4-year-old who hits & swears at teacher

My grandson hit the teacher and called her a bitch today. My daughter is still developing as a parent. She is 24 and my grandson is 4. His father is in jail and unable to help with parenting. What can I do to help?

Dear Grandma,

Raising kids today is not easy and on a really bad day...young mommies sometimes feel like giving up! Thank goodness for wise, caring grandmas!

Not to worry too much about an occasional display of physical or verbal aggression at school. Teachers don't take that sort of thing personally. What is important for the teacher to do (with your help) is to try to figure out what feelings are behind the angry behavior. Then when you know what is bothering the child, both teacher and family can address the problem, thereby decreasing the aggressive behavior in general.

I would have a private quiet talk with the child about how name calling hurts people's feelings, maybe at bedtime. Consider reading him a book on the subject. I recommend "Andrew's Angry Words", by Dorothy Lachner. Andrew's angry swear words are passed on to the people and animals around him. They anger everyone, until a wise woman replaces them with kind words that ripple back through the characters. I also recommend "Elbert's Bad Word", by Audrey Wood. This book shows how replacing a bad word with a child's own fun, made up expressive word works better than punishment to curb the use of inappropriate language. These books can be found in most public libraries.

I suggest you consider talking to the teacher in the presence of the child and say, "Last night we talked about how bad words hurt people's feelings. I'm so sorry my grandson was rude to you the other day." I don't think that making the child say that he is sorry is really productive, since you can't make him MEAN IT. Teaching the lesson outside the heat of the moment is the important part.

And when this child chooses on his own to act in a very polite manner, recognizing his good behavior is also very helpful in improving his general conduct and teaching him right from wrong. The key to effective praise is to be specific in your praise. Instead of just saying, "Good boy!" Say, "That was very kind of you to share the red crayon with Sarah. Doesn't that feel good to help somebody?"

On the subject of his daddy being in jail, I'd like to offer this thought. I think it is important that the child knows he does have a daddy. And although his daddy did something wrong and has to live for sometime away from the family that he can still write to him, perhaps talk on the phone or visit him to let him know about his daily life. Hopefully Daddy is not going to be there forever and will make wiser choices in the future.

Grandma...hang in there...sounds like you're trying to hold the family together. And I have confidence you will do just that!

Gail Reichlin