Stop Dodging the Caller ID! How to Help Your Disruptive Child Thrive at School

behaviorpatch
Image via Katie Hurley

Behavioral changes occur in the classroom due to learning issues, peer problems, and other psychosocial stressors. 

In a perfect world, every child would be taught in a way that best suits his or her individual needs.  Teachers would have the time and resources to meet each child where they are and teach to their strengths.  In the real world, classrooms are packed, resources are limited, and teachers can’t afford to take the time to teach to each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses.  Given the fact that not every child requires an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a number of kids are caught in the middle each year.  Many compensate for various stressors and struggles with behavior.

By mid-way through the school year, my phone tends to be ringing off the hook with worried parents who don’t understand why their child is disrupting the classroom to the point of frequent phone calls home.  Those are the calls that no parent wants to get.  The minute you send your child out the door, you are powerless to help guide the behavior.  You rely on others to step in.  

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While those phone calls home might alert you to a problem, they don’t do much to change the behavior.  It takes teamwork to help children thrive in the classroom setting, and sometimes that means trying a few strategies to find a plan that works.

girl at school
Image via Flickr/ stevendepolo

Uncover the problem.

Children develop at their own pace, and not all children learn in the same way.  Some are visual learners.  Some are auditory learners.  And some prefer tactile learning.  Some kids learn faster in groups while others prefer a more solitary learning experience.  Some children gravitate toward logic while others need physical input.  And verbal learners really enjoy using their words.

The problem, of course, is that in a classroom of 20-25 kids, you might encounter several learning styles, making it difficult to treat each child on an individual level.  It comes as no surprise that some kids struggle to learn.

You don’t need a diagnosis of a learning disability to struggle with learning.  Work with the teacher to determine where your child might be struggling and where your child is thriving.  When you have the information, you can develop a plan.

Learning might not be the (only) issue, though.  It’s important to establish open communication with your child and discuss things like peer problems or feelings of anxiety about tests and academics in general.  You should also consider stress on the home front.  Problems at home often trigger behavioral issues at school.

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Meet with your child’s teacher to discuss all areas and go from there. 

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class
Image via Flickr/ USAG-Humphreys

Try classroom solutions.

There is no one perfect solution to disruptive behavior in the classroom.  What works for one child might not work for another.  But there are a few strategies that can be helpful.  It will take some trial and error to find what works best for your child.

  • Preferential seating (close to the front and away from peers that might increase distractions)
  • Nonverbal cues (tugging on the ear to signal “listen”, or a motivating word or phrase taped to the desk)
  • Frequent breaks (sometimes kids need to get up and get some energy out.  Water breaks or just stretching and wall push-ups in the back of the classroom can help)
  • Stress ball to get pent up energy out (also helps with test anxiety)
  • Individual behavior chart in the desk (working toward one individual goal at a time can help some kids)
  • Sensory foot bands, therapy balls, wiggle seat cushions, and footrests can be useful
teacher helping student
Image via Flickr/ Wonderlane

Call a team meeting.

If you are working closely with the teacher and have tried several strategies to help your child but still find that disruptive behavior is a cause for concern, it’s time to call a team meeting.  An evaluation from the school psychologist can provide incredibly helpful information and assist you in creating a plan that best suits your child, whether or not that IEP becomes necessary. 

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Has your child ever experienced struggles in school?

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Stop Dodging the Caller ID! How to Help Your Disruptive Child Thrive at School

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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