Since the beginning of the school year, my nine-year-old son has been acting out in his classes. At first, he looked forward to learning, but as time has progressed, his behavior has deteriorated. I have spoken with the teacher and with his psychologist, and both have suggested behavioral approaches at home and in the classroom, such as rewards and consequences. The thing is, he doesn’t act like that anywhere else, but they don’t believe me. They just want me to fix him. I don’t think he’s broken, but I don’t know what else to do. Can you help?
~Baffled in Brazil
That sounds like a really unpleasant situation for you and your child. There’s nothing like being told to fix a behavior for which you’re not even present to make you feel powerless. Worse, we can imagine how your child might be feeling! He is young and being asked to behave differently without (apparently) anyone seeking to determine why his behavior is what it is nor doing anything to give him the support he needs. The basic question is not whether something needs to change (of course it does)—the question is whether it is the environment or your son that needs to change.
Truly, this may or may not be a problem he is responsible for—his overreactions to sensory stimulus, perhaps, or difficulty articulating his needs—however, there is little you can do within the classroom setting without being there to identify the catalysts unless you have been able to build a good working relationship with a teacher who is both approachable and willing to reciprocate.
Sometimes,though, in the process of collaborating with a teacher, you will discover that even when trying to accommodate your son, a teacher either is not successful or is working inside a larger context where such flexibility is not possible. This is precisely the information you will need to make the determination of whether or not to the environment can be adjusted to meet your son’s needs, or if it would be more fruitful to seek a different environment altogether.
It may be that there is a different classroom or learning center where he will be more comfortable and which is suited to his learning needs. Or, perhaps allowing him to learn a particular subject independently is what is best for him at the present time. None of this is to say that the teacher or the classroom is “bad,” but simply to recognize a mismatch in needs and expectations and to address this as the bottom line. Expectations are fine, but unreasonable ones, or simply those that obstruct a child’s learning process, are not. Whoever has organized the class or activity has every right to determine what they expect from participating families, but this may not be what your child needs nor what you necessarily want for your child. Figure out what works for you and your child and take it from there.