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Dear multilingual families,

I am writing to ask you what you think about the challenges we are experiencing with our 2,5 year old toddler. We live in Norway but come from Poland and Ireland, and therefore speak English and Polish at home to our child. He hears Norwegian only in play school which he has been attending full time for nearly a year. He is a lovely, very active boy who seldom sits still, enjoys running around, dancing, eating, playing and he is quite open to and trusting of other people. He loves cuddling too, but on his terms, when he wants to. It is clear that he has characteristic traits of a high need toddler: stubborn, passionate, energetic, intense, etc. (more here: 

The staff in the nursery that he attends often give us the following feedback during pick-up time: he has been…. today (see the list of adjectives below):

·         agitated

·         excited

·         excitable

·         fierce

·         frenzied

·         passionate

·         roused

·         turbulent

·         wild


Needless to say, it is not the comment we look forward to hearing and we don’t like the negative sound of it: the way the staff say it makes it clear that this is not a desirable behaviour. We are sorry that this is usually the comment that receives most attention and we are often left speechless and disappointed that our child is viewed in such a negative light.


Today one staff member wanted to talk to me in private and she said that they are worried about our son for two reasons: lack of ability to calm down and little degree of interaction with other kids. Therefore, they are wondering whether they could invite a professional to film our son and help them understand how they can better approach him and help him achieve the skills he is apparently lacking. They need our consent to film him. I was shocked to hear about this idea, I said that I have to think about it and I left dumbfounded and slightly angry.


Our concern is that our son’s background and personality are not taken into consideration. His linguistic background is not met with understanding, we feel. He is trilingual and at 2,5 years old he hasn’t mastered the language of play school – he has just started to speak his mother and father tongues recently. To me it is quite likely that he doesn’t interact with other kids because of a language barrier. Similarly, his behaviour (the opposite of what they call “calm”) may be triggered by not understanding what is going on as well as being criticized often (if that is the case). We also believe that kids develop at different paces and not every child starts to interact with other children at the same time. Also his temperament (unless it is violent) should be met with compassion, enthusiasm and acceptance rather than criticism. The energy he has is one day going to be turned into amazing things, we believe. It should not be stifled.


We have been talking about it all day and we are going to ask the nursery staff if we could discuss this issue further in a longer meeting before we give any consent to do anything. We are also considering asking them if we could come and watch our son an hour or two a day for a couple of days to see how he acts and form our opinion of his behaviour, and also see the way the staff handle him.


I would appreciate any feedback on this and your opinions. Instinctively we feel like defending our son against the force of standardized behaviour (calm) and lack of acceptance of his pace of development (interaction with other kids).


Thanks a lot for reading this and please reply if you have any relevant advice to offer.


Ula and David     



















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May be it’s better one parent speak to him in Norwegian and see whether there’s an improvement of his behavior in the play group. When his knowledge of Norwegian improve well introduce the third language. Experts say a child should be exposed to a language at least 25 hours per week.

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This doesn’t seem language-related, so I’m not sure I would change what you’re doing on that front. 

I would continue to talk to the teachers at the play school. My wife and I got feedback about our daughter from her day care that spooked us at first but actually wasn’t that bad once we talked to them. It’s possible something’s getting lost in the communication.

Recording your child’s behavior doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. It sounds like the suggestion is being made in good faith. Maybe it will help. I would try to learn more about it.

I think the worst thing that can happen for everyone is to let an adversarial relationship develop between you and the people at the play school. That’s not good for anyone.

In my experience with day care in the US, people who work with little kids for a living are sincere and genuine and not looking to be unfair to a kid. That just makes more work for them!

Good luck and I’m sure everything will be fine.

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Hi, our son has heard 3 very different languages since birth. His verbal abilities in these languages has been somewhat delayed but not remarkably in English. His Italian stays pretty consistent because of trips to Italy to see the non-English speaking grandparents. He has general fluency in these but English started first and a few months later Italian bloomed. He still refuses to speak Russian, though, with our nanny. He understands everything she says to him though. He has a different temperament from most of your description of your son. He is very calm–though, he goes to an English-speaking preschool, which helps. I am not a child psychologist or anything but it seems reasonable that language plays a part in your struggle, though, his natural temperament may be the key. I’ve recently been reading about this. There are many typologies on temperament but, because my son is so often overwhelmed by his environment, including other people, it sometimes causes him to act in a way that is “odd” from what other children who are less easily overwhelmed may act. The term that I’ve learned is the “highly sensitive child”. Apparently it is a “normal” temperament for 20% of the population (but a lot of people do not know of it and tend to treat it as being a warning sign for abnormality). So, your child may fall in this category, and his behavior may be caused by a clash of his temperament with his new environment. This could also just mean finding the “right-fit” preschool for your son. If it is useful to you, the book I’ve read on this topic is “the highly sensitive child” by Elaine N. Aron. She writes a bit about the different “types” of highly sensitive children. Still, if there may be an issue, a trained professional would probably be the best person to go to for an assessment. They would know better than the preschool teacher. And it doesn’t seem like it would hurt to have the assessment…

Best of luck to you,

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