I’ve had many requests to help both parents and school personnel when it comes to the misbehavior of young children. The parents want to blame the schools and the schools want to blame the parents. In any case, there is a problem that needs solving. First, you must become the ‘detective.’ What is the problem behavior? When does the behavior happen most frequently? Can you resolve this alone or should you consult with a professional about this?
The first thing to do is rule out any medical issues that could be causing the behavior. Sick children (fever, earaches, headaches, stomach aches, etc.) and tired children will misbehave. Does the child get enough rest? If not, what is causing them to lose precious sleep? I recently counseled a mother and her 3 year old daughter, who was having behavior problems. The child initially didn’t speak at all to me, but mom said she talked all the time at home. After about 4 sessions, the child finally spoke, but I could not understand her at all. I questioned mom about her hearing and mom described countless ear infections and earaches this child had. Mom couldn’t convince her pediatrician to do anything other than prescribe dose after dose of antibiotics. I telephoned the doctor to recommend sending the child to a specialist because I said the child was not able to speak clearly and I suspected the child couldn’t hear. The child ended up getting tubes; hearing improved, along with many of the behavior problems.
I recently had two child clients with severe behavior problems at school. Both were under 5 years old. Both were at different schools and both spent the majority of their day crying loudly and disrupting the class. Both school principals talked with me and said they didn’t want to dismiss the child from school, but their resources were exhausted. I went to one school to observe the child and the environment. I saw the child struggle several times (something didn’t go the way he wanted and he got upset). The child was able to maintain his behavior those few times, but eventually there was a blowup. I observed that no one said anything during those times of struggle to encourage the child. I suggested to the teacher that she work on trying to encourage him, to touch him on the arm or pat him on the back as a way of letting him know she understood. She must have started doing this, because the misbehavior stopped completely and the child is doing well.
The other child came to my office with his parents, who said that he cried all day every day and they often had to go pick him up from school and bring him home. What we realized was that this was a very bright child and his main goal was to stay home - so he learned that if he cried long enough at school, he would get to come home and have fun with mom. There was never any consequence to his behavior - just time at home with mom. I asked mom to start giving consequences - to let the child know that if she had to get him from school for misbehavior, he would have to stay in his room instead of being near her. No more going out for ice cream or going to the park. This did the trick and the child is now behaving at school and loving his teacher.
Some children are involved in so many after school activities, that they get overwhelmed and exhausted. Sometimes, just one extra activity a week is all a child can handle. Keep the child on a consistent routine: bath time, story reading and prayers before bed, then tucking the child in - should all happen at about the same time every night. And don’t forget the importance of tucking your child into bed and kissing them goodnight every night. Children have admitted to me that when their parents start doing this for them, it helps them sleep better and feel more loved.
Parenting is a tough job, but it shouldn’t overwhelm you. If your child is facing difficulties that you cannot solve, don’t go it alone. Contact a professional for some help and advice to get your child back on track.