Dear David Coleman: My son is strong willed. I've already had two phone calls from his teacher about him
Question: My youngest is about to turn five and started school this year. I have already had two phone calls from his teacher about his behaviour. He is very loveable and confident, but also extremely stubborn and strong willed. If he doesn't want to do something, he won't do it. When I stand my ground with him, I just have to wait out the inevitable tantrum, until he comes out the other side, but I can't expect the teacher to give him all of her attention with 28 other kids in the class. Have you any advice?
David replies: From the sound of it, a proactive call from you, to his teacher, to arrange a meeting, might be very helpful. You already can empathise with the teacher's perspective, acknowledging that it must be very hard for her to be dealing with your son's behaviour, when she also has the needs of 28 other children to meet as well.
The purpose of that meeting could be threefold. One goal for the meeting is to be able to demonstrate, to the teacher, your understanding about the difficulties that your son may present to her. I think the teacher would find it very supportive to know that you do get how difficult it may be for her. I think many teachers experience resistance and defensiveness from parents when they have to discuss a child's misbehaviour in class.
It is easy to see why parents might be defensive and protective, but this kind of response often creates bad feeling and gets in the way of working together to try to deal with the difficulties that a child is presenting with.
So, showing your willingness to work together, cooperatively and proactively to help your son change his behaviour in school will be good.
A second goal for the meeting might be to share with the teacher your knowledge of your son. She will have limited knowledge of him, as she has only known him three months and always in the context of social, emotional and academic pressures of school. You know him intimately.
That means you are likely to have strategies that are effective in dealing with his stubbornness and his strong will. Not all of the strategies that we use on an individual basis with a child in a home setting will transfer to a school setting. Children can often act differently in a group to the way they do when alone, and equally, we can respond to them with much greater emotional, and physical, availability when we are dealing with just one child - than with 29.
That said, if you know that distracting him helps, for example, then this might also be a strategy that the teacher can use. If keeping him active and busy helps, then the teacher may be able to give him occasional "jobs" to do that allow him to be up out of his seat and moving, which will then hopefully prolong his ability to sit and concentrate at other times. Some of this will naturally depend on the nature of the behaviours that are causing problems in school, as they may or may not be the same as the challenges you face at home.
The final purpose of the meeting is to try to establish and clarify, for yourself, what are the expectations of him at school. What are the class rules? What are the typical trigger points at which he might misbehave? What are the sanctions or consequences for his misbehaviour? How does he react to these adult responses?
Understanding more about his experiences in school might help you to coach him about situations that you can anticipate might be difficult such that you can give him alternative ways to react, other than his current reactions which are causing the problems. You can role play these with him, or do out little cartoon sketches about what to say, or what to do, if certain triggers get pulled.
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