I ended up working today with the pre-kindergarten 4-year-olds. The aide was called away on personal business and I happened to be at the school, dropping off DS1's water bottle, when the sub coordinator snagged me.
It seems like an eternity since I've been in a pre-school setting, but DS2 is only in first grade! That means it has been only 2 years since his pre-school days, but his pre-school wasn't full-time, and that makes a big difference.
I enjoy being around little ones when I'm subbing because I know it's just for a day or two. If I had to do it every day, my well of patience would run dry long before the end of the day on Friday. Even worse, I'd have nothing left for my own kids by the end of each school day, which would be so horrid I don't even want to think about it. As with creative energy, I only have so much patience in a day, and when it's gone, it's gone.
There's a new boy in the class, he has only been attending a few weeks, and he's struggling with everything. Spent all morning saying he was tired, then refused to rest at the state-mandated nap time, which was substantial -- I think it was an hour and a half! By the end of the day (2:30) he was exhausted, poor thing. He spent his whole day in opposition to everyone, wanting to play at reading time, wanting to sleep at play time, wanting to talk when it was time to listen; he reminded me in many ways of my DS1 at that age.
When his mom came to get him, she had his little sister, probably about a year old, on her hip, and I could see there an explanation for a lot of what was going on. It's so hard for little ones to adjust to having another person in the family, especially if the new person is getting everything when they demand it.
With kids like that, who spend the day saying "I want, I want," without paying any attention at all to what they are supposed to be doing (all of which are age-appropriate and not usually considered onerous), the hardest thing is finding the motivator, the key that will incent the kid to behave. They don't respond to the usual carrots or sticks, typical consequences mean nothing to them. So you have to dig around to find out what consequence does mean something, and then latch onto it. I had the worst time trying to find a meaningful consequence for DS1 when he as at that age; to this day, I can't remember what I even came up with. It was such a struggle.
That's the other key, really: minimize the struggles. Find a way to say "yes" as much as possible. So when he said, "I want to play now," I would respond, "You can play when the story is over." In other words, the Delayed Yes. There's also the Conditional Yes, in which you bargain good behavior for something he wants, which is different than a bribe because the bribe is paid out on the expectation of good behavior, and that never works. Payment has to come afterwards, or you're just teaching the kid to be manipulative.
Finally, even at 4 years old, the idea of making good choices is so important. But with 4-year-olds, it helps to point out when they're not making a good choice. For example, I could've said this afternoon when the kid was refusing to let himself rest (it was so sad, really), "I remember you saying all morning how sleepy you were, but right now you're choosing not to sleep. Do you think that's a good choice? Because I think a better choice for someone who was so tired would be to rest now."
By the end of the day the teacher was asking me to come in every day and be his one-on-one aide. There's no money in the budget for it, and I really couldn't do it every day, but it was still a nice compliment. And I can look at how DS1 is doing and realize yeah, he's turning out pretty well, so I guess I'm not completely offbase with these ideas.