Interventions for Preschool Behavior Problems

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Due to the age of the child, preschool behavioral problems can be challenging to deal with. This lesson will discuss some of the interventions that can be used for behavior problems with pre-schoolers.

Introduction to Problem Behavior: An Example

To introduce you to what problem behavior is, let's begin with an example we'll use throughout the lesson:

James is an active four-year-old who just started preschool six months ago. He's always kept Sandy, his mom, on her toes, and appears to be pretty strong-willed. James has had a tough time adjusting to the routine and structure of preschool. Sandy gets a lot of calls from the teacher to let her know he's not following directions, that he throws mulch at other children on the playground, and that he acts really defiant. Sandy has had similar issues with James at home and wonders what she should do. What do you think she should do? Well, that's what we're going to look at!

Preschool Behavior Problems

Sandy's issues with James are certainly not unique. Behavior problems are issues that some children have with obeying rules. In preschoolers, behavior problems often come to light by age three or four when children are expected to conform to standards especially in preschool settings. In addition, parents may be critiqued by outsiders based upon their child's behavior in public, and feel pressure to do something about it. The five most common behavior problems in preschoolers are:

  1. Lying - Preschoolers can tell some very tall tales. This is a pretty common behavior between preschoolers, and sometimes it's just because they have difficult separating what's real from what's not.
  2. Whining - Preschoolers can be relentless. They'll whine thinking that the more often they repeat a request, the more likely they'll get their way.
  3. Baby talk - Most preschoolers will also revert back to their younger years at times simply to get attention.
  4. Defiance - When preschoolers start to explore their independence, 'NO' often becomes a favorite word. Sometimes they are testing the waters to see how far they can go before actions will be taken.
  5. Aggression - Some preschoolers become aggressive primarily due to poor impulse control. They may kick, bite, or hit when things don't quite go their way.

Preschool Behavior Problem Interventions

Because behavior problems that present themselves during the preschool years have the potential to escalate, they need to be addressed rather than ignored. The most important thing to remember is that caregivers, including parents, babysitters, and teachers, should embrace consistent behavior problem interventions. When behavior problems surface at school, teachers should meet with parents and implement an intervention strategy that's put in place both at school and at home.

Let's go back to our example of Sandy and her son James. If the school implements a reward sticker program for Johnny to demonstrate positive behavior in the classroom, this sticker program should be implemented to address positive behavior at home as well. If James is rewarded at school for not throwing mulch but this behavior isn't also recognized at home, he'll be getting a mixed message and the intervention strategy will probably fail.

Intervention Strategies

Having emphasized the importance of consistency amongst caregivers, the following are intervention strategies (or efforts to stop a developing maladaptive trend) that have proven successful for addressing the behavior problems of preschoolers:

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