Dear Dr. Debbie,
My fourth grade son switched to what I hoped would be a better teacher in late October, at my request, but I’m starting to get complaints from the new teacher about his behavior. I didn’t get such complaints before. She says he’s easily provoked by his classmates, to the point of screaming or tears, which creates a disturbance in class. (He’s always been somewhat dramatic.) She asked in an email “Does this happen at home?” which is a weird question since he’s an only child. No one is provoking him at home. Then she wanted me to do something about his behavior, which doesn’t make any sense since I have not been in the classroom when it has happened, nor am I planning to be there to prevent its reoccurrence. My next move will probably be to switch schools.
Single Dad Can’t Homeschool
Don’t miss last week’s column How to keep the stressful gatherings from affecting your baby — Good Parenting
The best parent-teacher relationship uses teamwork. Each of you has a critical role to play in guiding your son toward successful behavior at school. The teacher’s main job is to get through a day of lessons, enhancing knowledge and skills in each of her students. A parent’s role is to support a child’s development and well-being during out-of-school hours such that his school day can run as smoothly as possible. When things are not going well, the parent-teacher team must work together towards a solution. Since she’s approaching you for your help, ask for her help to identify possible causes so the two of you can better apply your teamwork towards possible solutions.
Collaborate about causes
Get some more background about these behavioral disturbances.
- Is there a pattern to the time of day they occur? Your son may be more emotional when he’s tired or when his blood-sugar level is low. If there is no such pattern, there still may be a physical cause for his dramatic outbursts.
- Is it primarily a specific classmate who is involved in the provocation? If your son is repeatedly set off by the same child, the solution will involve him or her, too.
- Does he have several tormentors? It could be that his introduction to the class was not accompanied by friend-making. Every child needs at least one strong ally in a group; otherwise he’s too easy a target.
- Has the teacher instructed him to seek her out when a classmate is annoying him? If so, is this working for him?
- Is he able to get peer attention in class in a positive way? You probably know him better than the teacher does, although she knows best what the other fourth graders might admire.
- Have changes in his school behavior coincided with periods of stressful circumstances at home? You don’t have to share details, but it displays trust when you share with the teacher when these days or stretches have occurred.
Cooperate for a cure
Depending on the teacher’s input on these issues, you can:
- Adjust your son’s sleep schedule, reinforce nutrition with a bigger breakfast/ home-packed lunch/ a checkup with his pediatrician (iron deficiency or a chemical imbalance can increase emotionality).
- Suggest the teacher move the students’ seats around or call for some time with the school counselor for both factions in an ongoing clash.
- Start building out-of-school friendships through play dates and outings with non-abrasive classmates the teacher recommends to you.
- Have the teacher give your son an easy alternative to hysterics, such as raising his hand or walking up to her desk when his hackles get raised. But she has to be diligent about responding constructively.
- Build on your son’s strengths to give him a shining role to play in class in place of the emotional victim he is getting to be known as.
- Smooth out the bumps in your own emotional ride so you can provide the Rock-of-Gibraltar a child needs in a parent. A stable, supportive home life should be every child’s birth right, however, life may have thrown a few curves in your direction. Children are sensitive to parental ups and downs, particularly the oldest or only child of a single parent.
Make a Plan and Plan to Re-evaluate
Be specific about what each of you will do to achieve a realistic short-term goal — perhaps aiming for one day of no outbursts. Restate the action step or steps to be sure you both agree what is to be done and end with a check-in plan. This could be daily emails for the next week, a bi-weekly phone conversation, or an in-person meeting in one or two weeks.
It helps to have a deadline for re-evaluation so that an unproductive tactic isn’t just dropped without a replacement tactic. Keep in mind, too, that despite your best efforts, it may take a little time for the unwanted behavior to totally disappear.
As you work and rework the plan together, try to stay composed and appreciative. Remember that a good parent-teacher relationship is based on mutual respect for the hard job each one of you has.
A parent and teacher need to support each other’s role. Together your actions can achieve a common goal, in this case, helping your son avoid the missteps which lead to classroom disruption.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com