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Dear David Coleman: My son is being picked on and doesn't want to go to school


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If your son is well-behaved and respectful in class, then the teacher may not realise the distress he feels

If your son is well-behaved and respectful in class, then the teacher may not realise the distress he feels

If your son is well-behaved and respectful in class, then the teacher may not realise the distress he feels

Q I am struggling to get my eight-year-old son to school. He has had a few issues with a child in his class (who has diagnosed behaviour problems) hitting him, stealing his lunch etc.

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The school have separated them away from each other and are keeping an eye on the situation. My son is very black and white in his thinking. In his head, he goes to school to learn, to behave and do what teacher says. His personality doesn't allow for messing! What can I do to help him cope better?

David replies: I am not surprised to hear that your son is reluctant to go to school. It sounds like the school are not properly addressing what seems to be serious misbehaviour by the other boy.

This other boy's behaviour is not acceptable, even if it can be explained by whatever "diagnosed behaviour problems" he has. The most common labels given to children are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD). Neither of these ever excuse behaviour, but they do help us to realise that a child may not be fully in charge of their behaviour.

Adults may understand this and so be more accommodating, more patient and more tolerant of certain behaviours. However, when those behaviours impact very negatively on other children, adults must step in to ensure that the needs of all the children are considered.

At the moment, it seems like the other boy's needs are being given more weight than your son's needs and so I think it will help if you can go into the school again to speak with them about the ongoing challenge that the other boy presents to your son.

If your son is well-behaved and respectful in class, then the teacher may not realise the distress he feels and the pressure that he experiences. Perhaps if your son knew that the teacher was especially making sure that he was OK, and that he was able to focus on his work (because the teacher or an SNA in the classroom was able to address the other boys' disruption) it would make it easier for him to be there each day.

You say that your son is a black-and-white thinker, which may mean that he tends to think about things in a polarised way, and rarely takes account of nuance, other perspectives or extenuating circumstances. In your son's mind, explaining the other boy's behaviour will not excuse that behaviour.

While it remains the adults' job to deal with the other boy's behaviour, your son may benefit from your help to increase his flexibility in his thinking, ie to shift focus, to problem-solve and to adopt other perspectives. Role-modelling this willingness to adapt flexibly can help. As can spending lots of time outdoors, since nature is rarely linear and will often have great examples of adaptability and changing to meet circumstances.

Playing games in which you can switch the rules, while you are there to support them to cope with the frustration or disappointment that may come with those rule changes, might also help.

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