Daniel, the Preschool Pariah


It has taken more time than I intended to post about last week’s conference w/ Daniel’s preschool teachers due to work insanity and (constant) family crises.  After this morning, I’m glad I waited to post so that I could add impressions from my morning at his preschool.

Last Monday we nervously met Daniel’s two preschool teachers in his classroom around lunch time.  I was nervous.  I don’t know if J was, but I was.  The four of us setted ourselves down into those tiny preschool chairs.  I felt ridiculous because I am almost 5’10”, and my knees came up to my chest.  One of his teachers is tall, too, so I wondered if she felt silly or if she were used to it after years of teaching 2-year-olds.

I felt numb once they started talking, but the gist of it was that I didn’t recognize the child they described.  Preschool Daniel is very reserved.  He’ll interact with the adults but won’t do a lot of the physical movements in music class like jump up and down.  When they ask him questions, sometimes he won’t respond and has a blank face.  During free play, he will sometimes stand in the window and stare out (the window overlooks the playground, so I can understand that).  Most alarming, Preschool Daniel is a hitter and kicker.  He’ll go up to the kids and hit them for no reason.  Towards the end of his class, he is out of control and won’t follow directions, preferring to knock toys off shelves and throw things.  However, academically he is great.  He loves puzzles, knows the alphabet, numbers and colors very well.

His teachers suggested we have him evaluated by someone from Project Enlightenment, an early childhood education and intervention program.  They weren’t really clear for what they thought he should be evaluated.  I first thought they meant speech but as they continued Daniel’s issues, I began to fear the big A, the diagnosis every parent fears.

But then I remembered that Daniel is not like Preschool Daniel at home.  I’m not saying he isn’t mischievous or doesn’t misbehave, but the Daniel we see is a chatterbox.  He plays with his trains, trucks and blocks happily and quietly. He jumps up and down and climbs the furniture.   Totally different child.

J and I left the meeting determined to help Daniel build his social skills.  I think the main issue is that he is with only adults all the time.  We did participate in classes at The Little Gym for a year and he didn’t interact with the other children, but none of them really interacted.  J and I have noticed how reserved he is in general, and I think some one-on-one play dates would be very beneficial.  When I ask him about his classmates, he names them all.

And then came today.  Today was the holiday party and last day of preschool for a year.  I walked Daniel inside and watched as he sat down in the area where his class meets.  Another student in his class came in, and Daniel walked over and smacked him on the head.  Immediately.  No provocation whatsoever.  We’ve been working on not hitting and gentle touches, so I addressed the hitting immediately.  Another classmate, a little girl, walked in and he did the same thing.  One of his teachers walked over and suggested that I have him sit against the other wall because that’s what they do to keep him out of reach of the other students.

Finally, all of his class were inside, and they walked to their classroom.  I watched them, and my heart broke.  My sweet boy is such a menace that he has to sit away from his class in order to protect his classmates.  My sweet little boy who cuddles his stuffed animals which such tenderness.  Who gives us the best hugs and kisses.  Who tells us he loves us.  Who cries when I cry or when he thinks he has accidentally hurt one of our cats.  Who cries when one of the trains has an accident in one of his Thomas movies.

J and I were there the rest of the day, and it was shocking.  I witnessed him hit several of the girls.  The looks on their faces were awful and he kicked the 14-month-old sibling of one of his classmates.  I was so embarrassed.  After they came in from playing outside, we could tell he was done and he certainly showed it.  Instead of sitting with his classmates, he started pulling down toys from the shelves.  His teachers both made a point of telling me throughout the morning that this was the behavior they had told us about.  I wanted to crawl into a hole. 

After class ended, we sort of slunk out.  I had bought gifts for the teachers, and I kind of threw them on the table with the others.  I just wanted to get out of there, and Daniel decided to make it even more difficult by having jelly legs and not wanting to walk.  After we buckled him into his car seat, I started to cry in the parking lot.  He said, “Mommy, happy face,” his way of asking me to smile and be happy.  I kept saying, “no, Mommy has sad face.” 

I’ve got a lot of thoughts jumbling around in my head.  First of all, I keep reminding mysef, and J does too, that Daniel is 2.5.  He’s still so little.  I know the hitting is not at all abnormal for his age, and we’ll keep working with him.  He’s been testing our reaction to his hitting his leg or the bed or table, so I think he’s trying to work all of this out.    He’s also reserved in unfamiliar situations, and it takes him a while to warm up.  That’s not so unusual, is it? 

I’m so concerned, though.  Why after 3 months of preschool is he now hitting his classmates?  Why does he come home talking about them like they are friends?  Am I overreacting?  Am I underreacting?  We did notice that none of the boys in the class seemed very responsive in music class (Daniel did pretty well) and that he definitely was the most active and exuberant child.  Is he simply spirited?  Is this the beginning of a long fight against an ADHD diagnosis or worse? Maybe it’s not the best preschool environment for him?

My mind always spirals towards the worst-case scenario, so I’m not sure what to think.  We went to the mall after preschool and got home fairly late for his lunch.  I made it for him and watched him sitting calmly in his chair at the kitchen table, eating his food and watching a movie, his face so alive and expressive.  He would glance over at me and smile sweetly, my sweet boy again.


  1. First off, hugs. This is hard. All I can offer is an experience of my own. When L was in the toddlers class and right before he was turning 2, he and his friends of similar age were beating the shit out of each other. When they transitioned to the 2s room, it all stopped. Are the other kids in his class younger? This also was happening in his new class with a boy about to move up. Maybe time for a new environment? Is there another class he could visit? Hope it works out mama.

    1. Thanks! He is kind of in the middle age-wise (birthdays from April to late August and his is June), but he is the biggest, so I wonder if that might be playing a part as well. I’m curious what he’d do if he were around a 3 year old.

  2. Seriously – things are just fine and you are a good mom and your little tot is a good tot – just not sure yet how to let other kiddies know he likes them or is frustrated or excited or nervous….
    I’m a mama and a preschool teacher so have seen the change that happens in kids (along with my own) when they are away from mom and dad. And sometimes that behavior can be shocking.
    First up – it’s great that your preschool teachers are sharing their concerns with you and that you had a chance to see his behavior first hand. You can work with them to help make things better as a collective front.
    Next – enjoy some play dates with his friends from preschool at your house and watch what happens. Inviting some of his little buddies into your home might be a great way to encourage his comfort level at the preschool.
    Third – drop in unannounced at the preschool from time to time. Yeah, yeah, make sure this is okay with the teachers/director (and only if you can swing it) to observe when he doesn’t know you are there. You might get a chance to see how the teachers are like with him along with what he is really doing during the day.
    Last up – always consider the preschool might not be the right fit. Us teachers love to think we can take on any challenge and the good ones really do want to see your kiddo happy, but, sometimes, it’s just not a good fit.
    Don’t freak out and think there’s something wrong – your kid is 2.5. They hit, kick, scratch, scream, yell, laugh, run, jump, hug, kiss, and LOVE. Language is just developing and sometimes it’s just easier to bonk someone on the head than let them know you care.

  3. Just to point out one thing… autism is not always a “bad” thing. Challenging at times, yes, but bad, no. I’m autistic, and two out of my five kids are diagnosed that way as well. Autism is not just “Rainman”, it’s a really big spectrum of various traits.

    Saying that, this doesn’t really sound like a autistic issue, but one of just being socially awkward and young. Showing empathy, and the other traits that “normal” child should be displaying, at home is a really good sign that he’s neurologically normal. I’ll give some examples of what my two were like growing up.

    My first born, who’s diagnosed Aspberger’s, could speak in full sentences when he was one. Very much “the little professor” description. However, put him in a group of kids (he was GREAT with adults), and he’d run at them screaming while biting his hand. That was his typical form of greeting. He’s 9 now, and still doesn’t really “get” how to deal with his peers. But he’s great with adults.

    My second born didn’t speak for the first nine months of his life, but he was at least pleasant. He’s diagnosed PPD-NOS with sensory integration issues. Which basically just means, he’s not Aspberger’s, but he’s also not sitting in a corner mumbling and having no interaction with people. He’s a very bright guy, but didn’t really start to get language until he was almost 5. He’s 6 now… and you honestly cannot get him to STOP talking ;). He still has issues with personal boundaries, and appropriate play with peers, but he’s getting better.

    Long, rambling, and I apologize. Just to restate, Daniel sounds like a pretty normal guy, and he’ll eventually warm up to other kids as time goes on.

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