Saturday 18 November 2017

Problem behaviour: What to do if your child is experiencing challenges at school


Carmel Doyle

BY now it has been a couple of weeks since your child has either returned to school for the new year or perhaps just started in junior infants.

The majority of kids settle into school very easily and effortlessly with no difficulties at all, according to Dr David Carey, a consulting psychologist based in Dublin who is also a special education expert and author of the book The Essential Guide to Special Education in Ireland.

However, a very small percentage – probably less than 3pc – would have problems in school, he explains. In his own practice, the three major issues to do with school that Carey would see on a regular basis include anxiety disorders, challenging behaviour and special education issues.

When it comes to anxiety, Carey says some children are prone to excessive worrying.

"Starting school or changing school would raise the potential that the child will develop some strong worrying symptoms. They may be very hesitant to go into the school and be weepy and clingy."

The first thing to do in this instance is talk to the school principal and teacher, he advises.

"You really need to tip people off. If you have reason to believe that your child is going to have an adjustment problem, it is very wise to talk to the principal and teacher to let them know that this might happen and to be sensitive to it."


Meanwhile the developmental disorder attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) impacts about 5pc of children, according to international statistics, says Carey.

"In boys, ADHD is probably easier to notice because they can be extremely active and have very poor impulse control. They may appear to be aggressive and may push and bite and run. More boys present with that form of ADHD than girls. Some children are very distracted, poorly focused and have a lot of concentration problems. That's another form of ADHD."

Girls with ADHD typically don't present with the high levels of activity, irritability and behavioural problems that the boys present with, continues Carey. Inattentiveness, being easily distracted and daydreaming would tend to be more prevalent in females.

"The teacher will certainly pick up on this very quickly in the classroom. When it comes to impulse control, you are going to see it arise mostly in PE, during yard time and in the less-structured classroom activities. Children with ADHD typically do better when there is a lot of structure around them."

So what if your child is staying by themselves at break time, especially in the playground – is this cause for concern?

"Children who are isolating themselves in the playground are sending a message to the adults around them. It is the responsibility of the adults to interpret the message," says Carey. "It's a sign of possible problems. This sort of social isolation can be due to many causes. It could be that the child is being bullied, has a social phobia or social skills defi cits.

"It might be related to a condition such as Asperger's syndrome in which the child doesn't particularly need to play with or interact with other children. We should make small encouragements to introduce them to a friendly peer and not to force social interaction because that just disturbs them."


If it is a case of autism or Asperger's syndrome, Carey says children usually now get diagnosed by the age of three in Ireland. But what should parents do if they discover that their child has special education needs after they have started school? Your first port of call should be to talk to your child's teacher, stresses Carey.

"According to Department of Education guidelines, the teacher must draw up a written intervention plan with you and implement it for a period of time. The plan will be reviewed to see if progress is being made. If no progress is made then the school will implement its special education process to investigate further." Parents should always be aware of their child's moods when they return home from school in the evenings and to chat to them about their day, adds Carey.

"Make sure the lines of communication are open. Assure your children that you are always there to talk about school if they want to and that you will help them solve their problems if they want your help."

Mother & Babies

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