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Acting Out in School: When Your Child is the Class Troublemaker

by James Lehman, MSW
Acting Out in School: When Your Child is the Class Troublemaker

Every parent of an acting-out child knows that once your kid has a reputation for being a troublemaker at school, it's very difficult to undo that label. That’s because your child becomes the label; when the teacher looks at him, she often just sees a troublemaker. Sadly, it's very hard to change that image, because even when your child tries harder, the label is reinforced when he slips up. And then he's really in trouble, because not only is he still a troublemaker—now he's seen as a manipulator, too.

"It's your job to get along with your teacher, not your teacher's job to get along with you."

We all know that labels are assigned all the time and that they don't help the problem. Not only are they innately unfair, they are also subjective. In other words, one person's view of a troublemaker is not the same as another’s. School teachers, being human, will label kids. Make no mistake, teachers talk and are well aware of who the troublemakers are before they get to their class at the beginning of the year. After all, it’s part of their job to anticipate the behavioral issues they will be dealing with in their classroom and try to plan for them.

Part of what you have to do as a parent is try to distinguish between the label and your child's style of functioning in school. So if your child has been called a troublemaker, ask yourself what that means. How does he make trouble? Does he speak out of turn in class? Is he easily distracted and bothersome to the students sitting next to him? Or is he disruptive and rude?

I always advise parents to be honest with themselves about their child's behavior. Yes, it's important to assert yourself as a parent and advocate for your child at school. But it's also vital to your child's development that you not defend him when he's in the wrong. Make no mistake: defending your child when he has behaved inappropriately will not help him develop appropriate skills and to become right as a person. So if your child is known as a school troublemaker and is disruptive and rude in class, it's very important that you acknowledge that. Parents need to have an open mind about their children so they can help the school in changing their behavior. Don't forget, for many parents of kids with behavior problems, it's easier to fight with the school than it is to change their child. And when you do this, that only succeeds in letting your child off the hook, when in reality what they really need to do is learn how to change their behavior. Whenever possible, though it's sometimes difficult, parents and teachers need to work in tandem.

The New School Year: Starting Off on the Right Foot

If your child is in danger of having the troublemaker label follow him from grade to grade, you’re probably wondering how to start him off on the right foot this year. I think that at the beginning of any school year, you want to coach your child about the importance of first impressions. Let him know how important the first couple of weeks of school are in terms of getting along in class and doing well. Tell him that presenting himself as respectful and responsible will make a big difference for him. You can say, “Remember how we talked about what you would do differently in school this year to get along better? Well, one of the things we mentioned was that you should be polite to your teachers and not talk back. When you have the urge to talk back or be rude, what could you do differently?”

As a side note, if parents have a problem with a teacher or the school, they should never discuss it in front of their child. Make no bones about it, if you undermine the teacher openly at home, it becomes almost impossible at some later date to get your child to behave appropriately. I understand that parents won’t always agree with their child’s teacher. In certain cases, I thought my son’s teachers had some rules that didn’t make sense. My wife and I talked about it and discussed it with the teacher, but my son never knew it. That was because we were there to uphold the image of the school as an entity that has to be respected—and one in which our son knew he had to behave respectfully.

In my opinion, going to school is like having a job. You coach your child through their school career the same way you might give them advice when they start a profession. You can say, “You have to learn to get along. There are going to be good people and bad people. There are going to be good times and bad times. There are going to be people who don't like you and people you don't like.” The key is not to eliminate everything your child doesn’t like in life; the key is to help him manage things even when life is difficult. After all, there's going to be injustice in school and in life, though few parents acknowledge or talk about it with their kids. I think it's good to say, "That's an injustice and you'll have to deal with it." Because in fact, some things really aren't fair in life, and part of growing up is learning to deal with that fact.

When I worked with kids who didn’t get along with their teachers, I would often say, “Look, it's your job to get along with your teacher, not your teacher's job to get along with you.” A teacher’s job is to be respectful of their students and to help them learn. It's not their job to humor kids when they’re in a bad mood or act out. No place does that, so when kids complained about their teachers, I would say. “Whether you work at a gas station or a law firm, your boss and co-workers won't put up with that kind of behavior. You have to learn how to get along, that's part of becoming independent.” In fact, some of the most important criteria for independence are “How well does this person manage adversity? How well does he get along with people he doesn't like? How does he deal with supervisors who are a pain in the neck?” We're all going to have that in life. So the idea is to give your child the skills to get along no matter who he or she is dealing with.

Consequences: Should I Give Them to My Child When He Gets in Trouble at School?

Let's face it: every parent whose child acts out in class gets sick of hearing from the school—even if they know their child is legitimately a problem. Parents don't want to go to work and hear about their kids during the school day; they want the school to handle it. And the school thinks parents should be more involved in dealing with inappropriate behavior.

So when should parents get involved? I think the answer to that is straightforward. In my opinion, it depends on whether the problem is “functional” or “relational.” A functional problem includes being late for class, chewing gum or running down the hall. I think schools should handle those problems; that is their community, and they need to manage it. I personally do not think parents should give more consequences at home for those types of things. But the whole game changes when it comes to relational problems. These are problems that have to do with inappropriate behavior towards people or property. If your child steals, if he's physically abusive, if he's threatening, if he gets into a fight, parents need to hold him accountable and give consequences at home in addition to the consequences the school assigns.

Again, one of the things parents have to avoid is insulating their child from the natural consequences of their behavior. If your child destroys property or assaults someone at school and you do everything you can to protect him so he doesn't have to face legal consequences, I think you're making a mistake. I think you can support your child through those consequences—I would. But the more you insulate him from the natural consequences of his actions, the less likely those actions are going to change. Because let's face it, people don't change until there's pressure to change. And unfortunately, that pressure often comes from negative consequences, whether that's for a speeding ticket or for being physically aggressive in school. We understand that fact as adults in society: people get tickets all the time for running lights and for speeding. You may not like getting a ticket, you may not think it's fair. But the bottom line is that it makes you look at your behavior and change it.

When a child gets in serious trouble at school, many parents become worried that it will go on their permanent record. Is that a legitimate worry for a parent? Yes. But you don't soothe those worries by sweeping the problem under the rug. Let me be clear: if your child assaults someone at school and doesn't get a record now, he's going to get one later—that's all there is to it.

  • How to Handle a Functional Problem

    If your child tells you, “I got detention because I was running in the hall,” the thing to ask him is, “All right, so what are you going to do differently next time? What did you learn from that?” Don’t give speeches. Just ask simple questions that help your child clarify the whole object lesson. I wouldn’t judge him and I would be as matter of fact as possible. Just shrug and say, “Well, that's life; you can't run down the halls in school.” And teach your child, “Look, you know what you're doing. You made the choice. Now take your consequences and learn from them.”

  • How to Handle a Relational Problem

    If your child has been caught destroying property, speaking rudely or obscenely, or hurting someone at school, as a parent you need to deal with that very strongly. I think you need to find out the facts and then you need to let your child know very clearly that there are consequences at home for that kind of behavior. And the first consequence is, “We're not going to fight with the school. You need to pay the price for your actions.” If your child has a fight in school and he's suspended, for example, he ought to have consequences at home. I would recommend no electronics for the length of the suspension. He should not be suspended from school and then allowed to goof off at home all day. Make the suspension unpleasant for him. If it's not unpleasant, it's not going to shape his behavior. The whole theory behind consequences is that the memory of unpleasantness will shape the person's behavior next time. So don’t undermine the school’s consequences by making the suspension a week of playing and vacation for your child.

Talking to Your Child's Teachers: Let Them Know What Works for Your Child

I recommend that you let your child’s teacher know how you deal with behavior at home. I think if your child has a history of behavior problems, you want to meet with that teacher early on in the year and say, “We know that Jake can be disruptive. This is how we deal with it at home. And if there's any way we can help you, please let us know.” Certainly you should tell a teacher what works at home and what doesn't work at home. This doesn't mean you're limiting them; rather, you’re helping them be more effective with your child’s behavior in the classroom. So if you have specific techniques you use, share them. An example might be, “We find Jake does his homework better when his door is open or he's sitting at the dining room table. So he might do better in school if you have him up close to your desk.” Or, “We find Jake does better at home when we get him started. So if you could take a minute to get him going on the assignment, it might work out better.” Be sure to ask your child’s teacher how you can be helpful to them. Be open to what they say—they might have some great ideas. And always ask the teacher, “How can we support you at home with this?”

Parents and Teachers: Getting on the Same Team

In this day and age, everybody is stressed and nobody's got time. Parents are working harder than ever, and teachers have larger classrooms and more responsibilities. Believe me, if everybody had time and more resources, there would be a lot less friction between parents and schools. But that's not the case, so we just have to live with that and figure out how to manage it the best we can.

After all, we have the common goal of wanting our kids to behave responsibly and get an education. Schools have a legitimate interest in kids being compliant and respectful. Parents have a legitimate interest in kids getting an education and learning how to become independent. Parents and teachers should be on the same team, but sadly, often they're not. There was a time when teachers and parents worked together—where if the teacher called a parent, the parent really worked on changing their child’s behavior. Kids were held accountable at home. It's not often that way anymore. Now parents are often blaming of teachers and teachers are blaming of parents—and children play both ends against the middle. Kids can be highly manipulative in this area.

I think parents and teachers should work hard at being on the same team. I think the parent's role is really, “How can we help the teacher do their job? What can we do at home?” And the teacher's stance has to be, “In what areas do I need the parents’ support and what is my responsibility? How can we work together to get this child on track?”

I've heard a lot of stories about bad teachers. I've met one or two myself, but by and large, I believe most teachers are trying their best. The truth is, you have to really try to work with the teacher your child gets. If there is an issue, I recommend you go to that teacher and talk about it. And if that doesn't work, then go to an administrator and try to set up some meetings. Just realize that the more adversarial the relationship between the parents and the school, the more your child is going to suffer—and the more they’re going to get away with. Don't forget, when parents and teachers fight, nobody wins. And the end result is that your child doesn't feel he has to change his behavior at all.

If your child has been labeled a troublemaker and he has chronic behavior or attitude problems, it’s crucial that you are able to communicate with his teacher and the school. I think if you can develop a working relationship around a child who has these problems, it becomes a lot easier to support that teacher in his or her efforts. The bottom line is, that is what is best for your child. It may not feel best for your ego, but that is what's best for your child. Is this a lot of work? Yes, it is. But I think parents need to try to find the time to do it. I know that sometimes I ask a lot of parents, but the fact is that kids need a lot of parenting nowadays. Communication and compromise are a huge part of parenting and working with your child’s school.


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


Mr. Lrhman, I am a Washingtom University-trained psychiarist (adult) in St. Louis A patient of mine, now a retired teacher, told me about your work. I've been receiving the weekly emails, and am VERY impressed. I have begun suggesting it to my patients to help them with their kids. Congratulations. Stacey Smith, MD (also 1980 Olympian and 3-time US Ice Dnce Champion)

Comment By : Stacey Smith MD

Outstanding advice with practical tips. I am a bit anxious as my 14 year old starts back to school. I have home schooled him for the past year and a half because of his disruptive, disrespectful behavior at school (and home). He was tested and confirmed as Oppositional Disruptive Disorder, but I am meeting with the teachers early to discuss how we will deal with it this year. Thank you for your suggestions. I received your book (that I won in the EP Contest), and I am looking forward to reading it. Thank you, Mr. Lehman.

Comment By : Alice

how can I get counseling for a grandchild that resides with me. He has been with me for several years and is a great kid. Lately he has questioned why he has lived with me. He is not happy with the answer and is angry with the world including me. I have no legal rights therefor I can not sign consent for counseling. Any ideas???

Comment By : grandmom

This article is a perfect description of my 14-year old. Thank you for the info. and the timing is just right. My son starts school in a few days and I will sit down and go over the rules with him, so he can start school on the right foot this year.

Comment By : nargesse

Thank you for this article. My child is somewhere between functional and relational.(more so on the functional side) He has adhd, biggest problem is focusing which is where the acting out comes from, not to mention trying to get the "cool" kids to like him; which will be a struggle again this year because he is not in class with his friends, so he tends to "show off" to get the "cool" kids to like him because of his insecurities. I acknowledge his wrongs and do not insulate. My confusion is, how do you help the child who falls somewhere in between the functional and relational issues you mention in this article? I am a parent who helps to change his behaviors and work with the school. Now if I can only get the school to work with me, we would be on the same page. I love the T Transformation program and haven't yet convinced the school to use it.

Comment By : hank1

I understand the ideas set in the article. However, what if it IS the school and or teacher that is the problem? AND there is no alternative to sending your child to the problem school? For example female teacher who dislikes boys (males), teachers who are prejudice against a particular race and make comments to other teachers about how this particular race of children bring down the testing scores of the school and how the school loses funding because of this race of children, etc.

Comment By : Wondering Mom

If your child's school and teacher is at fault for their problem behavior, I believe that you should home-school them. I am a parent and a teacher. I also am working with the Total Transformation Program. I use many suggestions at home and at school, but my efforts are fruitless without parental involvement and cooperation. If you are that unsatisfied with your child's education and surroundings, Home-school.

Comment By : E. G.

I have been using the techniques from this website since early summer and was hoping it would help with school. My 15 yr. old son is not tolerant of the teachers and disrespectful. He excuses his behavior and states "they are not respectful to me, even when I'm doing my work and being quiet, so I'm not going to be respectful to them when they treat me like that". I have set down with special education monthly w/the teachers to try different strategies, but he usually ends up losing it and gets sent home. He has ADD and mood issues along with anxiety, that were just diagnosed this past Spring. At this point we are seeking home instruction provided by the school, as he does well alone or on the computer classes. ADD is not always recognized as a medical problem though. I'm praying he can get through school somehow. The techniques work well at home, however, with things like curfew, bad language, etc.

Comment By : Hanging in there

But if your child hates school and doesnt want to be there, are we not reinforcing bad behavior by suspending him/her? After all....that was their ultimate goal.

Comment By : erict985

My daughter is almost 6 and in Kindergarten. She is very tender hearted and gets upset easily by the simplest things. She has been subject to teasing and "getting picked on". Lately, she has started acting out in school: taking others children's belongs, name calling, hitting and disrespecting the teachers and jsut blatant defiance. These behaviors have begun at home too. This is a sudden change in her behavior yet nothing in her home life has changed and she isn't very willing talk about what is going on. I want/need to figure out what is going on and don't know what to do. I want my sweet,kind, helpful little girl back.

Comment By : gnesmith601

My son is 11 and he is being very disrespectful to teachers and others at school. He started this new school last september and he now curses(only at school). Everyday it is some issue at school I am so fed up I have tried talking punishment, taking away electronics,taking away the privilege of taking the bus to and from school by himself he cried for such a long time about that but yet still he went to school today and misbehaved what more can I do!

Comment By : Just Tired

* Dear "gnesmith601": We’re sorry to hear that your daughter has been teased and picked on at school. Be sure to discuss this with her teacher. It is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for your daughter -- free from any kind of bullying. And ask her teacher if she recognizes anything that is triggering your daughter’s behaviors. Sometimes kids who are bullied react by bullying other kids. It’s also very important to notify her pediatrician of this "sudden behavior change." Try supervising her as she plays with a friend her age. Check with her teacher to see if there is someone in your daughter’s class who might be a good friend for her. There’s an article by James Lehman I'd like to suggest to you: "Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill: The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior" The article has excellent instructions on helping kids learn the skills needed to interact successfully with others. And call us here on the Support Line. The trained specialists will give you more specific ideas on using the techniques in the Total Transformation program. Good luck to you and your family!

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My son is 5 1/2 and similar to gnesmiths daughter. He is very sweet at times, but acts up in school. he has gone 2 weeks with great behavior followed by two trips to the office for abusive behavior. WE enforce consequences at home to reiforce that his behavior is not acceptable. I feel the consequences are harsh enough (sent to room for the rest of the day with only bath and dinner time allowed out. All toys are removed from his room so he is left with just his imagination)... we are still not seeing progress after four trips to his room, and 6 weeks in school. Now my wife wants to quit her job to stay at home with him to home school. I do not support this all or nothing mind set,a nd we need her income. Please help.

Comment By : Concerned Dad

* Dear ‘Concerned Dad’: Implementing consequences can be challenging and many people are unsure how to approach them. A consequence is only one part of a larger system of problem solving that changes behavior. It’s important that your child learns to problem solve and work toward correcting his behavior. Author of the Total Transformation Program, James Lehman, states that punishment does not work. Some people believe that it’s important for the child to experience a serious punishment in order for them to regret what they have done and vow to never do it again. But this method causes resentment--not remorse. And punishments do not require your child to actively think about and tell you what they have learned from their experience or require your child to develop new skills. Your son will be better off practicing the skills he needs to improve, rather then spending time in his room without opportunities for that practice. For example, you say he is ‘being abusive’. If that means he’s hitting other kids, then help him learn acceptable ways to express anger and frustration. Perhaps increasing his opportunities to have play dates that you supervise, coaching him to ‘use his words’ to say what he wants, and learning to recognize when he’s starting to get upset will be helpful. It’s not always necessary to give a child an additional consequence when they already have received one at school. It is more important to require your child to talk to you about what happened and to together come up with what to do differently next time. We appreciate your question. Keep in touch. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a seven year old son. He has been going to this same school since kindergarten. When you talked about being labelled as a troublemker, that is exactly what has happened to him. It seem like no matter how hard he tries, he doesn't seem to get any sympathy. He falls more towards having a rational problem. I have told on many ocassions that he doesn't want to do his work in class,and that he pinches someone etc. For the last week or so, he has complained about students teasing him in class and then he decides to walk out the door without the teachers permission. The teacher told me that last week he put a label on his head that said, I working,don't disturb me. My son told me that the class was laughing at him becuase of that. the teacher told me that he was laughing with the class. Apparently, he got frustrated and hid under the desk and eventually ended up pushing the desk on the floor. Today he got suspended because he punched a girl on the arm and then proceeded to pinch her because she and another kid said something mean to him. Because she was closest to him, she became the easy target. I feel so stressed and feel helpless. I made sure, when I brought him home, that he went to his bedroom because at that time I was very frustrated and didn't want to talk, because I might have end up yelling, instead of talking. I did talk to him later though. As of now, he is grounded to his room with no TV or music time. I am worried, and I want to believe my child also, because I feel again that he has been labeled and it will be hard to get that off of his back, and to make matters worse, he is now suspended for a day. My husband thinks he needs spanking, and I don't feel that is going to do any good. We are having a conference on thursday and plan on talking in depth if there is anything that can be done. I really am trying, but I don't know how much I can side with the teacher who is pushing me in the direction of getting medical help. I am a fulltime student and I work at least three or four days out of the week and I feel that my education is coming in my way of raising my kids. I have a ten year old, going to the same school but she brings home excellent reports and always on her best behavior, in leadership, etc. so I know I am not a complete failure as a parent. I know he dosn't have problem focusing, when I am reading a book to him, when he is playing a game, when he is watching TV, as long as it interest him, he is focused. Do you think I should get him tested, and if so for what. To put another label on him for being something he is not. He is a very energetic smart kid and he gets bored too quickly. Please advise. Thank you

Comment By : desperate mother

My son is 9 and in the fourth grade. He has a very strict teacher this year and she is known for this. At the beginning of the year we talked with him about his manners etc. At parent teacher conferences, not a lot was said about behavior. Now all the sudden he is being disruptive in class as the teacher says He wants to be the "class clown". He has always done very well in school and now going on his second 9 weeks he has c&d grades. So I scheduled a meeting this evening with both his teachers and the principal to find out exactly what the problem was. I find his desk away from the others facing away from the board, which is why he is complaining he can't see the board. I found the way the room teacher talked to him very disrespectful and degrading, and if she is talking like that when I am present how is she talking to him when I am not there. His problems are that he is not paying attention when assignments are being explained, therefore he doesn't understand how to do it or he doesn't follow the directions. He does like to joke around a lot and we have told him there are times when it is ok and times when it is not and he clearly understands this, so why does he do it? How do I get him to stop. The teacher feels like separating him and making an example out of him is the answer. I am not so sure about that. He has made statements that nobody in his class "cares about him". She said he is disruptive but can't give me an example of how, other than not paying attention and doodling on his paper when assignments are being explained. Yelling at him has never worked for behavior issues at home, this is what he is feeling is happening at school and he is made a joke of in front of the class. I was not satisifed with the answers I got this evening so I will be having another talk with the principal tomorrow. My husband and I have both talked with our son about paying attention, behavior things we expect of him. He understands. I just do not want him to hate school, he has always liked it and has enjoyed learning. Please advise on how to approach this teacher. I realize my son is not the perfect student and he will test his boundaries, but for him to think his teacher doesn't care upsets me.

Comment By : Jenny

* Dear Jenny: It is uncomfortable when our kids are unhappy. We want to do our best to help them as quickly as possible. But helping them in the long-term can be hindered by trying to protect them in the short-term. Long-term help comes in the form of teaching our kids that they are responsible for their own behavior choices. James Lehman would advise that when you’re problem solving with your child about their behaviors, don’t ask them for a reason ‘why’. He says that asking why is asking for an excuse. If we keep this principle in mind we’ll stay focused on the behavior itself—in this case, disrupting the classroom. We don’t want your son to think that he can act out if things aren’t fair or if the teacher is too strict. James recommends that you support the teachers in front of your child. Even if we don’t approve of a teacher’s methods, when we criticize our kid’s teachers in their presence, it’s likely to affect how our kids behave in the classroom. Your son may have the idea that he can act out because you’ll complain to school officials about the teacher, get her in trouble and your son out of trouble. Moving your son away from the others probably does make him uncomfortable but this consequence may motivate him to try hard to control himself so that he can go back to sitting closer to others. A more important reason for moving him is it allows his classmates the opportunity to hear the teacher and to learn. Help him understand how his behavior impacts others when you have a ‘problem solving’ conversation with him to discusses what can he do next time he feels like acting out in class. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to answer your question. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear ‘desperate mother’: Labels can be good and bad. They can help with understanding an issue, suggest a direction for focusing your energy and interventions, and get you access to services. But labels can also be ‘limit setting’ and cause the child and others to assume certain behaviors, abilities or inabilities, instead of evaluating each child on an individual basis. It is good to be concerned about labels but not so much so that you don’t look into assisting your child if he is struggling. Regardless of what is driving his behavior, he needs to learn the skills of self-control in a school setting. Talk to him about what he can do when he’s angry and frustrated besides punching and pinching, because he can never do that. Tell him that’s not an option. Perhaps he can ‘picture a stop sign’ in his head when he wants to pinch and then follow this up by ‘counting to 10’ while ‘slowing down his breathing’. Have him practice this technique at home so that he can tap into it at school when he needs to. James Lehman gives really good advice in this article when he recommends working collaboratively with teachers by asking what you can do to help the teacher with her job of keeping your son on track and the other kids experiencing an environment in which they can learn. We appreciate your question and invite you to keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My son is 5 years old (pre-school~He all of a sudden is acting out in school..sassing the teachers, being mean to kids,starting to be physically hurtful to others,not minding when asked to do something.There has been no change in our household but me & his father are no longer together and our son just found out about a month ago that his dad is having another child with someone else (he goes with his dad every other weekend).I am wondering if this could be the change in him due to upsettment..what should I do as a mom.I send him to his room, take away privilages, tv, etc..but he is still getting in trouble in school.Please give me some advise on what I can do!

Comment By : mom in need of advice

* To ‘mom in need of advice’: It sounds like you are quite concerned about your son’s recent change in behavior. In times of transition, kids’ problem solving skills can really break down. Remember that James Lehman felt that children act out because they lack more effective ways to solve their problems. Your son is experiencing some significant changes in his life right now and it might be helpful to work on teaching your son some new ways manage his emotions. After he acts out in school, talk to him calmly at home and ask him what was happening right before he hit another kid, for example. Ask him what was going on, or what he was thinking; avoid asking why questions. It might be hard for your son to answer these questions. Let him know it’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to _________. Talk about what he can do differently next time a similar situation comes up. It might also be helpful to use a daily incentive system instead of consequences. Pick one goal to start with and reward him each day he achieves that. For example, if you’re working on keeping his hands to himself, each day he does that he earns extra time doing something he enjoys. Dr. Joan Simeo Munson wrote an article about young kids acting out in school that I think will be very helpful for you. Keep in mind it might be helpful to seek some local support if the behavior persists despite your teaching. Local support could be the school counselor or a local therapist, to name a couple examples. I hope this helps. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My five year old son is having 'relational' problems at school. He and another boy were throwing wood chips on each other outside at recess, and he wouldn't stop when the teacher told him to, 1/2 day in school suspension. The next time, same other boy involved, the other child pushed my child down, on the playground again, and my son pushed him back. 1 full day in-school suspension at school, no tv for 1 week at home (we watch little tv, so this is a biggie). the next time, same other boy involved, on the playground again... getting into the line to go back inside, my son got in line, the other boy (who is not supposed to be allowed near my son, separation was what the school agreed to do with these two) got in line behind my boy, they started talking and my son slapped him on the cheek. 1 day in school suspension, 2 weeks no tv at home. We speak with him often, and try to explain how this behavior is unacceptable. The school has said the next infraction would result in out of school suspension. He is five. He doesn't want to go to school anymore. He loved school. Today he poked a girl with a pencil. 1 day in-school suspension. We have nothing to take away at home. His tv is gone, I can't take reading away, or board games. We have no video games. What do I do? I don't agree in out of school suspension, but I think my son wants to be kicked out. He has told me he doesn't want to go to school anymore. Help

Comment By : Beth

* Hi Beth: It can be very hard to figure out what an effective consequence can be to stop a problem behavior. One thing to keep in mind is that consequences alone do not change behavior. James Lehman advises that an effective consequence is one that is task-oriented, not time-oriented; that is, one that is related to the offense and has a learning objective attached to it. For example, it might be more effective to have your son write or draw how he will respond differently the next time this boy approaches him at school rather than take away his tv for 2 weeks. It can also be effective to have an incentive in place at home for appropriate behavior at school. For example, if he behaves in school that day, then he could earn his tv time, one-on-one time with you, or more free time; if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t earn that privilege that day. I am attaching some articles you might find helpful: How to Give Kids Consequences That Work, Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively Thanks for your question, and good luck!

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My son just turned 5 in July and is currently in kindergarten. I realize he isn't perfect,nor am I, and his teacher isn't perfect either. I don't expect perfection. My son is being labeled a problem child, and while some of it I cannot and will not deny (he has issues with getting distracted very easily, and has selective listening skills), I still can't help but feel he's being pegged, not just labeled. About a month ago the school had a reading demonstration for all the kindergarten students' parents to have the opportunity to see how the kids are learning to read. When it came time for the kids to go to their classrooms, my son was placed directly in front of the teacher. Two other little boys began punching him hard. The teacher did nothing; the boys' mothers took them aside and told them that it was not okay to hit ever. Then my son went to his teacher to report that he'd been hit, she blew him off. Then about two or three weeks ago the teacher called me, saying my son's behavior was out of control that day. I asked for an example. She said he'd refused to get in line. I asked how she handled that. She said, " I told him to get in line and be like everyone else. He told me he doesn't want to be like everyone else." I hate to say it, but I was secretly cheering for my son inside. His teacher should have given him a better reason to do what she asked of him. And just Wednesday, she called again, saying my son had cut another little boy's hair, wouldn't say why, and has had to sit out in the hall for a few classes because of his behavior. When my son came home, I asked him what lead up to the hair-cutting incident. He said that the teacher's favorite had thrown a snowball hard and hit him in the face then proceeded to repeatedly tell my son that he was stupid, a bad boy, and because of my son's buzz style haircut, a baldy. So when they got inside and were in art class, the boy taunted my son about being bald and my son grabbed scissors and chopped some of the boy's hair off. Do I believe it was an acceptable response, no. Do I believe having gotten the whole story from the teacher and my son that his actions were understandable, yes. He is only 5 years old, has never been in a structured school setting, is being neglected by his teacher because she will not advocate for him and stop the bullying and teasing, and he doesn't understand how to cope other than retaliation. I realize that I and his father and stepmom need to help him learn other ways to vent and need to refresh his recollection of manners, we are more than willing to do so. Now his teacher and the principal have foregone parent/teacher conferences in favor of a big intervention meeting in which the principal, his teacher, 3 other teachers, his father and stepmother and myself will be attending. What I'm asking for is advice on how to handle this meeting. I'm Irish, have a short temper, and honestly do feel like the staff at the school is not being objective. I want what is best for my son. I don't want him coming home crying all the time. I have talked in depth with my son's stepmother and we agree that at the meeting we are going to ask for an IEP to be done, for a TA to be present if only to help my son focus for 30 minutes to an hour per day. We have also talked about the fact that we are not totally opposed to my boy repeating kindergarten, if it comes to that, even though we are all working so hard on the homefront to prevent that. I am even preparing myself mentally and trying to come up with a financial solution so that I can homeschool my son if it comes to that. Please, I am very open to advice at this juncture. Thank You!

Comment By : butt3rfly

* To ‘butt3rfly’: Feeling like your child is being labeled as a “problem child” is no easy thing for a parent to deal with. You are correct when you say that you, his dad, and his step-mother need to help him learn other ways to handle difficult situations with peers. In regard to the meeting with the school, it would be helpful for you to put together some documentation of the facts that support what you are asking to have done along with your request. It sounds like you are prepared to advocate for your son but remember that the only thing you really truly have control over here is yourself and how you conduct yourself. If you are worried that your temper will get the best of you, have a plan ahead of time for what you will do to calm yourself down. I am including an article that will give you some more information on the IEP process: How to Navigate the School System When Your Child Has a Disability. We wish you luck. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

While the article present good point, the article is focus on what the child has to do at school, however it forgets that this is to go on both directions. Teachers will dislike students and mark them just because the child is not under full control. Many classes are boring and still being presented whit a 1954 theme not to mention that many teachers are passed 50s and 60s who's teaching style are not up today. Same as students, teachers are to be respectful to student and show that they can control the classroom. Where my sons are attending, they keep reporting that the teacher has not control over the class, every one is talking loud and interrupting the class. What a one side article.

Comment By : WhataSite

I have a problem that does not seem to be addressed by any parent above. My 5 year old is having social issues. He knows the rules and can recite them and even explain what they mean and why they are there. He just doesn't enact them in the slightest. He's disruptive, distracted, and rather bullyish to other kids, but he knows it's wrong. He knows the consequences but has resorted to lying or reversing the roles. I.e Jack hit me today and I hit him back and we both got timeout. But he hit Jack first and he retaliated. I spoke with his teacher last year and the guidance councelor and neither got back with me and he said he was starting to behave. So to enfrce the good behaviour I used a daily reward system. Turns out the teacher never had time to get back with me and he was doing a lot of reverse truths. So he manipulated the lack of contact and I was rewarding him for bad behaviour the entire time!! And now he is doing better than most acedemically but lags far behind socially. We talk everyday and he does understand what he is doing but does not display the same self control at school that he has at home. We talk, I had a daily reward system, consequences, I've asked what he thinks, feels and how breaking the rules makes the others feel. He seems to understand this but he doesn't show it to anyone else. He sees his daddy for about 12 hours a week and he is an only child. I feel as though i have exhausted every parenting technique. How can i direct him to behave at school like he does at home? His teacher has even mentioned calling me to get him to apologize to another student. He colors beautiful pictures and interacts normally with other kids outside of school but at school he scribbles and fights. I have spoken with his teacher and she is overwhelmed with students but he has gotten 2 of 5 penalties at school before we see the principal. What can I do??

Comment By : lost

* To 'lost': It’s so hard when your child behaves everywhere else, and has a hard time following the rules in certain environments. As tough as it is to see, it’s a good sign that he can follow the rules in other places, and knows what the rules are at school. As for getting him to behave at school, we recommend doing some problem solving with him. For example, you might say, “I see you following the rules and getting along with people when you’re not in school. What is different for you at school?” Based on his answers, you can come up with some solutions of things he can try to help himself follow the rules at school. If you can set up a meeting with the teacher, you could also talk about ways that she could reward him daily for his behavior. I am including the link to an article I think you might find helpful as you continue to work on this: Young Kids Acting Out in School: The Top 3 Issues Parents Worry about Most. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Ok. I really enjoyed reading the materials about things to do differently with my child. But what do you do when the school does not try to work with child in any way and sends to alternative school constantly or won't let him out for being around a crowd of students who were laughing out loud and he gets punished for being with the crowd by having to stay the rest of the school year?

Comment By : swalker

* To ‘swalker’: I can tell that you are doubting whether or not your son’s current school is the best placement for him. It’s so hard when you feel like your child is being treated unjustly. The best thing you can do is to put your concerns in writing. Perhaps you might submit a letter to some folks at the schools and/or school district that states the facts and the evidence you have as to why his regular school is the better option for him. Here is an article that contains some other ideas that might be helpful to you: How to Navigate the School System When Your Child Has a Disability. We wish you and your son luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have read this article and please believe that I have applied all these efforts, but NOTHING seems to work! I am a single mom of five and my son is in the 3rd grade and every since he first stepped foot into a school he has been nothing but trouble for the schools. Admittedly, in the beginning I defended him until he went to a completely different school and district and the same problem was present. I have taken him to doctors and counselors, put him on meds and all but still no results, as a matter of fact I had more problems. When I took him to the doctors and counselors they thought that there was no problem bc he has what I call his alter-ego and he presents himself as the "most pleasant child" anyone could meet. As a result we got nowhere with that. I have been really close to reports to officials for my parenting and I cannot risk getting a record for my child's deliberate actions and lies that he tells because I have other children as well that could be affected. He has no remorse for his actions and my hands are tied in disciplining him. There are no programs (not even mentoring) for help until he is at least 12 or 13 and I fear by then it will be way too late! I do not know what to do anymore and I am so stressed that it is affecting me physically, someone please help with anything.

Comment By : Mom_In_Serious_Distress

* To 'Mom_In_Serious_Distress': It can be so overwhelming when you are working with a child with behavioral problems at school. As James Lehman mentions in the article, a good first step is working collaboratively with the school to hold your son accountable for his behavior. It is unclear if he is showing these same types of behaviors at home; as mentioned in the article, it may help to talk with the school about what works and what doesn’t work for you at home when working with your son. We also recommend doing some problem solving with your son about his behavior at school; for example “What were you thinking when you decided to do x? What can you do differently next time this happens?” It is also helpful to take care of yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or physically affected by this stress, we do advise reaching out to someone in your community for help. A good place to start is 211 is an informational service that can help to connect you with resources in your area. You can also reach them by calling 1 (800) 273-6222. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I have a 6 year old who just started first grade. Since she was a toddler, learning to talk, walk, etc., she has been a total clown. She appears to be the happiest, fun-loving, outgoing child I've ever known. When asking her questions, she delivers the answers in a lound song (made up on the sly) with dancing to accompany it. She takes nothing seriously. Each day, she has a reason not to go to school. Yet, she says she loves school. I know that she has many friends due to number that invite her to events, etc. The entire staff at school know her. My concern is that she is constantly disruptive in class. Constantly talking, getting up in front of class to show "her new moves", drawing pictures that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject. I feel partially to blame since we've always laughed at her and played along with her dramatic activities. I've tried numerous times during kindergarten and the current school year to explain to her when it's appropriate to play and when it's not. She loves cartoons, but this evening, I refused to allow her to watch T.V. at all. I felt bad about it, but don't know what else to do. I know her teacher is frustrated and it's not fair to the other kids to have her act up constantly (although it isn't bad things that she is doing). She is a 6 year old socialite, singer, dancer, comedian, artist all combined. She likes gymnastics, so I enrolled her in the classes which she seems to love. I thought that might redirect some energy, but...nope!... What, if anything should I do? Thanks..

Comment By : clown\'smom

* To “clown”smom”: Thank you for writing in to us today. Your daughter does sound very happy and outgoing. It can be frustrating when a child hasn’t yet developed the skills to know when such behavior is and isn’t appropriate. Talking with your daughter is a great step in helping her develop those skills. As Sara Bean discusses in her article The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems,” the reason many kids act out is because they haven’t yet learned how to deal with the many situations they have to face every day. Sitting down and problem solving with a child about other ways they can deal with various situations is an effective way of helping them develop those skills. It’s also important to hold them accountable for the choices they make, such as consequencing their behavior with a loss of a privilege as you have done. Another possible way of addressing the behavior is with a reward or incentive plan. Sometimes, rewarding the appropriate behavior can be more effective with younger children. It could be as simple as her earning an extra privilege, such as getting to play a game with you after dinner or getting to watch an extra half hour of television, if she doesn’t act out in school. You might also consider using a reward chart. We have some different examples of reward charts you can download and print off. Here is an article that explains how to use reward charts effectively: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. We hope this information has been useful. We wish you and your family the best as you work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

my child is 9 and he is suffering from seperating from his best friend in class. he has been crying for a whole day now. the school did this as a punishment to my child for his troublemaking all of last year. he wants me to talk to school administration and i don't know if this is right or wrong. i just wanted to know if this is proper to punish kids his age such a harsh punishment??? if not what am i supposed to do with school administration???

Comment By : abeeroola

* To “abeeroola”: We appreciate your comment. I can hear how much you want to help your son with this issue. It would be difficult for us to say whether or not the consequence the school has given your son is a harsh consequence. It’s not unusual for schools and school districts to take many things into consideration when determining class placement for students. How two children interact with each other can be one thing schools might consider. If your son and his friend did act out together during the previous school year, it’s possible the school decided it would be beneficial for the two boys to be in different classrooms. It’s understandable this would be a difficult adjustment for your son. As a parent, you can discuss the situation with school personnel. It may be more beneficial to allow the natural consequences of your son’s choices to occur and work with him to develop better ways of problem solving and, in turn, more appropriate behaviors. Many of the parents we work with on the Parental Support Line struggle with the issue of watching their child struggle and many find it difficult when natural consequences come into play. As James Lehman says in his article Why You Should Let Your Child Fail The Benefits of Natural Consequences, when a child feels upset, it’s actually an opportunity for him to develop important coping skills he will need throughout his life. You may find this article on problem-solving helpful when helping your son work through this issue: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems". I hope this information is helpful for your situation. We wish you and your son the best as you work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My daughter is 6 in the first grade. Her father passed away when she was 3. She has been in school since she was 4 and has always done really well. Always well behaved and eager to learn. She is still eager to learn but he behavior is going down hill. She is disruptive and showing off in class.She has a very good out going personality and has always and still does have lots of friends. But her disruptive behavior in class will not stop. She is also acting this way at home. Even though, it is just her and me at home we have a good support system my parents live next door and my brother and his family live 10 minutes away and we are always together. I know she misses her dad and it's hard for her seeing her frinds with theirs but I'm not sure if her behavior at school is connected or if it is just her age. When she gets detention at school I do discipline her at home (ie no t.v., no toys, time outs, and so on) I'm starting to get frustrated because I don't know how to help her stop and think about her actions before acting out or why she is even doing this.

Comment By : solo mom needs help

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