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'Daycare Has Unrealistic Expectations For My Son'

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Reader Daycare Drama writes,

We have a 34-month-old son who recently was kicked out of a small (and not very satisfactory) home-based daycare service because he had tantrums (he was the youngest by far of 8 children). We recently enrolled him in an expensive private daycare centre which is hurting us financially, but we thought would be a better learning environment for him. He has been there two months and has settled in. However, we are experiencing the same problem as the home-based service; very high expectations.

In my experience, children under three cannot dress themselves without help, especially into/out of a snowsuit (there is a torture in hell that involves toddlers and snowsuits), they have tantrums, they get bored easily, they are still developing. Our experience so far is that our son is expected to behave like a 6 year old, not a toddler. He does speak, but not in full sentences yet and we are taking speech therapy workshops to help him, but I know children older than him with more limited vocabularies. We are trying to potty train him, but is is slow going and we are getting judged for it.

Recently, he began hitting other children, but only in a daycare setting. He will also throw toys if he is having a meltdown. At home, this is not tolerated and we have a time out policy that works (ok, works most of the time), but the daycare centre has a no time out policy. They prefer to use long conversations he cannot understand at this point of his development. We admit that he can be a bit hard to handle at times, but the expectations for him seem awfully high.

Why do so many child care providers have such high expectations of very young children? I feel like unless my son acts like a quiet little girl, he gets labelled a problem child. We are trying to work with his educators, but they don't want to implement time outs. We are doing all we can at home, like modelling between each other and with action figures and plush toys. Is it normal to have such high expectations for such young children? He is doing very well in every other respect. Just a bit delayed in speech (we are a bilingual family) and struggling with socializing with kids only at daycare. Outside of daycare, he is pleasant as can be. I guess to boil it down, how can I deal with people who have unrealistic expectations for a toddler?

Dear DD,

I see you're a very committed mom, and that's wonderful. Your devotion to your son can't be questioned. Still, there are two issues that I see going on here. The first is that you may be thinking your son is less capable than he is, and treating him as younger than he is. Some clues are that you think of him in terms of months even though he's almost three, and you keep calling him a toddler even though he's almost three and probably hasn't toddled in a while. But the biggest clue is that you are finding fault with two consecutive daycares rather than taking their feedback more objectively. The second issue is that your son may in fact have behavior issues that make him act different than other three year olds, which you may be ignoring. Many parents ignore issues in their kids, and I believe this does the child a disservice.

I think that there is a balance between sticking up for your child and denying and minimizing potentially useful feedback from others. Nobody is saying that the daycare teachers are perfect or that they have seen every three year old on earth. But the fact is that they have seen many three year olds, and the first place kicked your child out of their daycare despite wanting your business, and the second place is noticing behavior issues, and you have not once stated that you have taken your child for an evaluation to determine if these daycare providers are picking up on anything important here. Your kid isn't a "problem child" but he may in fact have some sort of behavior issue or sensory issue or what have you that will go unaddressed if you continue to unconditionally attribute his daycare behavior to "normal" three year old development.

My three kids (two girls and a boy) were in preschool settings starting a little before age 2, and timeouts are generally not implemented in school settings, in my experience. So this is not rare. In fact, some newer research suggests that time outs aren't good for kids (I still do them when necessary for my own ability to stay calm with my kids, but my point is that the daycares cannot be faulted for not using this method). Most kids can learn not to hit by three, especially if the daycare is consistent in their rules. In fact, most kids act better at school than at home.

I do not think it is useful for your son for you to insist that everyone else is the problem. I also understand that it is stressful for you to be told about his behavior every day, and that you are trying to model positive behavior at home. But something is not working. Perhaps he would do better in a more structured environment, like a preschool, since he is almost 3. It is possible that he needs more attention and that he would thrive in a different environment. You could even try a third in-home daycare. But I would also suggest getting him evaluated for behavioral issues, as it is not the norm for kids to be kicked out of childcare centers, and it is also unusual for kids to throw frequent tantrum and hit other kids at daycare. Also, maybe there are other ways for you to work with your son, that a child psychologist can help you learn.

There is also the possibility that your son is not being given responsibilities commensurate with his actual level of development at home, so he becomes frustrated at daycare when they ask him to do things that he isn't asked to do at home. To address this, try and give him more responsibility for basic self-care in the home. Allow him to dress himself (I agree that a snowsuit is hard, but the other clothes are possible at this age), help set the table, drink out of a big boy cup, clean up toys, brush his teeth (even if you brush them afterwards), and all sorts of other things. You can research lists of things that kids can do at each age to know what's appropriate to ask of him.

I wish you luck, and please keep me updated. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Keep An Open Mind And Get An Evaluation.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.

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