Thursday 19 September 2019

Dear David Coleman: Our son is becoming very disruptive in school lately

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David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.

Q. My child is becoming disruptive in school. Last year all seemed fine but now he is in First Class and his behaviour seems to be more of an issue. The teacher is regularly noting that he is talking out of turn and at times he is talking and singing to himself. He fidgets in his seat and often gets up and walks around the class. It is completely out of character from our perspective, as he doesn't do this at home. We'd be grateful for any direction you can offer, as it is distressing to hear the teacher constantly discussing this.

David replies: We all have different standards of behaviour that we expect from children, and different tolerances for what behaviours will annoy us or amuse us. So, one explanation for what is happening in school right now is that your son's behaviour is just a continuation of his previous school behaviour, but his previous teachers never felt it warranted discussion.

Generally, when a child has an overarching issue, like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which might explain behaviours like talking out of turn fidgetiness, distractibility, out of seat behaviour and so on, it tends to be visible in every environment. It also tends to have been always present, rather than developing suddenly at age six or seven.

With something like ADHD, a child won't be able to switch the behaviours on and off easily. So, you'll see the same behaviours in school, at home, at extra-curricular activities, at church, and they will have been evident since toddlerhood. Maybe his teacher this year has a lower tolerance for the disruption or distraction that your son's behaviour may cause. One way to establish this is to talk to his previous teacher to find out if this is how he was in their class last year. If his behaviour was the same, then you can find out how they dealt with it.

Whether the behaviour is new, or repeated, your next step is go and arrange a formal meeting with his teacher, if that hasn't already happened. A planned meeting allows you and the teacher to have the time to fully discuss the issues that your son brings to the class.

In that meeting you need to try to establish if your son's behaviour is very different to other children in the class. You need to establish the frequency and intensity of the behaviours. Is this an all day, every day, distractibility problem, for example? Does he cause major disruption to the class? You also need to try to establish what the teacher does in response to the behaviour. Is your son corrected? How does he respond to any correction?

Sometimes, issues like talking out of turn, or getting up out of a seat, are just related to immaturity and a lack of awareness of what is expected.

Naturally your goal, in meeting his teacher, will be to find a positive and constructive ways of working together with her or him to help your son to be less distracted and distracting in the class.

Since you say that you are not seeing equivalent behaviours at home, it may be that your son is reacting to something in the school environment. This is why it may also help to understand how he behaved with other teachers in Junior and Senior Infants, and any approaches that those teachers used with him that may have helped.

Armed with any suggestions from previous teachers, you may be able to agree, with his current teacher, a way of positively reinforcing him for the preferred behaviours of staying in his seat and not talking (or singing) out of turn.

Having a positive approach to dealing with the behaviour will, hopefully, be supportive for his teacher and encouraging for your son, creating the right environment for him to settle down into.

If all this fails to lead to any noticeable improvement, then it may be time to request a broad, school-based, assessment of your son from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). Getting a third-party perspective on your son may help to understand why the behaviours are occurring and suggest other ways to intervene.

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