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Ask the Experts

Help! My Child is Acting Out

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My daughter is in second grade. She has been having behavior problems at school since the school year began. She has not been listening, talking in class and talking back to the teacher. She doesn't act out at home, nor at the after-school daycare she goes to. This behavior is uncharacteristic for her. She is usually such a great joy to everyone around her. She has always been the teacher's favorite student in kindergarten and first grade. She has the same second grade teacher as she had for first grade.

There are no changes in the household or in our lives that might be the cause. I have tried grounding her, talking with her, time outs, and I spoke extensively with her teacher. The teacher is unsure of the cause, since she is not disturbed by classmates sitting next to her and no one is picking on her. I am really at a loss as to what to do to turn her behavior around.

The only thing that I could possibly think of, is that maybe the material is too advanced for her, and she could be frustrated. Last year her teacher and I worked very hard with her on her reading skills, to make sure she didn't get left behind. Only this year has she been uncooperative in class.

Answer:

It sounds like you have a good relationship with the teacher and that both of you have examined all the possibilities for your daughter's change in behavior.

Here are a few more things to consider: Start by getting information from your daughter. We often forget that children do have some insight into their problems, but need help expressing it. Be curious about the shifts in her behavior by asking her what is the same and what is different about first and second grade. Children are less defensive when asked in this way rather than asking "why" questions.

You state that she was "the teacher's favorite student" in first grade and that she has this same teacher now. Is it possible that your child expects certain privileges that her teacher is no longer providing? Or, if your daughter is now doing better academically, because of the support she received last year, she might be missing the extra attention from her teacher. These are issues worth exploring.

However, if your daughter is still having academic difficulties, your question that the material may be too advanced might well lead you to the cause of her acting out. Therefore, testing for learning disabilities would be helpful to determine if she needs modification in the classroom to help her succeed academically and reduce her frustration.


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 GreatSchools.org readers

03/15/2011:
"My child is in the third grade and does well academically but could be even better if he could only control his behavior. I have a good relationship with his teacher and my son. When he gets more than one reminder a day he is grounded from playing outside and watching t.v. Things would be great for a week than the following it is the same thing. His teacher and I agreed that I should attend class with my son. I did just that but he is now on track out and I really don't know if it made an impact. "
02/25/2010:
"Two words. Peer pressure? "
11/12/2009:
"Hi My daughter is 6yrs old and I have been having behavor problems with for some time now. We have a councelor come to our home to help us with our duaghter. I am now getting letters sent home from her teacher saying she is concerned for our daughter because her behavior is starting to affect her with her pears in school. I have been doing everything I can to help our daughter. I just can figure out why she does theses things. she gets up in class if the teacher asks another child to do something, she is always needs 100% attention. my daughter has been in daycare since she was 8 weeks old, I am so confused and dont know what else to do. thanks "
02/14/2008:
"Enjoy the article. In need of advice. My god daughter is acting out in the classroom. She doesn't do that any where else. She is in the kindergarten and her mother and I are seeking professional advice to why she may be misbehaving in class. Great article. npearso@yahoo.com"
11/27/2007:
"this desribes my son. he was around adults more than kids, so he is not easily intimidated by adults , he is more timid around other kids. it not academic wise he has always done well, the problem we are having is playing in class, make noise, and saying no, and whinning. the first part of the year he was wetting him self ad he had been potty trained for about 3 years. now that is under control, but then we found he was teased for wetting him self and just being bullyied by some other boys in his class. Also i don't agree withthe teacher giving him a zero if he doesn't hand in his homework when she ask for it. we always make sure that he does it, but if he doesn't remeber where he put it like in his desk or in his book abg she will give him a zero, and i don't think this fair. it makes him look dumb. he is doing well on all his test he misses 1 - 2 or none at all. I just so frustrated. i'm tired of yelling at my child everyday, and him not getting the grades he deserves. the! only thing i can see is that he is more attention seeking at home. he has a 2 1/2 yr old brother and he has been showing some jealousy lately. we give them just about equal attention, but he seems to only get negative attention. ( my little one has a speech delay and may be autistic ) i'm not sure if he is picking up on things but i so frustrated ."
11/12/2007:
"This article was helpful and gave concrete answers. I will definately make the shift from 'why' questions I have been doing to the ones suggested Thanks!"
07/19/2007:
"my son acts out all the time at home and at school. i dont want him to have to be on meds. he has before been on them it helped. should i put him back on? hes gettin worster them usely. me and his father are in to it all the time bc of this.and not just it around everone "
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