3 y.old & listening at school, any ideas? - FamilyEducation
3 y.old & listening at school, any ideas?
09/29/2007 at 02:54 AM

My 3& 1/2 year old is having problems listening and followind directions at school.  He will not be quiet before and during story time and is refusing to clean up his area just to name of few of the teachers complaints.  We don't have many problems at home, but I can't help think its something we're doing at home that is causing him to defy their requests.  Problem is, by the time we get to him, it has been hours, so what are we supposed to do to support them? what would be a natural consequence or logical consequence I could use at home to help them? I feel like my hands are tied.  Since I'm not there when the behavior is occurring, I am unable to address it directly. 

So, I've been picking him up, becoming irritated with him and the school and I'm afraid I am just confusing him when I try to discipline him with such a large time lapse in between.  We have a star chart at home and he knows if he has a good listening day at school he earns a star, (after 10 stars we go to the local bakery and get a cookie, after the entire chart is full, we go to a children's movie at the theatre) however its not working as well as it did for my 5 yr. old.  I feel discouraged and  I don't want to break his spirit, any suggestions? 

I'm not an expert.  I too have a 31/2 yo son.  While I don't know what the longterm outcome of such behavior would be, I suspect that your real concern is that he would never grow out of it and become a real problem as an adolescent/adult.  Here's what I did for my son who I could tell would be a handful: I stayed at home instead of worked.  Don't let him watch too much tv.  Read a lot of books he's interested--trains, firetrucks, etc.  Stay on him in terms of consistency.  Three minute time-outs on a rug with an audible timer, even if you have to keep doing it all day long.  Never spank, hit, raise your voice excessively. Spend time playing games, doing puzzles, taking him to parks to expend his energy.  Basically, you should spend more time with him so you can guide him, even if that means waiting to send him to school.  You need to monitor his behavior all the time.You don't want school to be a bad experience for him.  I know this sounds really hard/impossible but think about the consequences of having an unruly child in school for the next 12 years(or less if he drops out)and you running to school all that time.  Also, 10 stars is too long for the reward.  It should be more instantaneous. But, shouldn't he be listening well anyway, without a reward?  What are you going to give him when he's 16 as a reward?  Get his hearing tested,  get him psych test thru Board of Ed or private services to rule out anything requiring professional services. Most important: stay on him, even if it means pulling him out of preschool.  Let him mature a bit more under your guidance. At home he can practice following your directions and doing quiet reading time and learning to clean up, etc   It's not good to set such an adversarial stance between him/school and him/you at such an early age.


If your son is a "young 3 1/2 year old", a phrase a teacher once said to me, he may not be ready developmentally or emotionally for preschool.  

If not, it may be that there is so much to see and touch that he gets distracted. He may be loving the social interaction and wants to keep talking or playing. For three year olds sometimes it's hard to get across to them that they have to listen and pay attention.  You need to make these concepts concrete for him to understand.  

Try this, get a camera or binoculars.  Talk about when he is school that sometimes he is unfocused.  That he doesn't listen sometimes to the teacher and it could be because he isn't focused on what she is saying. Have him look through the lens and ask him if he can see things clearly.  It should be blurry. Then focus the lens slowly to illustrate how clear everything becomes.  Tell him that the he needs to focus just like the camera.  This makes the concept of paying attention concrete.  I run a martial arts school and even my parents have stopped telling their children to pay attention, but to focus.  also play the whisper game.  Whisper something that he strains to listen to it.  Have him whisper something back.  Ask him to listen carefully.  This makes listening more concrete. 

That was going to be another suggestion. Think about seeking out a martial arts program that teaches 3-4 year olds. I find that their attention spans increase greatly, the teacher is constantly giving direction, and the kids love it. Many parents have told me that their child's preschool or kindergarten teacher wants to know "what happened?" 

But remember he is only 3 1/2.  Growing a few months more can make a real difference in behavior and discipline. 


Give hime and yourself time.. This is how our son started out... a year later a lot has changed...

This is what worked for our situation... We did pull him out of his church play-based preschool and put him in a montesorri school (sorry if I spelled that incorrectly!)  Any chance your son might be "bored"? The opend structure and play time was not enough for our middle son.. he needed direction and has thrived in a more serious learning environment. Each child is different!

Good luck. Hang in there - Even if you do not make any changes, I think you will be surprised at the difference just a year can make.






I think your right, after all he is only 3.  He already is in a Montessori program, so I hope waiting is the key.  I am sure its hard to practice self control for any 3 year old.  I don't want to be too hard on him, I am afraid he'll resent school, I really think maybe its just lack of understanding why he needs to listen and be quiet at certain times.  Thanks for your input, I really appreciate it.


Thank you, I think those are all great ideas.  I have been wanting to do the martial arts classes, I thought he was still too young, but I will definitely look into it.  Thank you so much, you've been very helpful!


I am a preschool teacher, and in my opinion, your son is going to preschool to help him learn the skill of listening and not interrupting.  Typically, one of the objectives for 3 yr. olds going to preschool is learning how to follow directions and listen to someone other than mom or dad.  Your preschool teacher needs to have a reward program for him and the other students at school to enforce a positive behavior.  A 3 yr. old is never going to be a perfect listener, even adults are not perfect listeners.  As far as at home, 10 days is too long for a 3 yr. old to receive a reward.  Initially, you should start out with rewards for only 2 days and move it up to 3 or 4.  Also, mix up the rewards.  Go to the bakery one week and maybe the next week let him pick a book from the library to have special reading time with mom or dad.  Discuss with him what he would think would be fun (Don't spend a lot.  Try to think of rewarding activities that do not require money.).  Some other ideas is an outing to the park or having a special playdate with a favorite friend.  There are a lot of cheap ways to provide positive reinforcement.  Also at home, make sure that when you are on the phone or speaking with another adult, that he is not allowed to interrupt the conversation.  Remind him that he must wait his turn to speak and that he can not interrupt others when they are speaking.  This is not crushing his spirit!  This is giving his spirit direction and teaching him to respect others.  If talking on the phone, set the timer for 5-8 minutes.  Explain to him that you are going to have uninterrupted phone time until the timer goes off.  If he interrupts prior to the time beep, provide him with a quiet time out (1 1/2 - 3 minutes).  When reading a book to him, do not allow him to ask questions or make comments until you get to the end of the page.  Then turn to him and ask what he wanted to say.  Following the words with your finger will allow him to note when you are done reading on that page.  Going back to the teacher, ask him or her what her expectations are for your son (specifics:  amount of time must sit still and listen without interruption, does the talking happen all the time or during a certain time of the day, etc.).  Then, talk to the teacher about working together to help your son learn the social rules of listening, waiting your turn, and so on.  If the preschool teacher is a good one, s/he will not judge you as a parent but look forward to working with you to find a solution.  I hope this helps!  Remember, you are not crushing his spirit by providing direction and guidance.  To love your child whole-heartedly, you must provide loving discipline.     


Thank you sooo much, you have been very generous with your time and spirit.  I appreciate all your suggestions, especially with the rewarding portion.  It reminded me, he is a normal 3 yr. old and we just need to be patient, he needs to learn the social norms. 


As the director of a childcare centre, I can tell you that children should never be punished at home for situations that are happening at daycare.  The role of the teacher is to advise you on the child's day, ask for suggestions, compare behaviours to home and let you know what they are doing to redirect the behaviour at school.  If a child is exhibiting the same behaviours at both places, then a consistent plan of action should be in place and agreed upon by both teachers and parents.  Since the behaviour is just at school, the teachers need to find the underlying triggers that are setting off these undesirable behaviours.  Is the behaviour evident at transition times?  Is the child exhibiting social deficiencies?  Is the group too large for him?  Have they tried such things as fidget toys during circle to keep him focused?  Are the circle groups too large and therefore children have to wait long turns before participating?  Is there gross motor games during circle which actively involves the child?  Is there a resource teacher available who could work with him and help him through these behaviours?  All this and more should be discussed with the teachers.  If you are feeling that all you are getting is negativity about your son and nothing is being done, then move him to another centre!  One that will meet your child's needs.  For more suggestions contact me at shakespearechildcare@sympatico.ca


As a former early childhood teacher and now a teacher educator, I can say both professionally and from personal experience that this is not unusual behavior for a three year old.  Many three year olds are "squirmy and talkative" during stories or group time.  Three year olds cannot be expected to sit quietly and listen for very long.  This is not a developmentally appropriate expectation.  Try asking the teacher how long she is expecting the children to sit and listen, and what books she is reading.  For some three year olds, sitting five to ten minutes is a long time, especially if the expectation is to only listen during that time.  I'd also ask the teacher about her clean-up expectations.  Young children are not great cleaners, and need tasks broken into very small steps with guidance and enouragement given along the way.  One cannot simply tell a young child that it is time to clean up, and expect that somehow that will magically happen.


Preschool for a 31/2 year old child really should be considered, more a preparation for a first year at school, rather then THE first year of school.  Preparation for a first year of school means, that by definition, children are learning how to be at school for the first time, and that all of the skills that they will learn, be they social and emotional or academic, will be pre-requisite in nature.  What exactly does a child need to know in order to be successful in school? Consider, as well, emergent maturity, the development of autonomy and trust, and the fact that children this age, have by nature of development, the attention span of fruit flys! My concern here, for your child, is that because his teacher considers his inability to listen and follow directions a problem, and you feel, rightfully so, that punishing him so many hours later is inappropriate, everyone is feeling frustrated. What this child is learning, by default, is to satisfy his needs to be in control of his life by not responding. Particularly if his teacher talks at him instead of talking to him.  He is setting his own parameters and is learning that negative attention may not be so bad. Not all programs are right for all children, and in my opinion, you need to find a program where you as the parent can partner with the teacher to outline to your child clear and consistent expectations for behavior, age appropriate consequence, and an attempt on everyone's part to ignore his negative responses and praise highly and immediately any attempt he makes to conform. He will "grow out of this," but, please help him before someone labels him a behavior problem.


Our nursery is run on the principles of Froebel, Montessori and Steiner. Although we would prefer it if all our children were together for story time and other group sessions, we will not force a child who is reluctant. That is more damaging. Some children's concentration span is not very long at that age. The child is allowed to do another quiet activity instead with another adult.