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Dramatic Behaviour Change In 4 Year Old Second Week Of School

by Kate
(South Wales)

My son started nursery at aged 3 within a school. It was not a positive experience for him.

He was toilet trained when going there but quickly started wetting and soiling. We found out they were forcing boys to sit to wee (he hadn't learned that way)and although he was distressed they held him on the toilet to force him to go. He held onto his urine and got an infection and was so distressed he said he wasn't his name anymore.

We then found them changing him in front of all the children and making comments to him about wetting.

He became very withdrawn so we removed him back to private nursery. It took a lot of work to re toilet train him but we got there and accidents hadn't happened for months.

He had just started reception in a new school recently and was very excited after lots of positive talking about school.

The first week was fantastic he joined in, made friends and had no issues with the toilet and no accidents. He came home with lovely bright pictures and excitedly told us what he had learned.

But then in his 2nd week, he started soiling again, (even though he had been at home think he may have held some back). Almost overnight he has gone from a polite happy laid back well behaved boy to someone who wont listen, laughs at attempts to discipline, has no concern over previously precious toys. And today he slapped a teacher, at which I'm horrified as this is not in his nature.

What do we do?

Comments for Dramatic Behaviour Change In 4 Year Old Second Week Of School

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Past School Trauma - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Anxiety And Behaviour

Hi Kate,
My goodness your son's nursery school sounded like something out of the 18th century! No wonder he was traumatized - even to the point of not wanting to be "him". I am so glad you took him out of that school.

I would say going to the new school has re-triggered the anxieties from that time, even though he is liking his new school, he will have a lot of associations of anxiety and stress around school.

Bed-wetting or soiling and reverting back to behaviour he had mastered is usually a pretty good indication a child is really stressed - and in your son's case there is a direct relationship to extreme stress, school and toileting.

I know you are horrified that he has slapped the teacher, and has not behaved in an appropriate way at school. I am in no way saying that is acceptable behaviour but the fact that he is fighting to assert himself is at least indicating that he is not going to let himself be treated as badly as in the first nursery school. It is also a flag to let you know he still has quite a lot of residual issues from such a horrible experience.

I don't know if anything happened at his new school - it might not actually take much to trigger off those awful memories and feelings - if the teacher told him off in class - it may well have triggered a heap of very powerful feelings in him.

He is not just associating something he might have done wrong at the time, such as talking in class - he is also attaching a load of other past stuff to how he feels - shame,
embarrassment, humiliation etc. And of course if he soiled himself at school, the whole past trauma will be totally triggered.

Your son may not associate what is happening now, with his experiences of nursery school. Kids don't see the link - and often adults don't either, we simply react out of our past experiences and our expectation of what a situation means to us. Unfortunately your son has some bad anchors around school, and particularly around embarrassment, shame or humiliation, so his bad behaviour is his way of acting out his rage and distress at being treated badly in the past.

Part Two Follows . . . .

Past School Trauma - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

It is hard to manage though, both as a parent, and a teacher - After all teachers have to have control and reasonable compliance in the classroom, they have a large group of children that simply have to do as they are told for the overall learning goals to be met.

How To Help?

So, what can you do? First of all do NOT double punish him and go on about his behaviour at school - what happens at school needs to be dealt with at school. Of course you need to let him know you are disappointed but more importantly you need to understand what was going on for him and allow him a chance to talk about his feelings.

I would definitely talk to his teacher about the
whole issue of his first nursery school and his experience so she understands the background. Of course she can't let him get away with unacceptable behaviour in class, but she might be able to deal with it in such a way that it does not shame him in front of the class. And of course if there are toileting accidents, she can be more careful to reassure him and be extra sensitive to his feelings.

I know it is frustrating when a child starts soiling and wetting again, but try not to be angry with him, just be matter of fact and reassure him that he doing fine, and encourage him to listen to his body when he needs to go to
the toilet. I would suggest you don't make a big deal out of checking him and reminding him all the time as that will simply add to his stress and anxiety.

Since a lot of his stress and trauma is around a body function, then it is pretty easy for him to disassociate from recognizing the feelings of a full bladder, or the signals that he needs to go to the toilet. He may well be experiencing toilet signals as stress and anxiety, instead of "hey I need to do a wee."

Put Words To Feelings

Try to get your son to put words to his feelings - but it is a bit of a fine line between making a BIGGER deal out of something and helping it to come to consciousness to talk about it. The more you make a big deal out of him wetting or not making it to the toilet, then the bigger the whole issue will get in his mind.

Part Two Follows . . .

Past School Trauma - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

When he comes home with wet clothes or has an accident at home - just be very gentle, and matter of fact about it, and rather than focusing on trying to tell him to go to the toilet more often, or telling him to remember to go to the toilet - focus on how he feels and invite him to talk about what happened without any emphasis on him having to do better.

"Oh dear, you missed going to the toilet at school - are you OK?" "What happened sweetie?

"What did your teacher do, did she help you?"

"Did you feel bad?" "Did any of the other kids say anything?"

You are really just making statements to open the door for him to talk about it, without feeling like he is in trouble or has done something wrong. What he needs is to be able to talk about how he feels and any anxiety around school, being
in class and maybe being told off, or any anxiety around going to the toilet etc.

Ease Up On Pressure Or Reminders

We tend to put a huge amount of pressure onto our kids around toileting, and your son has had way more stress and pressure around this whole issue than most children. So it is no wonder that he reverts when under pressure or stress. You don't need to do any reminders or lectures about him having to go to the toilet more often - it simply won't help him.

He doesn't need more toilet training, he needs to feel OK about himself and learn to trust his body, and to be in control of some things in his life - starting with his feelings.

You can ask him how you can help, or what does he need to feel he is OK. You can give him lots of reassurance and that you know he will learn to pick up on what his body is telling him. But without any judgements, disappointment in him, or frustration at having a pile of soiled clothes to wash.

Basically he is telling you he is anxious, he is not picking up on his body signals because he is stressed, and the more pressure he has to do that, the more it feeds the whole anxiety cycle and the more likely he is to pee his pants!

The more he can talk about it, or anything he is angry about, or anxious about, the more he will feel in control, and be able to find or learn better ways to cope.

Part Four Follows . . . .

Past School Trauma - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

How To Handle Destructive Behaviour

When he plays up at home, mistreats his toys etc, rather than yelling at him or punishing him, stop what you are doing and and be with him and invite him to talk about how he feels. Kids act out stuff with their toys, so if he is angry and breaking toys, or throwing tantrums he is clearly showing you he feels frustrated, angry, feels his life is out of control, and he likely feels pretty powerless.

Kids claim power over their toys - everyone else will tell them what to do, boss them around, and tell them off. Their toys and play can be a really good way to express anger and frustration and act out difficulties. So although of course we don't want them to break them or treat them badly, it is actually better he expresses his anger with his toys, not with people!

Invite him to put words to how he feels, to express his frustration or anxieties by talking or yelling rather than being destructive.

"This is not how you usually treat your toys, it looks like you are really angry about something?"

"Can you tell me what you are so cross about?"

"Whoa! I can see you are really mad - it would be a shame to break your toys, how about smashing this pillow instead?"

"Hang on - instead of being angry with your toys - tell me what you are mad about"

"You can yell out all the things you are cross about and I promise I won't get mad back"

"Something seems to be making you really unhappy, can you tell me what is happening?"

He is unlikely to relate back to things that have happened in the past - but if he can talk about how he feels NOW, and to have you listen and understand without telling him off - then he has a way to integrate how he feels and perhaps start to make some different choices in the future.

For now though, most of all, simply listen. Later on, you can make some suggestions about expressing anger or frustration in better ways. It is not his feelings that are wrong, it is what he is doing with them. His feelings need to be honoured, validated and understood. He is angry, something is triggering his anxiety from past trauma, he is lashing out in the only way he can.

Helping him to talk or yell about his anger is the first step to be able to learn to react more appropriately.

Part Five Follows . . .

Past School Trauma - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Helpful Tool For Parents

One tool that is really helpful to help kids to release past trauma's or anxiety caused by past trauma, is Tapping - EFT.

We tap out anxiety, fear, frustrations etc, then when the intensity has subsided, then we tap in affirmations and good self esteem tools. It would also be really useful in his case to tap in successes and things he likes and enjoys about school to anchor in more positive feelings.

You can find out more about tapping here on my site, and there are also links to other pages about tapping with kids. I also have a program that teaches parents how to use EFT with children, and along with that I also offer a personalized specific tapping scripts for parents who have purchased the program, so that is something you might be interested in if you decide to try it.

But you don't need the program to start, all the information you need to start tapping with your son, and lots of ideas are on the pages below.

EFT Tapping

How Can The School Help?

The other thing you might want to think about is talking to the school about what resources they have available. I would hesitate to send him off to a physiologist at this stage as it could make him feel like there is something wrong with him. It might just be that when the school is aware of the past drama, they may be able to work more constructively with him to help him to deal with anxiety or accept criticism without flying off the handle.

Starting a new school is a really big event in a child's life. You have done a fabulous job of setting the scene for him considering his past experiences. You really do need to give him time to adjust and to learn to deal with pressure and anxiety more appropriately.

Language And Talking
Helps Brain Pathways To Grow

The best way he can learn that is to be able to express his feelings and talk about them. Language helps to build neural pathways in the brain to enable us to make more rational choices. When we react out of fear, anxiety, anger or frustration, it is the reptilian part of our brain - so survival mode. Learning to move from that is not automatic - our children's brains actually have to grow more pathways.

How many adults do you know that fly off the handle and react before they have had a chance to stop and think or calm down?

Sadly your little boy has had a rough start with school, but you can turn it around and help him to cope better and to enjoy his time there.

Let me know how you go,
all the best,
Annie D :)

by: kate

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this reply, I really appreciate it.

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