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Avatar universal

Four-year-old cries for 1 1/2 hours in pre-K

My daughter attends a pre-K class of 18 children overseen by two very experienced, capable teachers in New York City. One boy in the class has had crying tantrums every day for the past six weeks. I can hear him on the street, before he even arrives in the building with his mother. His behavior—I found out from one of the teachers who knew him in a summer program at the same school—was the same. So he's actually exhibited this maladjustment for much longer than six weeks. I overheard the other teacher tell his mother that his crying jags have improved somewhat, down to 1 1/2 hours!

I know that both parents have met with the teacher and director of the program more than once.

The tantrums are of such intensity and duration that the disruption to the class seems excessive (especially since we're six weeks into the semester). This one child monopolizes the attention of one of the teachers by following her around the classroom, begging for her to phone his mother.

Is this behavior on the spectrum of normal? I'd like to raise the issue with the director to find out just how long they will tolerate it without substantial improvement.

Thank you for any suggestions you might have to help me cope compassionately with the adjustment issues of another child in my daughter's class.

10 Responses
603946 tn?1333945439
oh myyyyyyyy

I was one of those teachers- not really but we just did the same thing- and the mom was the director's best friend, and he cried almost all day every day with short periods where he was exhausted enough to lay down and nap or just take a breather- OR when I left the room with him for playground- or even to walk to the storage room- he calmed right away...it was like the door threshold was one step closer to mom .but the crying- it broke my heart!!!!
This child could not understand why mom left. I looked all over the net for ideas and that is actually when I joined in here on medhelp- but I found out from studying on the net- there is separation anxiety DUH but different degrees- - the cries get a little better in a few days and calm totally after a bit, or maybe even one short howl as mom leaves for the day- and I think that is a toddler's way honestly of saying I like it here ok but I LOVE YOU MOM/ just ny opinion though.
OK then after about 6 weeks of this crying- it is not referred to as separation anxiety any more it is upgraded to separation anxiety syndrome I think where the child will not be calmed very likely- it has gone too far and needs some sort of other intervention.....

and I also was worried about my other students- I had not really even gotten to meet them yet- and ok this was sneaky but as moms started noticing I told THE to bring it up to the director because it would let her know the people paying were not happy- see?

So yes it may very well help if you bring it up- and maybe a few other mothers.....

For the poor mom that has to deal with the crying baby though all I can suggest is that she get someone to care for the child on more familiar grounds (home)- like a nanny...
our was mother's day out preschool so the mom didn't NEED to be anywhere she just chose to pull him from the program- you know what hurt me most of all though as his teacher- it got back to me that the mother thought I DID NOT LIKE HER SON- that made me so sad- all I had done was rocked him- sung to him, played with him, distracted him- with him screaming in my ears for almost 5/6 solid hours but she BLAMED ME...... I took it pretty hard.
603946 tn?1333945439
sorry sorry sorry- it is upgraded to disorder
Avatar universal
Thank you so much, babygirl6152. I really appreciate your candor and insights as a teacher. My husband is a high school teacher and, like you, has been criticized when unable to resolve intractable problems (like this one) with particular students, all while balancing the needs of the rest of the class. I'm so sorry the mother didn't appreciate your extraordinary efforts to help her son acclimate to the classroom.

From what I've read on the web since your post, separation anxiety disorder, your diagnosis, seems correct. I hope that during parent/teacher conferences (on Election Day), the director suggests the family seek a consultation with a child psychologist or social worker. This boy's problem requires intervention beyond what the school can provide.

In the meantime I plan to write a letter. Since I arrive a bit later than many parents and stay a few minutes to watch my daughter sign in and turn her attendance card, I've witness the problem and its effect on the classroom dynamic. Many working parents drop off their kids curbside and rarely step foot in the classroom. They couldn't possibly know all that is going on. I feel obligated to speak up!

Again, that's so much for taking the time to respond.
603946 tn?1333945439
ahhh the teacher will surely miss the child since she has tried to bond, but for 1 1/2 hours there will be 17 other children that get attention that YOU are paying for-
there is the slightest chance that they may reject him leaving the school, since you say he IS showing improvement- and the director may feel she is walking a fine line- sheesh- just hope there are no 'politics' involved- that will give it a whole new dimension.....

as Mr. Spock says- does the need of the many outweigh the need of the few.... or the one? Not in this case. My 2 cents
So how old are these students? Just curious.....
Avatar universal
Good morning,

All of these children were born during 2004 (a requirement for UPK in NYC). The crying child is one of the younger children (born in October) but so is my daughter (born in November). I'm wondering how his parents understand their son's behavior. He's clearly anguished. But when the mother picks his up, he's no longer crying.

I should explain that the UPK program (free to NYC residents) is from 8:45 to 11:45. About 12 of the 18 stay on (extra $) for lunch and nap, and then move to a "wrap-around" class with a different teacher until pick-up, 3:45 pm. Both the crying boy and my daughter are in the wrap program. (The other children go home.) I don't know whether the boy cries in the wrap-around class. When I pick up my daughter, he's not crying. (But what child could have a crying fit for 7 hours?)

Interestingly, several children at the same school last year had social workers sit with them in class (not for attachment disorders but other issues). It's very matter-of-fact, and NYC has a comprehensive program available for families whose children qualify. Services are free.

I do think a letter is in order. Maybe, as you suggest, the teacher needs back-up from parents. At least an extra set of hands in the classroom might help the them reach all the students.

My sense is that some parents feel it's the teachers' total responsibility for what goes on in the classroom. So, when they drop off their child, they figure they'll deal with it. (One mother whom my husband called about her child's excessive absences (required by NYC Dept. of Ed) actually said, 'That's your problem!"

Amazing, isn't it.

171768 tn?1324233699
I appreciate your concern for the dynamics of the class and understanding that the teacher is probably doing the best she can. I am also a preschool teacher and like all others, have been in this position. I was going to make the point that you made in your recent post. I feel like at this point, the child would probably benefit from staying since he is showing improvement, but the director needs to provide more inclass support. Of course her resources may be very limited within the building, but she can also refer the family somewhere. We have many resources in our district and building. When a child has difficulties like you describe, we bring the building's social workers in to the classroom to work with everyone there.

There are great distractions to the class, but the class does get other benefits from it. The rest of the children are learning empathy and that not everyone reacts the same way to the same situation. i have found that when i have a class with a particularly rough child- either emotional or behavior- the rest of the class adapts and ultimately ends up being more compassionate and tolerant. it's a good lesson about life and tolerance. i'm not trying to say your concerns are valid- they definitely are. i just wanted to let you know that the children are in some ways probably benefitting.

when a teacher is confronted with this, she is often frustrated and immediately thinks it's not fair to the rest of the class. however, as the years have passed, i have learned from both social workers and experience that it is my responsibility to give each child what they need, and not every child has the same needs. it's a very hard lesson to accept, but once you stop trying so hard to give equal amounts of everything to each child, everything starts to fall in place.

I admire your concern for both the teachers and the children in the class. I agree that you should express your concerns to the director. The only other thing I might do is give the teachers a heads up that you are doing it. They will probably express appreciation.
Avatar universal
I think your suggestion about informing the teachers that I plan to speak with the director is a great idea. Thanks.

My daughter did ask why this boy cries so much. I told her he's having an adjustment problem, that getting used to the class is taking him longer. She calls it "adjustment problems," all the same, which is funny to hear from a four-year-old. I tell her to be extra nice to him when he's upset, but sadly his crying repels other children. They can't interact because his tearful crying is loud.

I hope that the director and teachers during our upcoming conference raise the social worker option—and tactfully! Some people can be resistant to seeking outside help. I wonder too if they might be taking the wait-and-see, he'll-grow-out-of-it approach too far.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts.
603946 tn?1333945439
well it is also different in that the students age is four- and mon- fri I am sure

- Ours was only 2 days a week Tues and Thurs- and it was too hard for my student to trust me and form a  relationship with me.... He wouldn't see me for FOUR days then it would start all over again- This must have been torture for a young 2 year old toddler, missing his mom.
603946 tn?1333945439
thanks so much for helping me see through all that- as a teacher- next year if it happens again I will try to keep all that in mind- but I want to ask:

  at age young two's, since most of my other babies would begin to cry or even tremble and at the very least tear up in this small room with this other one screaming for hours- should I have done something different? The directors office and her assistant were next door and came in to give us extra hands for a few minutes at a time, they were too busy to stay too long---

I will always wonder if this boy (mom) should have been encouraged to stick it out longer- have  you ever had any this young that could not calm? and the crying did not improve?- or is it like I wondered it was that there were 4 days between and he could not form a good solid trust with me/
I had a sick day and came back and he was gone- and the director just said- He was not ready and the mother stayed around one day looking thru the door- my aide and a sub were tyring all they could to console him and the mother hearing the cries- came back in they said, and yanked him from my aide's arms and said- "we won't be back!"
171768 tn?1324233699
i started out with 2's. I had one child like you describe. the poor thing would cry from drop off to pick up, and only pause to eat. to settle her for nap, we would have to rock her back and forth in a stroller. we did all we could to comfort her. it took over 2 months to make progress. it was little things that would make her smile at first. i would wear silly socks that often caught her attention. other times i could get her calm by sitting her in my lap and tell silly, exaggerated stories about a girl with the same name. it was a daycare so she was there everday. after 2 months she finally adjusted and didn't cry again the rest of the year. the only other child who was similar while i was there was a very similar story. months of crying and then suddenly a happy well adjusted child. i don't know what caused to change. just time and patience.

you're right though- it's different for 2's than 4's. with a toddler, if it's an option, the parents can wait another year. if they were using the program for socialization, then they could go a mommy-and-me route instead. some toddlers aren't ready to be away from mommy. the child in my class had no choice- mom had to work.

some separation anxiety and difficulty transitioning is normal in 4's, but it shouldn't be as extreme or last as long as in toddlers. with a 4 yr old, i would recommend sticking it out longer if there's progress. if all of the 4 yr olds in NYC are going to pre-K, the kindergarten expectations will be high. same with my district. all 3's and 4's are entitled to free pre-k in my district. so for a child to go to kindergarten with no school experience can be even more traumatic, especially for an anxious child.
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