Dear Mentor Mom,
I have a huge problem. My son gets into trouble at school. When a teacher tells him to do something, he will turn around and do the exact opposite as what the teacher requests. The teacher punishes him at school and I normally just talk to him at home. I don't really punish him nor do I reward him because here is how I see the situation -- my child is under the care of a babysitter and he bites her, she in returns bites him back. Then she brings the child back to me am I supposed to bite him too since he bit the babysitter? I just need to know if I should engage in double punishment or if it is even appropriate. Thank you. Jill
Yikes! Problems at school are difficult for all involved, i.e., parents, student and teacher. I would have to agree with you in this situation. If a child is acting out at school and the school is providing a natural consequence for the behavior, e.g., extra work, detention, etc., I would not give any additional punishments at home. It is most beneficial if the child understands that his behavior at school affects HIM and those in his classroom making that the most effective place for discipline to take place. As a parent, you can and should express that while it is disappointing to hear that he is making poor choices at school, you respect the fact that it is up to him to decide how easy or hard he wants to make his life.
I remember when my son was in third grade and he was getting a bit lazy about turning in his homework. It was distressing to us because of course we wanted him to do well at school. Rather than hounding and reminding him to take care of it (which by the way did NOT work), we took a more laid back approach, collaborated with the teacher and made sure he experienced some natural consequences at school, e.g., no free play, having to turn it in along with another nights assignment the following day, etc. When he got upset or complained, we would use some of those Love and Logic one liners like "How sad for you. Just so you know we are going to love you no matter how many times you go through the third grade." When he figured out that it was his problem to solve, he modified his behavior. Getting homework done hasn't been an issue since.
Okay, having said all that about natural consequences, I have a few thoughts additional thoughts about your situation. Lets talk a bit more about what is going on in the classroom. I would suggest working closely with the teacher to try to figure out the root of the behaviors. There are a number of factors that can lead to disruptive behaviors:
- Is he bored?
- Is he restless?
- Does he need more challenging work?
- Are his hearing and vision okay?
- Is he one of those kids who has a tough time sitting still?
- What types of consequences are they giving?
- Is there a way to flip the situation so that the teacher focuses on his strengths rather than his weaknesses?
Working for a school system, I know how overwhelming behavioral problems can be for teachers. It is easy to begin focusing on the behavior rather than the child. For example, I have worked with many young children in our preschool program who have difficulty sitting still, short attention spans, etc. These kids need to be moving more frequently than the others. The teachers knowing and respecting this have EVERYONE stand up and move around when these kids start to get the wiggles. I've known wonderful teachers as well who have made these students their helpers, e.g., passing out papers, putting things in mailboxes, etc. While negative behaviors must be dealt with, parents, teachers and caretakers must challenge themselves to try to see if there is a way to put a more positive spin on the situation rather than always being punitive.
Communication and a collaborative spirit are key in these types of situations. Set up a meeting with the teacher if you have not already done so to discuss a plan of action. Let them know that you want to be a support in this process and that you both have the same goal -- a happy, healthy child with a thirst for knowledge that enjoys school.
I hope this is helpful, Jill! Thank you so much for the question and for being a Mentor Mom reader.