Tuesday 24 October 2017

Family Life: My five-year-old has been getting into trouble in school. How can I stop this?

David Coleman

David Coleman

I am hoping you can advise me about my five-year-old. He started school, which he loves, last September. After a few weeks we got a note home to stay he hit a child in an older class. We spoke about it and thought that was that.

Then two weeks ago I got another note home to ask me to talk to him about his behaviour in the yard. Apparently he has been pushing in the line-ups, he pulled a boy's trousers down (someone in his class did this to him before) and also children are complaining about him every day.

I phoned the teacher and it was decided to do a little book for him for three weeks to see if that might improve things. In the past two weeks he has received three 'X' marks -- one for throwing crayons across class, one for pushing a boy in a puddle and a third for hitting a boy's head against a gate. When I asked him what happened he said they were playing a game and the boy pushed him.

The teacher says he is doing well academically. He is headstrong and can be difficult to manage at times. He has a younger sibling, who he is very kind to, and when he was in Montessori and playschool there were never any complaints.

In the past three weeks his TV viewing has been totally restricted, treats reduced and the games console taken away. I bought him a pair of new runners and used them as an incentive if he was good but as a result of these episodes I have held them back. I just don't know what to do next.

I had another query recently, also about a five-year-old struggling with her behaviour in school. It can be very worrying for parents when their children seem to be starting their education on such a negative note.

I am sure you are concerned that your son might get caught up in a very negative spiral of interaction with the teacher and that she may be on the lookout for misbehaviour at the expense of his behaviour.

However, things don't necessarily have to progress along this path. It is great that you are in close contact with his teacher and I certainly encourage you to continue to work with her to try to help your son learn how to behave in the school.

It sounds to me that the behavioural system -- 'the little book' -- that you and his teacher are using is based on a negative platform. In other words, he gets a mark for misbehaving rather than a mark for behaving well.

I believe that if you're going to use a behavioural system it should be based on earning rewards for positive, good behaviour. In this way, your son will have an incentive to do well (as well as feeling proud of himself for doing well) rather than simply trying to avoid punishment.

This is particularly the case if it is you who must enforce the consequences, at home, for his misbehaviour. This is a difficult situation to be in because you are dependent upon somebody else's assessment of the situation to determine whether consequences are required and yet you must then go and apply the consequence anyway.

I think that if the teacher wants to employ a sanction-based system then the punishment must happen within the school and must be enforced by the school. It might be worth talking with her to see if it will be possible to change the system.

One possible way might be that the day gets broken up into half-hour or one-hour segments and your son can get a point for every segment that he behaves well in. Then, depending on how many points he has earned in the day, he can get some kind of reward that you and his teacher can be sure will be motivating for him.

Another type of system is that each half-hour the teacher records his behaviour in a very visual way with, perhaps, a traffic light system where he gets a red, orange or green light depending on his behaviour.

Trying to get the chart all green can be really motivating for a child and seeing some orange or red marks need not be punitive as they are a reminder, simply, to aim for green for the next period.


These kinds of systems might also encourage the teacher to focus more on his good behaviour than on any bad behaviour. This will help to change her perception of him and mean that he is less likely to be categorised as a 'bold' child.

It can also really help young children like him to be given responsibility within the class. Ironically, if he is asked and expected to help out more he might fare better. This is because, again, he will feel good for helping and can get positive feedback from his teacher also.

The key message is to catch him being good more often rather than always focusing on his more troublesome behaviour. Success breeds success and if he feels that everyone is noticing him being good he will want to live up to your, and his teacher's, expectations.

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