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What to do when your toddler is “bad” when you pick him up

This is a quick (5-minute) podcast answer to a mom’s question on Berkeley Parents Network. She asked, “What to do when my 2 yr old acts bad when I pick him up at preschool?”

Click here to listen to the reply.

Here’s her full question: 

“Hoping someone else might have experienced this and have some insights for me. My 2.5 year old son behaves really well overall at his preschool and absolutely LOVES going every day – the teachers rarely have anything negative to say about him and say he is really kind and friendly with all the kids and teachers there. I must admit, this is sort of surprising since he’s quite a handful at home and is really high-energy and rambunctious overall.

“I think he tries so hard to be good all day (he’s there f/t), so he loses it a little bit in the evenings and weekends when he’s with us and I know this is normal. My mom said I was the same way and most of my friends with kids in daycare report similar behavior. What I need help figuring out is why this happens every day when I arrive to pick him up: THE MOMENT I walk through the door and he sees me, he hurls whatever toy he happens to be playing with, or dumps out all the pieces of a puzzle all over the floor when he was working with another child to complete it, or hits a kid out of the blue who he was playing happily with one second earlier.

“Basically, upon seeing that I am there, he acts really destructive, purposely hurts someone, and starts running in crazy circles all around (ignoring teachers’ requests to walk, etc). I seem to be the trigger – he doesn’t act this way when his dad or grandma picks him up. And I have arrived quietly on numerous occasions and observed him for several moments behaving calmly and playing quietly like a little angel, so it’s not just that he gets a wild streak at that time of day and it’s coincidental that I witness it.

“Does this ”bad” behavior mean that he’s upset because when he sees me he realizes that I’ve left him there all day? Does it mean he’s just mad because he isn’t ready to go home yet? I’ve tried to ask him during and after these incidents what is wrong, but he doesn’t seem to get what I’m asking about (is he pretending not to remember? does he forget he does this?). What can I do to stop it?

“Unfortunately it usually means that I end up having to scold him a little right away when I see him (not hard-core, but ”hey buddy! ok let’s clean up the pipe cleaners you threw all over the place before we leave” with him refusing to help, tantruming, or crying). I’m trying to not let this become a negative cycle where he associates me arriving with getting scolded, but I also just can’t let him get away with hitting someone or toppling down some kid’s tower of blocks, you know? I admit that I feel embarrassed that he acts this way immediately upon seeing his mom, and don’t want the teachers to think I condone or let him get away with this kind of craziness at home (I do set consequences for hitting or throwing etc). What’s going on?”

– Perplexed

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