We have a child (almost 3) who is very uncooperative and exhibits some very difficult behaviors (tantrums, biting, hitting, screaming, etc.) in the classroom. We have talked to the parents and encouraged them to seek an evaluation by a specialist, but so far they have refused to do this. As far as we know, he has not been diagnosed with any delays or special conditions. In the classroom we have tried all types of behavior management techniques and nothing works. We are constantly having to call his parents to come pick him up because of his behavior. We know that he was “put out” of another center before enrolling in ours, and we are also considering doing this because we don’t have the staff to provide the constant individual attention he needs. Are we required to accommodate his behavioral issues?


Wow, this sounds like a frustrating and difficult situation! It’s certainly important to figure out how best to support this child so that he can be successful. There can be lots of reasons for this kind of behavior in young children and it’s important to remember that these same behaviors, while distressing, are common in twos and young threes. Children this age have strong feelings and they often resort to the behaviors you mention because they don’t have the maturation or skills to express their wants and frustrations in a socially-appropriate manner.  Of course, the teacher must be able to keep everyone, including this child, safe so the situation can’t be ignored.

Although I don’t know the specifics of the situation I would like to offer a few ideas to consider.  I am sure you have reviewed the schedule, routines and so on in the classroom to make sure those are all developmentally appropriate for children of this age.  It’s also good to remember that children this age don’t always have the language skills they need to express their feelings so they often talk to us through their behavior.

The first thing to consider is what is the child communicating with their actions? When I am looking at challenging behavior in a particular child I find it easier to answer that question if I document the circumstances around the behavior—is there a particular time, situation, activity that seems to trigger it, does it occur on a particular day of the week—and then analyze this information to determine patterns. Often when the patterns become clear it’s easy to devise strategies to prevent the behavior. 

I would also invite the parents in for a strategy session. You don’t say how much discussion you’ve had with the family but parents are a great source of information about their child.  Perhaps they could provide insight on things that are happening at home that might be affecting the child’s behavior.   When you talk with them provide concrete examples of the issues you are having rather than general information about bad behavior.  This usually leads to a richer, more meaningful discussion. 

For other great information on handling challenging behavior in young children visit the Center on the Social Emotional Foundations of Learning at http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/.

I encourage you to try every strategy possible before you resort to asking the family to remove their child from your program. Child care programs are considered places of public accommodation, and as such are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as “ an individual with a disability is a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; OR (2) has a record of such an impairment; OR (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.”

Although this child doesn’t have a diagnosis there is a possibility his situation might fall in the category of a disability.  If so, your program would be required to make reasonable modifications to your policies and practices unless doing so would be a fundamental alteration to the program or create an undue burden.  Each child care program must make their own determination on what constitutes a fundamental alteration or undue burden. I encourage you to review Commonly Asked Questions About Child Care Centers and the ADA for more information about how to make that determination. You can also contact the US Department of Justice ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301.