HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

Help! My Child Clashes with His Teacher

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My son is in first grade.  He did not have any major behavior problems last year. Since we and other people - as well as last year's teacher - haven't had behavior problems with him, we really don't think it is ADHD. His current teacher would like us to get him tested. But she is the only one who seems to have a problem with him; everyone is shocked at his apparent disrespect for her. And as far as she can see, he's a perfect ADHD candidate. He certainly does act that way with her. How do I find out why they are at each others throats? There has to be something between their personalities that causes this clash.


Your son's "disrespectful" behavior is not, in and of itself, reason to suspect ADHD. Impulsivity, non-compliance and social inappropriateness are just some of the behaviors attributed to ADHD. , The American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are excellent resources to help familiarize you with the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, as well as other childhood disorders. Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, can lead to "acting out" behavior, as well as undiagnosed learning disabilities. Knowing more about these issues can help you decide when to consider having your child tested.

Changes in family life can also cause acting out in school. Examine if there have been any recent developments in the family or the family routine that might be cause for anxiety. Remember, what may not be upsetting to you may be to your son.

Try some investigative reporting with your child. Be careful not to blame either the teacher or your child. Try something like, "Gee, you had such a good time in kindergarten, I wonder what's different about first grade." Give your child an opportunity to express what is difficult about his experience so that you can strategize some solutions.

Make sure you are clear on what behavioral expectations the teacher has of your child and that your child is clear about them as well. Be specific and break the classroom rules down into manageable steps.

Over the course of your child's life he will need to learn how to deal with people he may not care for. One thing you can do at home is avoid "venting" about people in authority, like a boss, spouse, etc. It is best to model "working it out" rather than "acting out."

For another experts advice on a student having an issue with his teacher read My Daughter Hates Her Sixth-Grade Teacher.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"I would also ask your doctor to check for sensory or regulatory issues... my 7 year old was OK, at home and in quieter environments, but in class he would act out because the "background" noise of his classmates overwhelmed him and it became environental, ESP when the teacher was/is in no way flexible with him to assist him. It wasn't until we got proactive...he now wears ear protection when it gets to be too much (and when listening to the group is not needed) While my son has had an ADHD diagnosis, we have found over the last year that MOST of his ADHD behaviors are stemming from or triggered by his Sensory issues...I hope you are able to find the root of the problem. It's VERY hard to see kids that in every other way flourish seem to have their light dimmed by a teacher... "
"Wow. I had the very same problem in the second grade with my son. The teacher did not share that he was having outbursts on a daily basis until our first P.T. conference 2 1/2 months into school. My son never had issues with any other teacher before. She insisted I have my son tested. I did not listen to her at that time because my husband and I felt that his behaviors were typical of children his. He was one of the younger students as it was, with a birthday right at the cut off date. We felt it was delayed development. After another year had gone by with us helping him on the outside with an Art Therapist & classes we thought would help with his social delays, the school kept pressuring us. We finally agreed to have our son tested and got the results the summer before 4th grade. My son was diagnosed with Aspergers. He is academically bright. No issues there. It is a Neurological disorder. It is a speech & language issue. He feels the need to fight for his rights an argues with people. He does not care if you are a child or an adult, he treats everyone the same. He feels he is being yelled at even if you aren't raising your voice. You could just say, ' I need you to get back in line' and he will feel that you just yelled at him in front of his peers because he was not standing in the correct spot. You see? I am not saying your child has an issue, but the sooner you find out, the better. If he does need services you should find out. The process of having your son tested can take awhile. The years pass fast. You can make a request in writing that you would like the school to test your child. Make sure you get everything in writing always and save it in your child's folder. Also, never ever go to any meeting about your child alone. Bring your spouse, bring your mother or an in-law. Do Not Go Alone. As prepared as you think you are on the subject you won't be. It can be very overwhelming information even if it is good. Testing your child can only help weather it's to prove them wrong or prove them right, in the end it will help the school understand your child's mind. And if it is a problem with the teacher you need to ask, 'What can we do here?', because it will effect your child's view of teachers. It could be the way your child is being approached. It's all how you speak to a child and your child might be very sensitive to language. "
"NO! Parents defend your children, dammit. Why should kids or anyone have to 'learn to deal with' bad behavior from bullies? WHY don't we 'just say NO!' and call them on their misconduct and make it stop? Unbelievable, in 2009, still the same backward thinking that enabled the likes of Hitler...."
"I have custody of my grandson. Last year he had the same problem with his kinder teacher. I also am employed in the same school district at the high school. I spent time in the classroom and talked to staff and various personal at the school. The classroom enviorment was total chaos. The teacher seemed very stressed and overloaded. My grandson didn't want to go to school anymore.After trying many different options, I moved my grandson to a smaller school in our district over the December holiday break. I spent time in the new classroom. The teacher was wonderful. She was very engaged with each student. The class size was small, 11 students at the most. The class was structured but very pleasent and positive. My grandson flurished the second half of the school year. The old teacher at the old school did not have very many students at the state standards by the end of the year. She is not returning to the teach this year. Sometimes the teacher is not a good fit for the grade l! evel they are teaching. Other times students and teachers can clash. I don't think kinder or first grade is the time to teach your child how to get along with the teacher. The first years are the foundation for the childs love of learning. They can not learn to love learning with a teacher that is not able to engage them. I was luckey the second school had a teacher that was wonderful. All her students learned and scored high on testing. If the second school had not worked out, than i would have tried private school with one-on-one if needed. Any if that failed I would have home schooled. The goal here is for the love of learning to take hold and the foundation for the later years of learning to be strong. Some children need different enviorments to learn. It is a challenge to find the right place and the right person to teach your child. Don't give up until you find what works.I will repeat this process to ensure that my grandson has a positive and successful elementry edu! cation. Next year I will start the process with my other grand! son. "
"My son clashed with his kindergarten teacher. the second day of school, she wanted to put him on medication. She was an older woman. After I had him moved to another class, he improved significantly. I later found out that other parents had a problem with that first teacher. My son is starting first grade this year, and I'm already thinking of how I'm going to handle aqnything that comes up. I've been thinking about all my options. Homeschooling, transfer, writing to the administrators office if I have to. I think that if a teacher was being emotionally abusive to my child, and the school did nothing, I would contact a lawyer or send a letter to the editor of the local paper."
"A teacher is only as good as their worst student. Too many teachers these days do not seem to know how to actually 'teach'. It's easy to teach an A Student, it's the children that take a little more redirecting they are perfectly willing to leave behind. What ever happened to a teachers sense of pride in that his/her students were getting all he/she had to offer as a person and a teacher? Now days they seem to just 'toss' out the information like a cold dead fish, and never bother to explain or 'teach' the information to the students. If more Teachers took a personal interest in the students the better off we would all be. Our children are left with them for 7 hours a day. The 'Least' they could do is treat them with respect, teach them the school lessons and appreciate them for the little jewels they are. If they do not like kids, they shouldn't be a teacher in the first place. There sure seems to be a lot of Apathy about our children and not enough care and understanding. ! I sure miss the teachers of yesterday who knew that being a teacher was a life long career and not just a j o b."
"This article totally ignores the option of requesting a move to a different teacher's class. Sometimes a teacher is just not very good and sometimes the teacher and child may have a total class. If 'working it out' isn't helping, then a move may make everyone happier. I would not put all the responsibility on my child to adapt to a teacher, and I would not leave him in a miserable situation!"
"Help. my teacher and child have the same problem. She is always screaming in his ear, and when I try to talk to the principal, all she does is justify this behavior. The problem is at school, that these are low class child abusers with powerful people backing them up."
" Although we have never been approached about adhd, we have a lot of problems with our 6 yr old at school. It seems to me that the teacher/student relationships are not monitored or even mildly observed at any time. We have a first grader that seems to have a lot of trouble with her teacher as well. and it seems to me that the teacher ( being very young), does not have realistic expectations for 5 and 6 yr olds. I have talked to other parents from this class room and have got the same opinions. our six year old has been called a thief and accused of destroying school property so many times that I can not count. and until now ( nearing the end of year), she has actually stole for the first time. I mean she took something knowing she should not taken it. I have not yet been given a bill for the things she must have destroyed. Turns out she has been caught leaning back in her chair. All the times she has been into trouble for these things alone, would make you think! that there can be no property left at the school and our daughter should (by now), personally be in possession every thing at the school that has not been destroyed! This is a 6 year old kid. Until this teacher, our daughter has never hesitated to say that she had picked up something to play with. personally, I do not wonder shy she does not get along with the teacher. Our daughter is making very good grades and the teacher says she is below average. This makes little sense to me. We also have 4th grader who likes to joke around a bit too much. He is a good kid he just gets bored with school and does not always use his spare time in the best of ways. He was doing very well in school all A's and maybe one B now and then. He had a teacher that understood his particular situation. So, she put him to work helping the other kids when he started getting bored. This seemed to work out well! He was put on the academic team this year. This concerned me some. knowing that he liked to play when bored. So, during practise the coach quickly learns about his need to be funny when bored and can not find a way to handle it. Eventually another student asks the coach, why is my son even on the team. well, the teacher stops as if to ponder the question herself, that then chooses not to answer the kid. Now my son watches all this and comes home wanting to quit the team. the coach thinks he should not be on the team anyway. After investigating this with! other students. I learn that this is exactly what took place in the practise. So, planning to meet with this teacher and discuss the incident, I convince him to stay. shortly after this My sons teacher is offered a new job and leaves our school. Then ( of all people), she gets replaced with his academic team coach. Well, with the way my son felt about this new teacher and the way she felt about him, things went badly very quick. I have the meeting with the teacher/coach and the principle and point out my child's frame of mind about the academic team situation. With out pointing out that I knew which coach it was that he had a problem with. I figured that this new teacher/coach would put it all together and do what needed to be done with the information. I did not at this time think she had intentionally destroyed his confidence. I also did not want to point fingers and possibly make it worse on my son. I must again point out that this a another very young teacher! . I really do think this has a lot to do with it. Well inste! ad of se eing her mistake and talking to my son about the misinterpretation of her response the the other child's question, I think she actually looked at it like he should have kept his mouth shut about it. she never spoke to him about the situation. and he is in more trouble all the time now."
"I agree with the last writer. My daughter is having the same issue and to be honest her teacher is mentally abusive. She is in 6th grade and all the past teachers loved her. Her other current teachers love her. She is a straight A student. Being slightly overweight this teacher made a comment during lunch one day 'do you need all that food?' Can you imagine? It may seem drastic but until we put a recording device in my daughters sweater we had no idea how abusive this teacher was. If your child is younger it is that much harder to pinpoint why the teacher makes him feel bad."
"This is a good article but it doesn't leave room for err that could be at fault with the teacher. My son had this same problem and upon my investigations I discovered the teacher had a problem with 'speaking in a respectful voice or manner' if you will. And this was a negative approach. If he had an altercation or disagreement w/a student she would ask the entire class 'who else has a problem with Rey?' now a class full of six year olds...they all have a problem, now he's been ousted by his teacher and alienated by the class by her actions. When does one take a step back to look at the teachers performance and how THAT may be affecting the child, not what's happening to mommy or daddy, our children spend more time with their 'Teachers' then they do with us on a given day. That relationship should be looked at just as closely as that of the parent/child. A lot of kids are not participating and socializing due to issues like these. Not all kids have behavioral disorders, and ! not all teachers have the right approach. "