What to do when your child misbehaves in school

Just received that call you’ve feared getting from junior’s teacher? Here’s how to deal when they behave badly in school…

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As a parent, it can be horrifying, embarrassing and infuriating when you get that dreaded call from your child’s school telling you that your little one has behaved badly.

C Tan, mum to Daphne, 8, has received several calls from her daughter’s Primary school form teacher since she started Primary 1 last year.

The first call came around June last year, after Daphne scratched a classmate in school. “It was a small squabble between the two girls, but the teacher said she had to report it to the parents, since my daughter scratched the other girl,” recalls Tan.

The matter was settled peacefully, but Daphne was also showing signs of restlessness in school ― she was often caught daydreaming and “disturbing her friends” during lessons. It was hard to hear, says Tan, because Daphne had always been well-behaved at home, and even when she was in preschool.

“As a parent, I had to help her deal with some of her feelings and self-control, and remind her of the rules, to prevent her from being disruptive in class.”

“I think she’s a bit bored at school, as she already knew some of the things that were being taught. As a parent, I had to help her deal with some of her feelings and self-control, and remind her of the rules, to prevent her from being disruptive in class.

“The school has helped in giving suggestions on what we can do ― so, we are still working on it,” says Tan.

Whatever your child’s age, you can take steps to respond positively to your child’s school misbehaviour. Take a look at these tips.

1. Calm down
It’s easy to get worked up and unleash a tirade on your child when he gets home. But the best thing to do is to stay calm and take a breath. “Step back from the information received, then review it slowly by writing it down, so it provides a clearer flow,” advises Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.

2. Talk to another parent
Your husband, sister, or another mummy friend may be able to put things in perspective, and help you be rational and objective, rather than act impulsively or instinctively. Says Koh, “Talking to a rational, neutral figure can help you see what you have missed. Have someone accompany you to the school, so that they can support you, and also moderate your emotional distress.”

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3. Talk to your child
Your kiddo isn’t to be blamed for feeling negative. He may be feeling lonely, bored, or agitated by another child’s behaviour. So, instead of punishing him, try talking to him gently. He may be able to tell you what is bothering him. Your child needs to get those feelings out ― whatever it is, help him to discover what the underlying problem that is causing him fear or hurt.

If you have problems getting him to open up, make sure that the conditions are right. Children are willing to talk to adults when they feel safe, loved and unjudged. Koh points out that parents should avoid violence ― like caning or even shouting ― as this shows that it is ok to use it. “Don’t put down the child, or label the child,” he adds.

4. Check both sides of the story
Use facts to clarify with both your child and the teacher, so that you can make an informed decision about how you’d like to handle the matter. “Sitting down together can help you to see what is happening and observe your child’s responses,” Koh notes.

5. Look at the big picture
Look beyond the school and delve deeper into what is going in your child’s life. Did he lose a beloved family member or perhaps a pet recently? Is he under pressure to look after his younger siblings? Are you welcoming a new baby into the family soon?

A big one-time event can cause large emotional upheavals in a child, so, find out if any of these are causing junior to have strong feelings.

Incidents where other children are involved – like fighting, and bullying – can cause great emotional distress, as every parent would want to protect their child.

6. Work with the teachers
Your child’s teacher is there to help ― so, work with her to promote better behaviour. “Be open, honest and flexible, so that you work as a team,” Koh suggests. Stay in close communication and exchange information constantly, so that you can determine all the triggers that are causing your child to act up.

Incidents where other children are involved ― like fighting and bullying ― can cause great emotional distress, as every parent would want to protect their child. “Speak to the other child’s parent at the school, so that there is someone who can moderate the discussion, and it may seem less threatening,” Koh says.

Empower your child’s teacher and the school to do what is right to help your child ― “How you treat the situation, as well as the teacher, will send a message to your child,” he adds.

7. Teach your child skills to resolve the problem
First set expectations and rules, so that your child knows the behaviour that is expected of him. Talk about his feelings with him and discuss solutions to dealing with negative emotions.

For example, if he shares that he feels angry when his teacher asks him to pay attention in class, ask him why he feels that way. Does he feel singled out? Does he feel embarrassed?

Teach him ways to cope with his anger ― like deep breathing exercises, or by penning down his feelings in a journal.

8. Build a good relationship with your child
It’s important to continue connecting with your child. So, if you notice that he seems reluctant to go to school, wake up a little earlier, spend some time bonding over breakfast and have a relaxed conversation. This can set him up for a better day at school.

Even when you’re frustrated, keep playing with him, and give him enough one-on-one time, especially if he has other siblings. It may give him some of the attention he’s been seeking, and you will get a better sense of what he’s going through.

Keep giving those snuggles and hugs, and if you promised him a fun trip to the zoo on the weekend, don’t feel like you have to cancel it even if he has misbehaved at school. Ultimately, you want to send him the message that bad behaviour doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, and that you’re always there for him.

Photos: iStock

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