Why is my preschooler misbehaving?

My four-year-old son is going through a phase where he hits and kicks us often. If I am on the phone, he disconnects it, or yells and screams till I attend to him. How do I cope with such behaviour? — Anita Pradeep Kumar D, Trichy

Aggressive behaviour or tantrums can become a form of communication because the child is receiving the attention he wants. For example, you probably get off the phone and give him what he wants when he misbehaves. To regulate such behaviour, it is essential that he is part of a peer group where he cant have his way all the time.

He needs to have sufficient free playtime with his peers in unstructured environments. Introduce outdoor playtime with peers, reduce screen time and exposure to violence on television. When he misbehaves, you need to tell him in a firm tone that you dont approve of tantrums and wont give in. He will mend his ways only if you dont give the attention that aggression is getting him.

I was in an abusive marriage for eight years and am a recently divorced single mother of two boys aged six and three. Though my ex doesnt have joint custody, I have agreed to let him visit the kids once a week. Is my divorce depriving my children of a family? Have I put them in an unstable home environment? —‘Distressed mother, Bangalore

A divorce is always a painful experience and it will be helpful if you consult a counsellor to cope with the scars of prolonged emotional and physical abuse. Children are resilient even in the most difficult situations as long as they share a healthy relationship with the primary caregiver, which means your attitude and handling of your current situation will make a huge difference. As you model moving on”, the boys will also learn to adjust and adapt to their new home environment. Living in a dysfunctional family with constantly squabbling parents scars children more than divorce.

However for children, both parents are important and you must never prejudice your children against their father with your negative experiences. Educate them that sometimes two people find it difficult to live together and that divorce helps both parents grow and find happiness. Many children grow up blaming themselves for the problems of their parents since they are constantly told we remained together for you”. But, if your boys show a sudden drop in grades at school or display aggressive/depressive behaviour that indicates stress, and counselling will be beneficial.

Of my three daughters, the oldest (12) excels in sports, the youngest (8) shines academically, but the nine-year-old is uninterested in sports, academics or anything else. She has dropped out of her extra-curricular classes and resents us dropping her sisters to their classes, picks fights with them, and sulks if we discipline her. Please advise. — Shirley Maria, Bangalore

Every child is gifted and unique — so the first rule is to stop comparing her with siblings. Her behaviour clearly indicates that she is experiencing stress. Spend some time with her alone, while her siblings are away. Children need to feel loved for just being” and not what they are doing or achieving. Rather than disciplining” her, try and understand her. Assess if her skills and abilities lie in areas such as cooking or gardening which can be developed at home, and not in school. Once she feels secure in her relationship with you, her feelings of resentment will settle. When siblings quarrel, its better not to interfere. Let them learn to solve their own problems.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

Also read: Managing children’s anger & stress

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