What to Do When You’re Worried About Behavior at School

angry kid looking at his craft at kindergarten

What to Do When You’re Worried About Behavior at School

You’ve gotten used to the idea that your baby is starting kindergarten soon.  But there’s still one thing that’s keeping you up at night.  BEHAVIOR! So what do you do when you’re worried that your child’s behavior concerns are going to impact their education?  Maybe they’ve been to preschool and had some difficulties there.  Or maybe this is their first venture into school and you’re worried that they don’t have the necessary skills.

The road won’t necessarily be easy, but there are things you can do on your end to start the school year on the right foot.

Talk with Your Teacher

Make sure that your teacher knows your concerns.  Many kindergarten teachers will actually ask if you have any concerns.  This is not a time to keep it to yourself.   A brief note or chat in person regarding your concerns can be helpful so that they can keep their eyes open and share their observations with you.  For many kids, issues at home do not necessarily translate into issues in the classroom.  Your aggressive kid at home might end up being the gentlest soul in the class.

Share your expectations

Let your kid know that school is important and that it’s his or her new job.  Learning isn’t just about letters and numbers, but also about working in groups and supporting our peers.  Let him know that you expect him to try his best.  Let her know that her teacher is in charge when she’s at school.  Remind them that they need to look out for their peers and step up when someone is being picked on.  But most of all, remind your child that you and the teacher are a team.  If at all possible, avoid letting school become an US versus THEM type of situation.

Set up rewards

Many kindergarten classrooms spend a lot of time on developing appropriate behaviors for learning.  If you know that this is something your child will struggle with, offer some rewards at home for good behavior at school.  Keep it simple.  Stay away from toy and food treats.  Time with YOU is a reward.  Consider a trip to the park or a special weekend craft project.  Maybe they get to pick the movie for movie night.  Or stay up 30 minutes later.  The reward does not need to be big.  It DOES need to acknowledge that they’re really trying.

If your little really struggles at behavior in class, you may have to set the bar really low at the beginning.  If they bring home “bad” colors or frownie faces every day, your beginning reward might be getting 1 good report per week.  You want to set the bar low enough for them to be successful, particularly if this is a big challenge from them.  Then gradually move your expectations higher as they get the hang of the system.

Keep in mind that some kids, especially those with medical or developmental issues, may really struggle with this part of school.  If even having 1 good day per week is asking too much, work with your teacher on developing an alternative plan.  Your goal here is steady improvement and every child is different.

Discuss consequences

In general, I try to let the consequences play out at school as they happen.  There is no point in punishing them twice.  And often by the time your child gets home from school, they don’t even remember why they got in trouble that morning.   Simply look at the notation in their folder and acknowledge it.  A simple “I see you had a hard time waiting your turn today” is really all your kid needs.  An added vote of confidence “Don’t worry, I know that you’ll do better at that tomorrow” can be helpful as well.  Our kiddos deep down really do want to do well and want to make us happy.  And a vote of confidence from us can be a great motivator.

The exception to this rule is when your kiddo’s actions are hurtful to another child or his or her teacher.  In this case, I’m a huge supporter of making amends.  So if your kid got in trouble for name-calling at recess, have her draw a picture or apology note for the child who was hurt.  All of our kids will make bad choices from time to time.  And it is up to us to encourage them to take responsibility for their choices and make amends.

If you are not certain that your child will follow through on the apology at school, make sure his teacher knows the deal.

Separate the behavior from the kid

We all mess up and all make bad choices.  But these choices don’t make up all of who we are.  So when your struggling child makes yet another bad choice, make sure that your criticism is about the choice and not the child.  For example, “I am disappointed that you tore up Tommy’s picture” is going to be a better choice than “You are such a mean kid”.

Also remember that Developmentally Appropriate DOES NOT equal Socially Acceptable!  So although it may be normal for school age kids to pick on and tease other kids, it’s not something we want to encourage or ignore.  Teach them now to treat all individuals kindly and with respect.  It will make a HUGE difference in the years to come.  Now is the foundation.

Keep your cool

It can be very hard to have a kid who is struggling with behavior at school.  Many times, we feel responsible for our kids’ struggles or feels that we are doing something wrong.  But your kids’ choices are THEIR choices, not yours.

Try to remember that your job is to help guide them to better choices.  Keeping open lines of communication with teachers will help.  And if all of your parenting tricks combined with the teacher’s tricks don’t improve the situation, talk with your pediatrician.  Sometimes (not always) there are other issues going on that may need to be addressed.

Author: Dr. Jenny Seawell

Dr. Jennifer Seawell is a board certified pediatrician currently practicing in Tennessee. She is married with 2 daughters aged 7 and 13.

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