too much pressure on her -- and you are seeing the end results of that pressure.

What can be done to help your daughter?

  1. Examine how the above questions apply to your daughter.
  2. Speak to the teacher or director and try to get some of these issues resolved.
  3. Talk with your daughter. Is she holding back her feelings in school? You need to tell her that it is okay to cry, and she should tell someone when she is angry. She doesn't have to hit another child -- she can tell the teacher, or hit a big pillow, or find a safe way to express her feeling.
  4. Provide some "down time" for your daughter. She may need to watch a video in the afternoon when she returns from school. Most children need to have a relaxing break when they return from the rigors of school. It eases the tension they may feel, and helps with the transition from school to home. If you let your daughter do something relaxing for an hour after school, you may find her more amenable to family activities afterwards.
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