Four-year-old Micah receives glowing reports from his teachers about his behavior, but not from his mom, Crystal Paschal. "When I ask him to put away his toys or do chores, the back talk, temper tantrums, and hitting come out," says Paschal, of Indianapolis. If a conversation with your preschooler's teacher has led you to wonder, "Is she talking about the same kid?" join the club. It's common for kids this age to control their impulses in the classroom and unleash their inner wild child at home. "They let loose because they trust that you'll love them no matter what," says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Find out how to bridge the gap so your kid behaves well after school dismissal.
Create a Relaxing Routine
You may notice that your child is the most combative immediately after pickup. "It's as if he's saying, 'I'm exhausted from having to listen and follow everyone's rules and be on my best behavior throughout the day. Now I'm home where I can be myself,' " explains Tovah Klein, Ph.D., author of How Toddlers Thrive. The fix: Let your little guy have time to decompress. Try giving him a shoulder rub or suggesting that he squeeze a squishy ball. Blowing bubbles is great, too, because the deep breaths physically calm him and slow down his instinct to snap at you. For other kids, 15 minutes of running around outside is all they need to blow off steam.
Replicate the Rules
Your preschooler might be more likely to behave in class—sharing toys, sitting for snacktime, and not interrupting while others are talking—because the rules and consequences are clear. Start establishing similar boundaries at home, suggests Sharon Bercowetz, a preschool teacher at the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Early Childhood Center, in West Hartford, Connecticut. Talk to your child's teacher about the classroom rules and come up with a few that you can adapt, like not getting up from the table without asking to be excused or using her "inside voice" when she's talking to you and other adults. You'll also want to find out what the teacher does when expectations are not met and implement a similar system at home. Use the same language as her teacher. For example, Bercowetz tells her students that if they don't clean up their toys, she'll "close the dress-up area" as a consequence. Get siblings on board with the new rules, too, since the group mentality is so powerful and schools use it to their advantage. "Your child might not want to come inside for lunch, but if everybody else is going to the table, she'll follow the group," explains Dr. Klein.
Set Him Up for Success
As you begin to smooth the transition from school to home, think about how you can break down tasks into manageable steps. For instance, if you want your kid to hang up his things when he walks into the house—the way he does at school—be sure there are two hooks at his level for his jacket and book bag. Place a mat or a boot tray near the door to mimic his shelf at school, so he knows where his shoes go. Michelle Brammer, of Bear, Delaware, says that making multiple small requests like the teacher does at school helps 4-year-old Caitlyn during cleanup time at home. Brammer cues Caitlyn that it's time to pick up with a special cleanup song. "Then I ask her to find all the red toys. Once that's done, I'll ask her to locate all the blue ones," says Brammer. "If I just tell her to pick
up her toys, she'll say it's too hard."
Ask the teacher if she'd mind helping to reinforce your child's progress, suggests Bercowetz. Fill her in at pickup or send an e-mail to let her know how it's going at home. Your little one may be surprised if her teacher says, "I heard that you sat at the table like a big girl last night. I can't wait to hear if you do it again tonight." Not only will this help merge the worlds of school and home in her head, but she'll also be inspired to live up to expectations and impress her teacher—even if you're the one who'll benefit. Your child is more likely to behave in class because rules and consequences are clearly laid out.