How to Manage a Child Acting Out at Daycare

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    So your child is acting out at daycare. Unfortunately, you aren't the first parent to deal with this, and you won't be the last.

    Children display a wide array of behaviour in school and at home. A lot of factors trigger these behaviours and stems from different things, like seeing their parents argue. 

    Some kids think that they caused the arguments and bring those thoughts to daycare centres.

    What Is Acting Out

    Although most people know what "acting out" is, it's still important to define acting out behaviour before discussing possible causes.

    The expression "acting out" usually refers to problem behaviour that is physically aggressive, destructive to property, verbally aggressive, or otherwise more severe than simple misbehaviour. 

    Acting out is an extreme behavioural expression that relieves tension or communicates these emotions disguised or indirect.

    Overall, acting out is disruptive at any age and in any setting and often requires formal behaviour intervention to manage it. Other words parents may use to describe this behaviour include:

    • Aggression: Hostile or violent words or actions directed at another person
    • Defiance: Openly resisting or disobeying authority figures
    • Disruptive behaviour: Uncooperative or hostile behaviours that disrupt others
    • Meltdowns: An intense response to an overwhelming situation
    • Oppositional behaviour: Resisting direction or rules by being argumentative or refusing to cooperate
    • Temper tantrum: Emotional outburst that often involves crying and screaming

    Fortunately, many parents have gone before you and have found good options for dealing with disruptive daycare behaviour. Following are some of our favourite tips.

    Tips To Handle A Child Acting Out At Daycare

    A toddler acting out in daycare means a lot of things depending on the point of view. But first, don't stress yourself about it. 

    Acting out does not necessarily mean that parents can just sit back and accept everything the toddler throws at them. 

    This phase in their lives teaches them about discovering things on their own, mimicking the people around them, and exploring the world.

    Here are some tips that parents can follow to manage their toddler's bad behaviour at daycare.

    Talk With Them, One On One

    What triggers the toddler to misbehave at daycare suddenly? At times, toddlers goof around during their classes and disregard what their teacher gave them to do. 

    If they had a bad day, avoid forcing them to open up to you and just let them have their own time first.

    Give Them Their Timeout And Let Them Breathe.

    Repetitively asking the toddler what happened does not teach them to resolve things on their own. 

    They depend on their parents and teachers for resolution. Let them understand why the teacher reprimanded them or why they called their parents.

    When parents give toddlers their time off, it teaches them to reflect on what transpired during the day. 

    Then, parents can slowly converse with them without enduring tantrums. Also, parents can start sharing these with their toddlers:

    • Tell them about empathising with the people around them. Let them identify which behaviours annoy them from the start.
    • Identify the bad behaviour they do to others and tell them the consequences of doing these actions.
    • Inform and guide them to improve their behaviours, such as politely conversing with adults and their teachers and classmates.
    • Cultivate respect in conversing with them

    Children play all the time with their classmates, friends, and siblings. But, sometimes, their playtime gets rough, and they end up fighting with each other. 

    When parents witness this rowdy behaviour, they immediately switch to the disciplinarians and scold their children quickly. 

    That causes further turmoil in the household and discourages communication within the family.

    Parents can coordinate with the daycare staff and let them mediate between the children to avoid these situations. Then, they can ask for suggestions on how to deal with their toddlers. Teachers can suggest treating them with the same respect they give to any of their friends or colleagues. Treat them as equals.

    Refrain from using these phrases:

    • I'm warning you, stop.
    • Stop doing this, now!

    Instead, use these phrases to make toddlers feel you acknowledge their emotions:

    • "Theo, I observed you pinched Callie a while ago. It might not bother her yet; however, please tell me if she did something to upset you."
    • "Instead of punching your brother for that toy, let's begin with telling me what bothers you right now."

    Using a friendlier tone and words helps toddlers understand that their parents want to listen to them. Remember to ask how they're feeling before telling them what to do.

    If you want to know why your child is irritable or angry, all you have to do is ask. 

    A toddler might not be able to put all of their feelings into words, but they should be able to give you an idea about what is causing friction.

    If they can't speak about it, ask them to draw a picture about something that frustrated them at daycare. Next, talk about those frustrations.

    Encourage your child to step away and take a deep breath whenever something is upsetting them. Above all, let them know that they can always talk to you about those daily annoyances.

    Acknowledge The Child's Good Behavior


    Parents often forget to acknowledge their children for their good behaviour at home and school. 

    Teachers give toddlers stars or stamps that symbolise they performed well. 

    If children feel their parents neglect them, this can cause them to act out in daycare just to make their parents notice them. They long for attention and validation.

    Now, to prevent their bad behaviour, parents need to praise their children's behaviour. 

    Parents can reward them with either a toy or kind words when children wait in line without wandering off. 

    When kids grab their food, tell them they're doing a great job being independent. Take note that nurturing good behaviours is more accessible than challenging inappropriate ones.

    Develop A Good Relationship With Daycare Teachers

    When toddlers begin preschool or daycare, they meet a lot of people, especially their teachers. 

    For toddlers, teachers are their parents in school and connecting with their teacher's results in more fun.

    Parents may tell children that their teachers help them with their academic challenges and nurture them. Teachers make children feel safe and comfortable in school all the time.

    Some parents may do these:

    • Ask about activities that the teacher plans on doing.
    • Let the toddler bring a gift to the teacher.
    • Enthuse them about participating in different school activities.

    When a good relationship exists between parents, toddlers, and teachers, lousy behaviour gets debunked, reinforcing positive behaviour.

    Check Out The Different Classes At Daycare

    Various classes exist in different daycare institutions. These cater to the diverse needs of the children to improve their skills in other aspects. 

    However, some parents can stay at the school and check on their toddlers to see how they're doing. 

    This allows parents to know how their child behaves in school. It also allows parents to get feedback and share suggestions about different school policies.

    Look For Triggers

    Ask your daycare provider if there is a specific time of the day when your child's behaviour worsens.

    • Is it during nap time? Perhaps you have a restless child who can't calm down enough to relax.
    • Is it during drop-off? You will need to manage separation anxiety.
    • Is it during the mid-afternoon? Perhaps your child is overly tired or over-stimulated.

    There isn't always a trigger for bad behaviour, but looking for one is an excellent place to start.

    Follow A Steady Schedule

    Daycares and nursery schools tend to operate on very regimented schedules. If your child is not used to having a scheduled nap, meal, and snack times, that could be part of the problem.

    Enact a schedule at home to give your child more consistency throughout the day and night.

    If you have mommy guilt when sending your child to daycare, you're probably not going to like this advice.

    You need to decide early if your kid is going to be a daycare kid or not.

    The reason for that is because daycares have schedules they run, and if your kids aren't regularly going to daycare, then that means they're probably not running on a consistent schedule.

    It really will make your life easier (and the daycare staff life easier) if you pick one or the other.

    Also, on the days you have to keep your child home, either on the weekend or if the daycare is closed, find out what schedule the daycare runs and try to keep your child on that schedule.

    Develop A Drop-off Routine

    Separation anxiety is one of the primary causes of lousy daycare behaviour. Create a routine during drop-off that gives your child a sense of normality each day.

    The structure of the routine is less critical than daily consistency. 

    Something as simple as a hug, a kiss, and a goodbye done in the same order, every day, will remind your child that it is time to have fun with friends.

    Do Yoga Together

    Even a toddler is not too young to do yoga. The practise helps a person find calm and balance. Go to a mommy-and-me yoga class or develop your routine at home.

    You can teach your child some basic poses (asanas), but the main focus should be breathing and relaxation. 

    A child who is at peace at home should be able to find peace while in daycare.

    Serve Nutritious Food

    There is a strong connection between healthy eating and good behaviour. 

    According to the American Psychological Association, a child that doesn't have a nutritious diet can suffer from irritability, behavioural problems, and social anxiety.

    Add More Exercise

    Children with a lot of energy to burn need a vital outlet. We know a child who was kicked out of two daycares for misbehaviour. His mother was at a loss until she realised he was simply in need of more activity.

    She enrolled him in toddler soccer, swimming lessons, and karate. 

    Her schedule was overflowing, but it made a huge difference in his overall attitude. Within weeks he was happier, sleeping better, and performing well in his new daycare setting.

    Sleep Tight

    A tired child is a cranky child. A child who isn't getting enough sleep at night is the most disagreeable of all. 

    According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need a minimum of 11 hours of sleep, while preschoolers need no less than 10.

    There are several ways to increase the amount of sleep your child gets at night. 

    Change the temperature in the room, develop a consistent bedtime routine and invest in a white noise machine. If these ideas don't work, talk to your child's pediatrician for more tips.

    Monitor Your Behavior


    Sometimes, the issue with the child is that they are modelling what they see at home.

    Watch how you handle conflict in your daily life. Do you yell, slam doors or over-react in other ways? If so, it could be you who needs the change. Your child might follow suit.

    Reasons Why Your Child Might Be Acting Out

    Getting at the cause of this behaviour is an essential first step for parents, regardless of whether your child has regular temper tantrums or your teen going through a rebellious streak. 

    Here's what you need to know about why kids act out and what you can do to remedy the situation.

    There are several possible reasons why children act out, and few are as simple as "they're a bad kid." 

    When a child acts out, the pattern of inappropriate behaviour is often used to cover up deeper feelings of pain, fear, or loneliness.

    Responding to that misbehaviour inappropriately or assuming the child is simply "bad" can leave the child feeling even more alone with whatever emotions they are coping with.

    Simply blaming the behaviour on a child being a bad kid deepens their reasons for acting out instead of reducing them.

    The reason for acting out is often not apparent, like being hungry or tired, but instead can be deeply buried. 

    At times, the very act of a tantrum is meant to hide the source of the misbehaviour from parents.

    Looking at each of these possibilities—without dismissing them as impossible in your situation—is vital to get to the root cause.

    You may be surprised to learn about the underlying cause of your child's misbehaviour or tantrums. Here are some possible reasons why your child may be acting out.

    Dealing With An Upsetting Situation

    Some children act out because they usually respond to a situation that has upset them where they cannot manage their emotions.

    Sometimes, a child that acts out at school has been goaded into responding to other students in the class.

    Then, they are disciplined for their actions when they were only responding to maltreatment. 

    The punishment, in a sense, teaches the child that they do not have a right to be protected or have feelings, the opposite of what we wish for our children when it comes to building their self-esteem.

    In other cases, a child may act out because of something happening outside of the immediate setting. 

    For example, a bullied child may "act out" their anger and frustration by misbehaving at home.

    Coping With Sensory Issues

    In some cases, children "act out" because of unrecognised sensory issues such as sensory processing disorder that may be unrecognised. 

    For example, many children with autism (and quite a few without a specific diagnosis) may have sensory challenges that make ordinary sights and sounds physically painful.

    Imagine spending the day coping with constant discomfort in the form of blinking lights, squeaking chairs, and uncomfortable clothes. In such a situation, almost anyone would find it hard to stay calm. Talk to your child's doctor if you suspect your child has sensory issues.

    Struggling With A Learning Disability

    Another cause for "acting out" maybe frustration due to undiagnosed or untreated learning disabilities.

    A child who has, for example, undiagnosed dyslexia will fall further and further behind in school.

    Eventually, if these challenges are not addressed, they will be unable to learn in a typical classroom setting. 

    Unless changes are made, they have nothing to do except get into trouble.

    If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, talk to your child's teacher about your concerns. 

    It also is helpful to discuss your child's struggles with their pediatrician. Then, your child's doctor can evaluate them or provide referrals where needed.

    Wanting Attention

    There are certainly some children who "act out" to get attention—positive or negative—from adults.

    It helps to use various parenting strategies for kids who often seek attention through negative behaviour.

    For instance, positive attention strategies may reduce bad behaviour. However, some behaviours, such as power struggles, are sometimes best left ignored.


    Although dealing with your kids acting out can be challenging in the heat of the moment, rest assured that all children act out at one time or another. 

    But with proper intervention, most kids will learn how to respond to their emotions healthily. 

    So while it may be frustrating and overwhelming when it occurs, try to remain calm and reasonably address your child's behaviour.

    Eventually, with your direction, your kids will learn how to manage their emotions. 

    If your child's behaviour continues to get worse or the acting out becomes more frequent, you may want to talk with your child's pediatrician. 

    They can help determine what might be at the root of your child's behaviour. They also can provide tips on managing these situations as well as provide referrals when necessary.

    Four steps towards discipline and better child behaviour
    1. Decide on family rules. A good place to start is with 4-5 family rules. ...
    2. Be a role model for the behaviour you expect. Children learn by watching what you do. ...
    3. Praise your child for good behaviour. ...
    4. Set clear limits and consequences.

    Instead, encourage the daycare staff to hold a real conversation with your toddler. Have them see what's bothering her and ask for her suggestions instead of going straight into timeouts and consequences. Ask them to avoid the “I'm warning you” tone of voice so many of us assume is the only way to get kids to comply.

    “While some studies indicate that beginning care early in life and attending for long hours leads to high levels of behavior problems, such as elevated aggression, other studies indicate no risk associated with child care.”

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