Dear Dr. Fournier:
Last year my son developed a reputation as a troublemaker. I think he just got off to a bad start by cutting up and acting the clown. His first two report cards of course came back with notes of “Needs Improvement” and “Unsatisfactory” in conduct.
My husband and I really came down hard on him, especially since he is a good child at home. He did his best to turn things around. For the rest of the year, though, his teachers never gave him any slack. The strange thing is that my son made pretty good grades, but his relationship with the teachers never improved.
How can I help him get off on the right foot this year?
While you admit that your child’s reputation as “class clown” at the beginning of the year was not entirely undeserved, it is important to see why this reputation followed him throughout the academic year, despite good grades and an attempt to improve his conduct.
School is a closed environment where teachers go to teach and students go to learn. This is a community unto itself – with both written and unwritten rules for acceptable behavior.
Teachers must make sure that a suitable learning environment exists so they can educate all of the students entrusted to them. It is natural that, from time to time, discipline problems may distract from the real reasons teachers and students are at school.
And what are the reasons for a child to be labeled a “behavior problem?” There is no one answer.
While some students intentionally disrupt the classroom, other students unintentionally respond in ways that make them appear more disruptive than they are. Quite frankly, some children have the misfortune of always finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. For example, there is a clear difference between the student who kicks another student’s chair and the student who reacts inappropriately.
But there is another issue: Many parents equate good behavior at home with good behavior at school and they are surprised when bad conduct grades come home. Home and school are two different communities with different rules and expectations to achieve acceptance, it is important to make clear distinctions between them.
Children can react to school situations just as they would at home, with out ever realizing that their behavior is inappropriate in a school setting.
WHAT TO DO
Discuss with your child the many ways that school and home are different, and how individual actions and attitudes might be interpreted. It is important to show that certain behaviors you might allow in your own home are not permitted in the classroom. This may help identify behaviors that will draw negative attention to your child at school.
For example, if you ask your child to take out the garbage, you may accept the answer, “I’ll do it as soon as my favorite show is over.” If your son follows through on his commitment and completes his chore, then that behavior may be acceptable to you. But in school, when a teacher asks a student to perform a task, the proper response is to do it immediately, not to negotiate or do it at the child’s convenience.
Think of other examples, such as the difference between shouting out at home and at school. Consider the level of physical activity that is permitted in the two settings. At home, you can get up and go to the bathroom or get a drink of water at any time, but not at school.
If your child can make himself aware of the different behaviors and expectations, it can help him avoid conflicts between home and school.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER