School Tips

Problems in School: What to do when your child starts misbehaving in school

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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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  • Rachel Nov 20,2011 at 9:04 am

    What is the schedule like during the time she is there? I would suggest bringing her towards the end of the time period, let’s say for about 7 minutes, if that time is an activity, and not a sitting down and listening thing. Basically I would try and involve her during a time that she can successfully participate, whatever time that is.

    I only suggest the end because then you could start adding on time, therefore extending the amount of time she stays there.

    With regards to play time, I agree that it’s the worst thing to take away. If they can’t do the other suggestions, then it would be better to start with a reward. Maybe there’s some sort of church-related privilege she can get, like getting to recite a verse at the meal afterwards, or handing out or collecting something from parishioners. Ideally the privilege would be something the youth group leaders would be able to give her.

    I still would say something, even though they are volunteers. They need to know. As long as you’re careful to thank them for all that they’re doing, and to use phrases like, “I’ve noticed she can sit better if she plays first…” then you should be okay.

    Also, since you mention one of your daughters has some mild language issues, are you sure she’s understanding everything she’s hearing? Some kids are restless because they can’t follow the lesson (language-wise). Can she repeat the things she’s learned, assuming they are age-appropriate? Can she tell you what went on during her time there? I have a language development questionnaire that would help you determine that.

    I’m not trying to look for problems, but this is sometimes a common reason why children can’t sit during lessons (assuming the lesson is child appropriate, which could be a big assumption). The other reason (other than having a lot of energy) is that they’re simply not interested, because they process things very quickly and the teacher spends too much time on review.

    So a summary:
    1) You’ve determined that she’s the only one they’re having this problem with. You need to find out (in this order) if it’s because:
    – the lessons aren’t child appropriate
    – energetic child
    – is bored (because understood everything already)
    – language issues

    Let me know what happens~

  • Laughwithusblog Nov 19,2011 at 9:46 pm

    I think she is the only one that resists. One thing that doesn’t work well for her is that the punishment for not sitting still during the lesson is having to sit out during play time. This doesn’t make sense to me at all. You would think that if sitting still is a problem that is the child that NEEDS the play time. I really hate to say too much after all these are all just volunteers. Maybe being the third child she can benefit more from her Mommy and Daddy time staying with us instead of going to the class. I don’t know…

  • Rachel Nov 18,2011 at 9:10 am

    You’re right- it doesn’t sound like they know how to work with kids. You can’t force them to do things, especially with kids Grace’s age. It sounds like they need help learning how to interact and encourage Grace to join in the activities.

    First, you need to find out if they view her behavior as different from the rest of the class. Are they doing that to all the kids in the class, but she’s the only one who resists? Or is the only one? Perhaps speaking to their adult leader would help. It sounds like they need some training in how to handle young children.

    You also need to find out if the activities are age-appropriate. And if they are age appropriate, it doesn’t sound like Grace is interested enough in them. It could be that you’ll need to let Grace attend for short periods, and take her with you to services. I wouldn’t worry about her missing out – at this age it’s your home having the most influence on her now.

    If you must send her for longer periods, I would try and find some activity that doesn’t involve sitting that she can do. Most kids aren’t expected to sit for longer than 10-15 minutes at a time without stretching or other physical exercise, up until kindergarten.

    She can be in charge of handing out things, cleaning up, setting up, errand-runner, or help other children with their work. I would also speak to her about why she gets up. Make sure it’s non-confrontational: just say, “Grace, I see it’s hard sometimes for you to sit in your chair,” and see what she answers.

    Hope this helps-feel free to e-mail me if this isn’t enough:

  • Laughwithusblog Nov 18,2011 at 12:38 am

    My little Grace will not obey her AWANA leaders. Right now she is not having issues with any of her other teachers except these. I think it has to do with their youth and maybe their way of trying to MAKE her do things exactly. For example twice we came to pick her up and they were manually forcing her to sit upright in a chair. She actually doesn’t want to go back. We took her to the church service with us last time. We’re not really sure what we’ll do.

  • Problems in school Nov 17,2011 at 10:57 am

    […] talked in my last post about my first grader’s problems in school. In this post, I’d like to share with you what solutions I worked out to help […]

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