NORMAN — Q: When my 3-and-one-half year-old son misbehaves, I generally take things away from him and he generally responds well. One lingering problem is that he tends to react physically when he’s mad at a classmate instead of talking it out and letting the teachers intervene. We have all encouraged him to use words when he’s angry, but he doesn’t seem to get it. Today he bit a classmate (the second time in a year this has happened) and got sent home. Once home, I fed him lunch and then confined him for the rest of the day to his bedroom with books and some trains. From now on, I plan on sending him to school every day with a “behavior report card” on which I’ve listed the problems of hitting, not obeying his teachers, not sitting still during circle time and taking toys away from other kids. I’m going to ask his teachers to give him a mark every time one of the problems occurs. If he misbehaves five times in a school day, then I will confine him to his room when he comes home and put him to bed early. Biting will override the list and get him sent home. Comments?
A: First, a “duh” statement: boys are more aggressive than girls. Unfortunately, in most preschool settings these days, boys are being held to female standards of behavior. This is not to say that aggression in boys ought to be overlooked, but female teachers and mothers are more shocked by it than are males, including most dads. (But then, women are even more shocked when aggressive behavior comes from a girl.)
When the perpetrator in question is a 3-year-old boy, there is no apocalyptic significance to the sort of behavior you’re describing. Even occasional biting — which tends to provoke near-hysteria among preschool staff — is not pathological at this age and does not predict later adjustment problems. In the previous sentence, however, “occasional” is the operative word.