Dear Teacher: How Can I Stop My Child from Acting Out at School?

Advice for working on behavioural issues without negative reinforcement

Dear TeacherQuestion: Our 6-year-old son loves going to first grade. The teacher says he is intelligent and stays in his seat and does his work. However, when the class transitions to another room or goes outside, he is “impulsive.” This has resulted in his mooning classmates, accidentally kicking another child and giving another child a wedgie.

He now has to eat lunch in the office and is rapidly losing privileges at school. We have taken privileges away at home until this acting out calms down. The child has had virtually every privilege taken away, but he still hasn’t really grasped the concept of thinking before he acts. What can we try next? —Perplexed Parents

Answer: The only solution to your son’s behaviour problems that you and the school have used so far is negative reinforcement. Obviously, it has not done a lot to diffuse the situation. It’s time for a change. First of all, schedule a conference with the school including the child’s teacher and a counsellor, psychologist or behavioural specialist.

At the conference, bring up how the negative approach has not worked and suggest that everyone consider reinforcing good behaviour when it occurs. Could one behaviour such as the transition to another room be worked on at a time and praised and rewarded both at home and school for a successful transition?

Can school personnel talk to him about moving to another class and think also of ways to make it smoother? There are many possibilities: letting him walk first at the head of a line, walking by the teacher or leaving the room after all of the other students have left.

A behaviour plan needs to be drawn up at the conference. And your son needs to understand clearly what appropriate behaviour is and that he will be rewarded for it. If your son’s behaviour problems are limited to the school situation, work hard with school personnel to change them. However, if his behaviour is also inappropriate in other situations, you may need to seek outside counselling.

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