When my son, "Jack," started preschool as a 2 yr old, he was a very pleasant child, with no aggressive or hyperactive tendencies whatsoever. In the 2 yr old class, he met a boy, "John," who is very aggressive. A typical act was for John to pull Jack's hair (no provocation) til he almost pulled him to the floor, then run away laughing. I saw this for myself. Jack started hitting, & then went beyond John to include other kids. There was only one 2 yr old class, so there wasn't much to do short of dismissing 1 of the boys. The year ended badly, with subtle suggestions that Jack might be ADHD. Since there were multiple 3 yr old classes, they separated the 2 boys beginning with the summer program. For a year, til the end of the 3 yr old class, Jack did not have a single incident report, & he got good progress reports on his behavior & increasing attention span. His biggest problem was leaving the room, like going to the bathroom, w/o telling his teacher, & it didn't become serious. I was relieved, thinking he'd forgotten the behavior he'd learned the previous year. There are two 4 yr old classes, 1 for kids who'll be starting school next fall. Jack has a summer birthday, so we don't know if he'll start then. Therefore, he & John have been together since this summer, & Jack has become aggressive again. He has gotten 3 incident reports since Aug. for hitting. He can tell you why he shouldn't hit, but then he will hit before he thinks about it. He doesn't want to leave school & his friends (they consider dismissal after 4 incident reports). We've been using a sticker chart for to reward good days, & room confinement w/ no toys for bad ones. While he had 4 really good days last week, on the last day he hit. The next school day, he hit again & then tried to refuse going to timeout, but today was great. He most often hits 2 kids who are smaller than him. 1 is a "teaser" who tends to start things, but the other is more reserved, so we don't know why other than his being somewhat smaller. There are boys who are allowed to watch programs my son isn't, & they do a lot of playfighting at recess. His teacher admits they are almost powerless in this situation. This is where most of Jack's "incidents" occur, altho some have been in class. My question is, how do I teach him self-control, when there is a lot of aggression around him, & he was a past victim? He's extremely smart(almost reading, can do simple math)& sociable, & I don't want him to be labeled as a problem. I feel it's quite a coincidence that his 1 year w/o John was so good for him. We're considering letting him talk w/ a LCSW. If he could get past this aggression, he'd be such a good kid. He's great anyway, but the notes from school are distressing. Do you think he's acting like a normal 4 yr old boy, or does it sound like trouble? I'm against labeling him ADHD, b/c I don't think a true disorder would "come & go," & be apparent only at school. What do you think a therapist could do for him?
No, this does not sound like behavior that is symptomatic of ADHD. Children so young are easily stimulated and it is not surprising that the behavior has re-surfaced in his current situation. The primary intervention will likely be the behavior management piece. He should be placed in time out immediately when he behaves in an aggressive way. At the conclusion of the time out, he should be required to play alone for a bit, and then to be grouped with only one or two children (if possible) before joining the larger group. The therapist can help by collaborating with you and the school re: the behavior management plan and by supporting your expectations and helping your son to learn one or two practical alternatives to hitting. Rest assured, though, that the behavior management component is going to be the most critical part of the solution.
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