Misbehaving before starting school

Six month wait all too much for school-ready preschoolers.
Six month wait all too much for school-ready preschoolers. Photo: Getty

Like thousands of other children around Australia, my four-year-old daughter is enjoying her last six months of freedom before school starts. And she is enjoying it; I just wish I could say the same. But the truth is that at the moment I am finding motherhood a bit of a slog.

Perhaps general parenting fatigue has worn me down, but I feel as if my four-year-old daughter, G is deliberately pushing her luck, testing the boundaries and challenging the status quo.

My theory is that she’s ready for school; she would very happily begin tomorrow if she could. She talks about it every day. She points out the children in the neighbourhood who are sporting the blue uniform that she is so desperate to start putting on and she points out her future school with glee when we drive by.

The trouble is, despite her apparent readiness, the school year does not begin for another six months, which is a very, very long time when you are four and a half. The result is a frustrated G who is bored of day-care and even more bored of staying at home with me. My little girl runs amuck, flouting the rules and (pretty much) doing as she pleases while I tear my hair out.  

Community Liaison Officer, Catherine Gregory is responsible for the school readiness program at Hill Top Road Public School in Sydney’s West. She reassures me that I am not alone, in fact, pre-schoolers getting bored and frustrated in the run up to school is quite common.

“A lot of parents tell me that their child doesn’t want to go to pre-school anymore and that they can’t wait to go to ‘big school’,” she says. “They definitely start pushing the boundaries a bit more.”

Catherine notes that there is a lot of pressure on children during this phase. “They hear a lot about ‘big school’ but they might not understand what happens at ‘big school’ or what ‘big school’ is about,” she explains.

In order to move though the last six months peacefully and give our children the best possible start to the school year, Catherine’s advice is to start putting more structure into their day. “Routine is really important. Set times for getting up and having snacks and lunch. Get them used to eating when it is snack time rather than just giving them snacks when they ask for them,” she says.

Catherine also advises that parents use the last six months to help their children with simple skills such as dressing themselves and being responsible for their own belongings when going out. In addition to this, it is a good idea to practice gripping a pencil and using scissors.

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These practical tips may help me restore some harmony. But what else can I start doing differently to ensure that G and I both make it to the end of the year in one piece?

Family Counsellor, Martine Oglethorpe says that it’s important to try and see things from the child’s perspective to understand what their behavior may be telling us. “Try and listen more and lecture less,” she advises.

“Kids generally only hear the first few lines of a lecture so don’t give them too much information at once. You can however let them know how something makes you feel so that they get used to sharing their emotions. Start sentences with ‘I’ such as ‘I love it when you pack up your toys as it makes me feel really happy’,” Martine explains.

Martine suggests that as parents we try and focus on the good things our children are doing as that will help to foster a sense of achievement. She also says that it is a good idea to set up some clear consequences.

“Having some consequences well in advance that have been agreed upon together also helps them negotiate with themselves how they will react and whether it is worth risking the consequences. A gentle reminder of your agreed upon consequences is much more effective than shouting out random threats in desperation that you know will make little difference to the behaviour,” says Martine.

So for those of us that are struggling at the moment, Martine’s advice is to listen more, explain things succinctly and work together to reach a compromise.

“Remember that this is a special time,” she says. “We need to try and enjoy it.”

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