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5 Year Old with Behavior Problems in Kindergarten

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First three days of kindergarten: Not wanting to listen, arguing "that's not how my sister's class does it," refusing to participate all took place on day one. Second day he was sent to timeout for not listening and talking to the kids during circle time. Then yesterday became angry at another child and threw their toy across the room.

I know he's been ornery lately, but he is also the only child with allergies and the class is having to adapt things because of him. Honestly when I met the teacher, she seemed inconvenienced over this fact. He is placed at a table away from the students at lunch time for his protection which I appreciate since pb&j are a major staple in elementary school, but as of yesterday NO ONE sat with him at lunch. This has me heartbroken and I have to wonder if all of this is just too much for his almost 5 year old brain to process.

I'm afraid that w/ his behavioral issues he will become the teacher's target. As it stands she has sent home a paper they did in class with a red circle on it that says "Follow directions!" (exclamation point) I looked over the paper and he DID follow the instructions. However along the side she wrote that they were doing this paper together and he rushed and did it all at once. So he completed the assignment with no mistakes but she is upset because he got excited and completed it without waiting to do it with the class. O.K. I get that kind of thing is about working together, but really? 

I have asked the teacher for a conference. I want to make sure she feels comfortable disciplining him as needed but that she's not putting him in TO for petty little things either. I know he's not used to the process, but this is kindergarten and supposed to be fun. He should not be getting in trouble every single day. Sigh. So....what should I ask?

What are some good ideas for establishing rules for him? We are pretty laid back here and anything short of hurting another person I just deal with. For instance, with preschool papers we never really cared about HOW he did them, just as long as he got the answers right. I'm not into "process for the sake of process." and I fear that it may stifle him. We have discussed everything except the TO with him since we felt he was already disciplined at school, no need to rehash it at home. The first day we just discussed expectations for behavior and I escorted him in to apologize the next day so the teacher knew we weren't ignoring the issues. And yesterday with the throwing we talked long and hard about how we behave when we are angry. I hope eventually it sinks in, but I'm terrified now my kid will be labeled the "bad" kid or the bully.


Wow. No wonder some kids hate school by first grade.

Your goal, of course, is to prevent that from happening. The best way to do that is to establish a bond between your son and his teacher. Kids only behave for teachers once they care about that relationship, and care what the teacher thinks of them.

Unfortunately, this teacher has so far not seemed to bond with your son, and seems more concerned about control. You can't blame her for wanting to keep order in her classroom, of course. That is usually a big pressure for teachers early in the school year. But it would be a shame if she can't bond with the kids she feels are disruptive, because that bond is how she can bring them back into better behavior.

In the PT conference, you're more likely to get things onto a better footing if you first establish a bond with her. The best way to do that is to acknowledge the situation from her perspective. She has a big class of kids to manage, and she needs them to cooperate. And yes, it's true, your son can get over-excited and doesn't always listen. You've noticed that too, and you appreciate that it must be a challenge for the teacher since he does not yet have a bond with her that makes him want to cooperate. And he's still working on his impulse control, so you've talked a lot with him about ways to control himself if he gets mad at another child, and why throwing toys is off limits. He's getting better but he's only five and still learning.

Then, tell her that you want to be her partner in teaching him to behave at school, and you need her partnership to keep your son liking school. Say you're worried that he's already showing signs of not liking school.

Ask her how you can be of help to her in teaching him appropriate classroom behavior. After you listen to her perspective, you might make some suggestions yourself. For instance, since feeling constantly criticized will backfire, maybe she could focus on the biggest issues -- like not throwing toys and being quiet when asked -- and not worry so much about whether he rushes through his worksheet. Tell her you know that she wanted the class to work together on the paper, and that he will develop the ability to do that, but he was trying to impress her by being able to complete the work. Explain that if he feels connected to her, he will behave for her, and that a little positive attention from her will go a long way.

If the teacher seems at a loss for positive ways to encourage his cooperation, here are five suggestions:

1. Give him a special responsibility.  For instance, let him come a couple minutes early into the classroom to sharpen her pencils or do some other specific job for her. This will help him feel important, so he won't need to challenge her, and it will help his self esteem in the face of any criticism from her. Most important, he will feel their relationship is special (even if she doesn't make any special effort), so that he will be more likely to behave for her.

2. When he behaves well, have her send home a special badge or certificate acknowledging his effort. (It can be the same badge over and over. You can even offer to make it!) Your job is to make a big deal when he comes home with the badge.

3. Teach him self-management skills to increase his impulse control. You definitely don't want him to be getting in trouble at school all the time. He needs your help to learn to use calming strategies like counting to ten, breathing deep, etc. You can show her what you're teaching him so that she can encourage him to use those strategies at school. (But unless he feels a connection with her, he won't take direction from her.)

4. Sign a contract with him about his behavior. This has been proven to be an effective tool with preschoolers and kindergarteners, if the teacher and parent both participate. There are several good templates online. Just be sure it is positive and encouraging rather than shaming.

5. Eating lunch with others seems non-negotiable.  Being isolated will definitely make him feel like a bad kid, and will keep him from bonding with the other kids the way he needs to, which will make him act out more. It is standard practice to designate a certain table as milk-free or peanut-free. The students with allergies enjoy sitting with their friends who have "safe" lunches. To make this process easier, one teacher suggests hanging a magnetic board with a line drawn down the middle. One side for peanut lunches, the other for non-peanut lunches. Every child has a magnet with his or her name on it. As the kids arrive in the morning, they move their magnet to the appropriate side. When only one child has lunch with peanuts in it, the class is divided in half anyway, so no one feels isolated. (If there are more tables, the teacher just draws horizontal lines so the names are evenly divided.)

I want to add that you need to help your son develop a positive relationship with his teacher. That means resisting your own impulse to make any negative comments about the teacher, even when you think she's wrong. This can be a tough balancing act, because you also need to give your son a chance to blow off steam by listening and empathizing with him: "Uh huh. Tell me more. You are pretty mad at your teacher right now. You feel like she was unfair." After you listen and acknowledge that you understand why he's upset, have a brainstorming session about how he could make sure things go differently tomorrow. Make sure to let him come up with some of the ideas, instead of lecturing him. Your goal is to empower him to see what HE can do to make the situation different.

Most important, before you go to the PT conference, do some deep breathing and reassure yourself. You are a good mom, and your son is a good person. And this teacher works with kids, presumably, because she likes them. Even though your son has gotten off on the wrong foot, this is something he can recover from. Going into the meeting feeling positively toward the teacher is the first step in the right direction. Good luck!

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