Misbehaving In Class

March 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Ask Dr. Vicki, Education

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Dear Dr. Vicki,

“I’m having problems with my son’s behavior in the classroom. He doesn’t want to complete his work in class, and he misbehaves in the classroom. I have tried to taking things from him and spanking him for his defiance. It works for a couple of days, and he reverts back to his old ways. He is failing in school (2nd grade) and I’m quite concern for my son’s academic well being.”

Dr. Vicki’s response:

I am so glad you wrote. Obviously your son’s academic well-being is a top priority. Rest assured…you are not alone! I frequently have parents wanting advice for very similar experiences.

Before we can really decide how to deal with the behaviors, it is critical to determine why he is exhibiting these behaviors. There are a number of questions that need to be asked and answered to help determine this:
• Is this a new problem, or has his behavior been problematic all through school?
• Does he exhibit these behaviors at home? And if so, is it all the time or just during academic activities?
• Is his behavior a problem during all subjects, all times of the day, during all kinds of tasks….or are they specific to certain subjects, times and tasks?
• Does he understand the work or is he having difficulty? Does he understand the instructions?
• What is he doing when he is not doing his work?
• Is he distracted? Does his seat need to be changed?
• Has he been evaluated for learning disabilities? Attention deficits? Processing problems?
• Has his hearing and vision been checked?
• Is he inadvertently getting rewarded for his behaviors (i.e–the students are laughing, etc.)?
• Is he being defiant or simply not doing his work?
• Has something happened in his life to bring on these behaviors (i.e.–death, move, changes, stress in the family)?
• Have you noticed any other changes in behavior, mood or attitude?
• Does he have a regular bedtime? Is he getting enough sleep? Is he a restful/restless sleeper? Does he snore?

Once these questions are answered, then intervention can occur.

Obviously, if there is an identified reason for the behaviors (learning disabilities, attention deficits, trauma, etc.) then those issues will need to be addressed very differently than if he is simply acting up.

If, in fact, the answer to all those questions is ‘no,’ then some kind of reward/consequence system may need to be put into place. This should be coordinated between you and the school, so that everyone is on board to help eliminate these behaviors.
• Make sure that he is being given positive feedback for the things he is doing well. And be sure to find reasons to give him kudos. It sounds as though right now his life is full of negatives as a result of his acting out behaviors.
• However, there needs to be some balance in the kind of feedback he is given. For instance, if he has a good morning, but acts up after lunch, let him know that he did a good job in the morning. Catch him being good! Ask the teacher to let you know what went right in his day, along with how he misbehaved.
• Be sure that the consequence or reward is meaningful to him, so that he really wants to change his behavior.
• And, allow him to start fresh every day. So, if he really acted up on Monday and is given a consequence (i.e.–no TV, no going outside, etc.), let him start fresh on Tuesday; reward him if he has a good day.
• Perhaps you could keep track of the number of good days (with smiley faces on the calendar) and when he has accumulated a certain number (make it realistic, like 4 or 10–depending how many days he really can behave—and they don’t have to be consecutive)) then reward him for reaching the goal. This could be renting a video, ordering a pizza, money, staying up later on the weekend, etc. Be sure that he is rewarded as soon as possible once he has met his goal.
• Praise him for reaching even small goals. When he has a good day at school, make a big deal about it. If he doesn’t, then just let him have his consequence and encourage him to try again tomorrow.
• Love him, and make sure he knows it each and every day. Just because you are not happy with his behavior, doe not mean you are not happy with him. Separate out these two issues, and he will learn a lesson without feeling worthless and unloved.
• Keeping his self-esteem intact while disciplining essential for real teaching to occur.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you and your son. Feel free to let me know how it goes!

© MMVI Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D.

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