Genius or Bad Behavior: Are We Setting Impossible Expectations for Our Preschoolers?


Last month, my son and I were on our way home on a crowded subway. We arrived at our stop, bustled our way through the turnstile and then got to the stairs where he decided it would be awesome to turn around and walk backwards…


all the way up the stairs! In that moment, as I acknowledged the several people trying to navigate around my son, my first instinct was to tell him to turn around, to walk up the stairs properly and hopefully quickly.

I admit for a second I was embarrassed, afraid to be “that mom" — You know, the one that let’s their kid do whatever they want without discipline.

I imagined people rolling their eyes, judging me as they rushed to their destination. But luckily I paused, became aware of my internal dialogue and gave myself space to actually watch what he was doing. Then, I was amazed.

Was my child exhibiting bad behavior or genius?

As he alternated stepping backward on his right foot and then his left, I realized that he was naturally crossing his midline, something we do often in Yo Re Mi to help children achieve right-left brain integration and improve sensory processing.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Nature Days

As he carefully found each step with his foot without the help of his eyes, I realized that he was strengthening both his proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems. So I waited patiently, at the top of the steps, while he figured all of this out on his own and had a wonderful time. As the last of the train’s passengers walked by, I was now able to make eye contact and return smiles I might have never seen if I hadn’t take then time to notice them. When E reached the top of the stairs, his huge smile and victorious fist pump were proof he felt proud of his accomplishment.

Our children are only as brilliant as we allow them to be.
— Eric Micha'el Leventhal

Our genius is not the things we do like everyone else. Our genius lies in the places where we are unique, where we don’t conform, where we disrupt the status quo. As parents, we might feel it’s our job to socialize our children, to help them fit in, to make sure they understand how to navigate social norms including behavior.

When it comes to safety, I think that is our job — and a big one. But when did we decide that young children need to behave like adults? And when did we decide to judge our (and other’s) parenting by that behavior?


Preschoolers and bad behavior:

According to analysis of national data, on every school day in 2016, around 250 preschool children across the country were suspended or expelled for bad behavior. Preschoolers are expelled at rates more than three times higher than school-aged children. 

Black children were more than two times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other children, and boys were given 82 percent of the suspensions and expulsions, even though they represent 51 percent of the population of preschool children. So what is going on with boys at this age? Researchers have debunked a popular myth of the presence of a testosterone surge in boys 3-4 years old.

In groundbreaking research over 10 years ago, Yale University Professor Walter Gilliam identified that the three best predictors of preschool expulsion were the three B’s: “big, Black or boy.”

Turns out, it may have more to do with what is going on in the minds of the adults, rather than the actual behavior of the children.


What is normal behavior for a preschooler?

So how do we help grown-ups understand what normal behavior looks like? Children at this age are learning how to interact with others, how to share and how to understand the needs of the group and collaborate. At the same time, they are learning self-regulation, using a pre-frontal cortex that will not fully develop until they are well into their 20’s. This process can be frustrating as children struggle to control, understand and articulate their emotions.

Often, what adults view as bad behavior may be a child’s playful attempt to self-regulate. Seeking physical stimulation by rolling on the ground or running and bumping into things may be a child’s unconscious way of relieving stress while bringing their physical sensations and cognition back on-line.

Play is the highest form of research.
— Albert Einstein

Children need to play, play, play and then play some more. Especially in early education, most learning should happen through open and unstructured play. According to a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, play with both parents and peers “is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain.”


So now when my son walks backwards up the subway stairs, decides to hop like a kangaroo over every crack in the sidewalk, or spins his way down three long blocks… we don’t correct him, we join the fun!


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Early childhood development - Preschool behavior - YRM

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Rachel Costello is the Executive Director of Yo Re Mi. She is a professional touring musician and Yoga Alliance registered teacher (ERYT200, RCYT, RPYT, YACEP) specializing in hatha, vinyasa, prenatal, postpartum, as well as yoga for labor and delivery. Through Yo Re Mi Rachel brings musical yoga enrichment to children all over NYC. Rachel has been teaching both adults and children since 2005 and believes yoga is a perfect way to harness our innate energy to increase self-awareness, confidence, health, positivity and balance, while having FUN! 

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