You open up your child's school folder to find yet another note from the teacher saying your child is being disruptive or not listening in class. You have already taken away his favorite video games and made him skip out on a birthday party, but his behavior in class hasn't changed.
What should you do?
Find out why your child is being disruptive
"The first thing I always seek to help parents do is to understand the function of their child's disruptive behavior. Most children are not motivated by a desire to behave badly; often times, they can't help it!" says child psychologist Dr. Linda Smith.
She says that parents need to make sure they are not blaming their child for behaviors that may be impulsive; however, they do need to provide enough structure and communication to the child so they know that bad behavior is unacceptable.
Start by figuring out why your child is acting out. "Children may be disruptive in class for a wide variety of reasons," says Dr. Smith. "Is your child bright, but bored by the material in class? Is she near a rambunctious friend that encourages loud behavior? Or perhaps the disruption tends to happen when the material is overwhelming for your child, such as during math class or wordy reading tasks? Depending on the root of the behavior, the course of action varies. Moving a seat, or providing a little extra support in math, for instance, can curb these behaviors quickly by getting to the root of the problem."
Concrete tips for your future model student
Once you get to the root of the problem, the issue may resolve, such as getting them away from the rambunctious friend or getting your child some extra tutoring. Having a good relationship with your child's teacher is so important as you can both figure out if perhaps your child is bored and needs to be in a more advanced class or is behind and needs some extra tutoring to catch up.
It also helps to provide your child with some concrete tips to help them control their behavior on their own.
^ One great idea is to have your child find a boy or girl in the class who is usually doing the right thing — and then model his or her behavior! "There are usually one or more students that are attentive and on task most of the time. When in doubt, copy her!" says Dr. Smith. "If she has her math book out, take yours out. If she is sitting quietly and waiting, sit quietly and wait!"
^Is your child having a hard time blurting out answers in class, instead of patiently waiting for his turn? Dr. Smith says to give him this suggestion: "Before you say something out loud in class, say it in your head twice and make sure it sounds OK! Think to yourself, how will this sound to my teacher?"
^Many children have difficulty sitting for a period of time. "For kids who get the wiggles when sitting still too long, work out a plan with their teacher for frequent short breaks, such as throwing something out or putting something away," she says. "Movement helps!"
^Parenting expert and Kinsights co-founder Jennifer Chung says it is also a good idea to practice taking turns and following directions at home. "Make following rules and directions fun! Board or card games are a great way to teach children that following directions makes things more fun for everyone, and this works for young kids (Chutes and Ladders is a good one) and older kids (card games like Uno). Games can reinforce the idea that following directions, waiting for your turn and teaching others are important skills."
^Positive reinforcement also helps, says Chung. "Reward and highlight times that your child is cooperative and attentive — sometimes kids get a lot of attention for being disruptive (which can encourage more of the same behavior), so it's important to provide ongoing acknowledgement for good behavior," she says.
When should you consider professional help?
"If a child's behaviors are getting in the way of his or her ability to learn or make friends, then parents should seek a professional opinion," says Dr. Smith.
"A psychologist can do a thorough assessment of your child's cognitive strengths and weaknesses, including his ability to plan behaviors, curb impulsivity and attend to information presented in different forms. A classroom observation may also help determine any external triggers to disruptive behaviors. A behavior plan and a few school accommodations are often enough support for children who talk out and act out during school," says Dr. Smith.