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Well, the honeymoon is over, and the real work begins.

I spoke to N. 's first grade teacher today, and found out that she's already started misbehaving in school. Apparently yesterday was the day from hell: N. was completely wild, talking out of turn, getting up in the middle of the lesson without permission, and even going so far as to push the child sitting next to her.

Fortunately the teacher qualified her complaints, explaining that yesterday was unusually bad. However, there are problems that need to be addressed, and of course yesterday was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Of course I'm not surprised - I knew N. would take time to adjust to first grade, and knew that it would take time for her to adjust to the new rules and expectations that first grade - which is when school officially starts here- involves.

Of course I was hoping I wouldn't have to hear bad news quite so early - it is the day before my daughter's wedding -but I suppose it could be worse. I will admit that for the first 10 minutes or so I felt a bit panicky.

I wanted to sit down and write out a plan immediately, but of course that wasn't happening. So as I ran around and did wedding errands, I broke down the main problems that needed to be addressed.

For those of you dealing with behavior problems in school, this is a good look at the process you should take when figuring out a solution:

Listen carefully to how problems are described.

In my daughter's case, the teacher had several complaints, but it was the first one that struck me the most. She stated that generally N. was fine for everything but the first hour. After that, she calmed down.

This is a key point, and tells me that her failure to settle down could be due to several things:

1) Check out medication problems.

From experience this is more of a common problem than parents realize. Some parents give meds as soon as their child wakes up, because they are so difficult to handle. This can cause a problem towards the end of the school day, when the medicine wears off much sooner than it should.

Other parents are inconsistent about giving medication - sometimes forgetting it as much as two or three times a week. Even though you can see a change immediately with Ritalin, it works better if it's taken regularly and at the same time each day (BTW that's true for all medications).

Although I'm pretty careful about giving her medication, I had switched the time that I give her Ritalin to a slightly different time, so it was possible that I completely forgot to give it to her on that fateful day. Oops.

In general, though, I knew that I'm pretty regular about giving her medicine, and I wasn't giving it too early. Since I wanted to make sure it would last for as much of the day as it could, I was giving it to her at 8:00. She starts school at 8:30, so I figured that would carry her through most of the day, since school finishes at 1:00.

Then I got the idea that maybe her body takes longer to process Ritalin. I remembered the times I'd given her Ritalin on school holidays (to check her reaction to the medication), where I noticed seeing that glazed donut look in her eyes about 3 hours after giving it.

Since she's on the regular 4 hour formula, that's a little too late to start seeing an effect. The level of meds in her system should be at its highest about 2 hours after she's given it. So that meant that it takes about an hour longer for the Ritalin to kick in.

In other words, her medication wasn't kicking in until- you guessed it- the second hour of the day.

This is an easy fix: I just started giving her medication about 7:00, so that by 8:30 or 9:00 everything should be in place.

Take a close look at classroom routines.

Many times, the kids who have problems act like a "mine canary." For anyone whose not familiar with the term, in the old days, miners used to use canaries to tell them when the air in the mine was too dangerous to breathe. When the canaries died- it was time to get out.

Kids with behavioral and learning issues are the same way. They are the ones who are the most sensitive to lack of clear routines, rules, failure to build in transition properly, and other classroom no-no's.

Now I'm not saying of course that these conditions are caused by poor teaching, but I've found that the really good teachers have significantly less problems with "problem children" than the mediocre ones.

In N.'s case, her teacher is experienced, but probably didn't spend enough time in the beginning of the year making sure her class is well trained in routines and procedures.

Some teachers (and parents) don't realize how critical procedures are to a child's success. That's because they teach children how they are expected to work and behave in a classroom (or home) environment.

From experience I've seen that often teachers complain to me about a child's disruptive behavior, when in reality it would be eliminated if the teacher had spent the time at the beginning of the year making sure the kids learn how they're expected to behave in class.

Take a look at this list of common teacher complaints:

  • Doesn't sit down when class starts
  • Uses free time inappropriately
  • Can't work independently
  • Talks out of turn
  • Doesn't settle down when the teacher comes in
  • Never seems to know what the homework is
  • Gets up to leave the room before class is over
  • Doesn't give in completed homework

Now if we change the wording around we see that this is a child who needs to be taught procedures:

  • what to do when the bell rings
  • what to do when you finish your work early
  • what to do when a pencil breaks
  • what to do if you have a question
  • what to do when they enter the classroom
  • where to find an assignment
  • what to do when class is dismissed
  • how to ask a question
  • how to turn in homework

So, I knew the next step I had to take was make a plan to make sure N. knows and carries through on classroom procedures - that may or may not exist. But since this is getting to be a long post, you'll have to tune in tomorrow to the details of the plan.

BTW- why not share below a problem your child has in their classroom? If you get it in soon enough, I'll address it in my next post.


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