Jacob is a sweet, active four-year-old boy who started preschool this year for the first time.
He attends a fairly progressive school and happily jumps on the school bus every morning.
His class has 22 children with one main teacher and a teaching assistant.
Things were going quite smoothly until …..
Jacob steps off the bus and his sullen expression signals that all is not well. You have had a busy day and are happy to see your little guy back home and are eager to hear about his day. You have made him a nice snack to help him transition back into the home routine. Then you make the fatal error of asking him to empty his back pack first. That’s all it took. Within a matter of minutes, Jacob is having a full-fledged tantrum. A complete and total melt down!
What is the emotion behind this behavior? And where is it coming from?
Jacob has been at school for six hours. He has had to function socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually with two other adults and 21 other children. He has had to adjust to routines and expectations and be part of the group – meaning he could not just do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. He had to have ‘quiet time’ after lunch recess, when all he wanted to do was continue to play outside with the bikes. He had a small toileting accident but quickly hid it so no one would know and make fun of him. He felt the teachers severe stare when he started to move about in the circle when she was having story time. He held it all together – until the moment he returned to his safe place, home. He saved all that frustration, stress and anxiety for you, because you are the most important person in his world and he can show his real feelings. So, that burst of anger and the uncontrollable tears have nothing to do with your request. It is his way of releasing everything that challenged him during the day.
How can you help?
- Give him a bit of space to get some of those big feeling out.
- Then give him a big hug. Empathize with his struggle.
- Keep it light. Most probably he can’t express what he feels and he may not even be able to really understand it.
- Move on. Have that snack. Make a joke or two. Decide together to do something fun after the snack.
- Keep connected. He may be able to talk about it later – bath time or bed time. But he might not, too.
- Check in with his teachers. Share the side that they don’t see during the day.
- Read some children’s books that deal with this kind of experience so that he has another way to process it and develop vocabulary to discuss it.
- And be grateful that your little guy feels safe enough and loved enough to get all those big feelings out.