While kids can display a wide range of behavior problems in school (e.g., disruptive talking in the classroom, fighting, name-calling on the playground, etc.), the reasons for these problems are usually quite simple. If a youngster is acting-out a lot in school, two things are usually going on: (1) he's having strong feelings and needs a hand with getting those feelings out, or (2) something in school is really not working for him. As a mother/father, you can do a number of things at home to help your youngster deal with his feelings. You can also change the situation in school so your youngster has a better time there.
Here are some ways to help your youngster if he or she is having behavioral problems at school:
1. Spend time in your youngster's classroom to see what's going on. You could even ask a friend or relative to go to his school for a day. Look at the educator's teaching style and your youngster's learning style. Is a mismatch in the educator-child relationship causing your youngster to feel misunderstood or angry? Go out to the playground at recess. Is your youngster being teased or frightened and then acting out in an attempt to get someone to notice he's in trouble? You may learn a lot by spending a day in your youngster's environment and paying attention to his interactions with the people around her.
2. Pushing and motivating and holding high expectations can drive some kids to be all they can be, but it can drive others straight into anxiety and depression. Would you want to work at a job, day in and day out, where you always had to be at the top of your abilities, handling things you weren't quite on top of and hoping things turn out alright? Children can't quit school, and they have very little recourse in terms of demanding better working conditions, but they can find all sorts of ways to act out their anger and despair. Be honest and compassionate when considering what sort of classroom your youngster will learn best in and what sorts of supports he will require.
3. We all know how important it is to fight for our kids and be strong, effective advocates. That struggle may lead us to conclude that some educators are not worthy of our respect, and their judgment is subject to doubt. But be very careful how you communicate that to your youngster. You may think the message you're sending is “even educators are human and make mistakes”. The message your youngster receives, though, may be “it's okay to be disrespectful to educators …the rules don't apply to me”. If you teach a kid to question authority, sooner or later he's going to question yours.
4. Check out your youngster's relationship with his educator. This basic dynamic can make or break a youngster's experience in the classroom. Often when a youngster is having behavior problems in school, it comes down to a feeling that the educator doesn't like him. To be able to learn and to act well, it's really important to kids to feel liked. Often it's enough just to bring the problem to the educator's attention, but if your youngster somehow pushes the educator's buttons in a way that makes it difficult for the educator to like him, as a last resort you can look into moving your youngster to a different classroom.
5. If you think it's necessary, get recommendations for a good therapist for your youngster. Interview possible candidates on the phone, and tell them you're looking for someone who can help your youngster work through the emotional issues that are making him act-out at school. Tell them you're not interested in a medication approach, but are looking for someone who can work with your youngster's educator and the school system and give the educator ideas on how to handle your child’s behavior.
6. Sometimes the daily grind of going to a place where he is not succeeding can push a youngster into behavior problems. If you can, try taking a day off from school and work every once in a while to do something with your youngster that he really enjoys (e.g., going fishing). Take advantage of the times when he is home sick to get close and pay special attention to him.
7. Knowing that he is loved can pull a youngster out of a downward spiral. It can sometimes work to give your youngster a special reminder of you, something he can put in his pocket, like a little note that says 'I love you and you're great’. Or put a picture in his lunchbox of the two of you hugging.
8. Children don't answer the question "How was school?" because they know moms and dads only want to hear good news. Moms and dads should reconnect with what it really feels like to be in school (e.g., uncomfortable desks, stuffy classrooms, disengaged educators, work that is either too easy or too hard). Think about what it really feels like to be your youngster at school. Ask questions about feelings, and really listen to what he says. Don't be quick with a pep talk and a pat on the back. Having someone to listen, without judging, can help defuse some of the frustration that might later erupt in dangerous behavior.
9. Set up conferences that include you, your youngster, and his educator. Brainstorm together about how to make school go better for your youngster. You may want to devise a signal your youngster can give his educator (e.g., raising two fingers) when he's feeling frustrated and restless and is about to start acting out. At these times, the educator could give him something special to do (e.g., taking papers to the dean's office). Also, the educator could think of a signal (e.g., a tap on your youngster's shoulder) to remind him to behave without embarrassing him in front of the class.
10. Volunteer at your youngster's school. Being a presence at your youngster's school pays numerous dividends. You could volunteer at the library, help in the lunchroom, serve as class mother/father, or staff special events. It gets you known by the administration in a non-adversarial context. It lets your youngster know that school is important to you and a place you want to be. It gives you an opportunity to observe what goes on in that building, from the conduct of the students to the morale of the educators.
11. Work with your child’s educators. Just having to sit still during class is a big challenge for some kids. The educator may be open to letting your youngster move around or do other activities if you talk to him about it.
12. If the school is sending home complaints about your youngster's behavior -- and expecting you to do something about it -- put the ball back in their court by requesting a Functional Behavior Assessment. This will force the school to really think about your youngster's behavior, not just react to it. A Functional Behavior Assessment examines:
- what comes before bad behavior
- what the consequences are for it
- what possible function the behavior could serve for the youngster
- what sorts of things could be setting him off
For example, a child may act up frequently and be sent to stand in the hallway. However, a Functional Behavior Assessment may find that the child acts up only during times when a lot of writing is required in class, and that he has documented difficulty with fine motor skills. The misbehavior serves the function of getting him out of written work. Supports to reduce the amount of writing needed and tools to make writing easier may eliminate the behavior in a way that discipline never will.
If a youngster finds class work too hard or a classroom too oppressive, getting sent to the hallway or the principal or home could become a reward, not a punishment. Conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment - and writing a behavior plan based on it -- is probably the best way to head off discipline problems.
=> Parenting Strategies for Out-of-Control Children and Teens