NHL’s Behavior Issues or The Frightful Fives

Last post, I mentioned that NHL is good at working the system to get what he wants.  In the case of going on a ride just to see the end of a Wiggles show, it is cute in a way.  Unfortunately, this post is about behavior that is anything but cute.

NHL just started kindergarten a couple of weeks ago and he has yet to have a completely good day.  He has a litany of bad behaviors that his teachers report to us:

  • Not listening
  • Pushing when kids are in his way
  • Doing what he wants to do now instead of what he is told to do (kind of falls under the first thing, but I think it’s big enough for its own bullet point)
  • Trying to (forcefully) correct kids when he is wrong (in other words, playing "Kindergarten Cop")
  • Screaming when he doesn’t get his way

To my wife and I this is bringing back ghosts of last year.  You know what happened last year, right?  Of course not, I wasn’t blogging then.  Queue the flashback sound effects…..

Last year, my wife and I enrolled NHL in the pre-K program at a local school.  To protect the school, let’s call it "School M."   He started the first day and everything seemed fine.  He liked his class and we were happy.  Sadly, this wasn’t to last. 

Not even a week into his school, NHL told us that he was "sick" and needed to stay home from school.  There was no way that he was really sick.  This was completely a ploy to stay out of school.  He started saying that he didn’t want to go and complaining about school more and more.  We spoke with various people, tried various things, and my wife finally decided to observe the class one day.  During the class, NHL was repeatedly told "No" over and over and made to do tasks from the beginning because he didn’t do them perfectly.  The other kids weren’t treated like this.  One chore that I remember was as follows:

  • NHL had to get a mat out of a cubby
  • He had to walk around a teacher to one side (the wrong side would elicit a "No!" and a command to start over)
  • He had to unroll the mat without letting his feet touch it
  • He had to walk back to the cubby to get a container of blocks
  • Walk around the teacher again (wrong way = "No!" + start over!)
  • Lay out the blocks in a certain way witout his feet touching the mat
  • Put everything back in a certain order.

I’ve simplified it a bit, but there were like 16 steps that he had to complete.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I had a 16 step task to do, I don’t think I would do it 100% perfect.  And if each and every screw-up resulted in harsh words and a command to start from scratch, I’d get frustrated as well.  He began acting out in class (but not at home).

Needless to say, we pulled NHL from that school and moved him to "School J."  The change was immediate.  He loved school to the point of going to the door to tell us he was going to school…. at 8pm on a Saturday!!!  He wouldn’t have minded if school were 7 days a week.

Flash forward to today.  NHL is acting out again, but this time it is at home and at school.  In contrast to "M", though, he loves going to school.  He is constantly bolting from my car, without so much as a kiss goodbye, to dash into school.  But once in class, he seems to be having trouble with basic social aspects and with following directions.  At home he is prone to outbursts and over-exagerations.  He also seems to be trying to exert authority over people he obviously has no authority over.

"NHL, finish your dinner."

"No, I’m done. I want dessert."

"You don’t get dessert until you finish your dinner."

"I only need to eat one more bite."

"No, NHL, eat it all."


"Then you don’t get any dessert."

"Yes, I DO!  You don’t get any dessert because you’re a mean daddy! I don’t love you!"

Our best guess is that he thinks that acting out will get us to remove him from this school the same way we removed him from "School M."  Other than the behavior issues, though, he seems to like it there.

I’m out of answers.  With all of the troubles we’ve encountered with NHL so far, I’ve been able to draw upon my experiences growing up to find a path to take.  This is completely new.  I don’t know what to do.  B tries her best, but her nerves are shot after 3 hours alone with him (and JSL) every weekday.  Everyone always talks about the Terrible Twos, but how do you handle the Frightful Fives?


  • Kim

    If I had to guess, I’d say that what you’re seeing is due to the adjustment and changes of starting kindergarten. I think that kids often don’t know what to do with the uncertainty that comes with something new, and it often manifests itself as some type of behavior.

    If he were mine, I think I’d do two things. First, establish a set of consequences for the behaviors you’re seeing. For example, telling a parent or teacher no warrants the loss of a favorite toy or something. Pushing others results in no TV.

    Second, I’d also establish a reward system for the behaviors you want to see based on what you feel is realistic for him. You may have to start with something like getting through supper without saying no or talking back means you get a sticker. A day without pushing earns 3 stickers. But something you know he can succeed in so that he get’s a reward for positive behavior early on and experiences that. When he accumulates a pre-determined number of stickers, he earns a big reward which you choose based on what his favorite thing is at present.

    Of course, you could use the stickers for consequences and rewards. Good behavior earns stickers and un-acceptable behavior means stickers get taken away.

    You’d have to review the expectations, rewards, and consequences with him ahead of time to be sure he knows. Then when a good or bad behavior appears, you simply comment on him getting or losing a sticker. You don’t have to yell or convince, it’s a pre-determined outcome that he was aware of.

    We often tell our daughter that she can choose what happens based on how she acts. She’s not always at the level of comprehension for that yet, but I want her to connect that her chosen actions determine consequences.

    You also have to be incredibly consistent with it and never slide while getting things established. It’s like feeding a cat. Do it once, and it’s all over. It can get really hard before it gets better.

    Sorry for the huge comment. Don’t know if any of this is something that y’all want to use or if it even applies, but it’s food for thought if nothing else.

    Good luck!

  • TechyDad

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll admit that we’ve been a little too focused on the punishing the bad. He comes home with too many check marks (bad behavior at school) and doesn’t get to buy lunch the next day (something he loves). He pushes his brother over and gets sent to his room. He yells at us and loses TV.

    For awhile, we tried using a “Pom Pom jar.” Every time he was good, he got to put a pom pom in the jar. When he filled the jar, he got to pick out a prize. (Something inexpensive like a toy from the dollar store.) It worked, but was hard to manage. (Plus, JSL decided that *he* wanted the pom poms also.) Perhaps the sticker chart would be more effective. We’ll try it out and will post about the effectiveness.