By Dr. Virginia Shiller, Family Psychologist
My grandson seems to be antsy this year. He tends to sing during quiet time (reading and working) and makes noises with
his mouth. He does not realize he is doing this.
He goes to a traditional school and has done very well up to this point. This year his teacher may not be as patient. He seems to like her fine, but he is not getting smiley faces like he did so often in kindergarten and first grade. The teacher says he disrupts the class with his singing and noises.
I am trying not to defend my grandson, but I do believe he does not realize he is doing this. The teacher in fact said when she asked him to stop he looked up at her and was shocked he was doing anything wrong. He loves school and doesn't complain about getting up to go, but we are worried, with no smiley faces, there are no rewards and he is a very competitive child.
We have tried to tell him to hold his tongue between his teeth when he starts to make the noises. We also notice this noise at home sometimes, but we have gotten use to it. We want him to enjoy going to school and be happy learning.
Let's consider three aspects to this issue:
Regarding the first question: Is your grandson restless in other ways? If so, he may be discharging pent-up energy with his mouth. While singing is in some settings a constructive way to expend energy, as he grows older it will continue to get him into trouble in group situations.
Observe his behavior in a variety of settings, and see if his arms and legs also are prone to move about more than those of other children. If you conclude that your grandson is restless in a variety of ways, he might benefit from school accommodations that help him take breaks from sitting still and focusing on a task.
At home, adults could make efforts to help the boy become more aware of the sounds and noises he makes and to substitute other behaviors for these habits, such as singing silently to himself or pulling on a wrist band. Practicing these new behaviors at home is an important first step. Reward plans are one helpful way to help children establish new habits; the key is to set up modest goals for which behavior can be carefully monitored (e.g. not making mouth noises for 10 or 15 minutes while doing homework at the kitchen table).
Next, you or you grandson's parents could speak with the boy's teacher and discuss ways you might collaborate on helping his school day go easier (both for the student and his teacher). Assuring the teacher that the problem is being addressed at home can increase the likelihood that he or she will be responsive to suggestions.
Communicate the message that while you understand the rationale for the smiley face system now in place, it is beginning to be a discouraging program for the youngster. Perhaps some behavior that the youngster can be successful with (e.g. turning in homework) could be added to the list of things that are rewarded with smiley faces. Also ask the teacher: Might he be allowed to take occasional breaks to move around such as to deliver messages or go to the bathroom?
Finally, respectfully ask if the teacher would be willing to collaborate on an individual reward program for this child. Again, set up modest goals (quiet for 5 or 10 minutes during work time), track success with a check mark or sticker, and provide a reward after he earns 5 or 10 check marks. As a concerned grandparent, perhaps you might be part of the reward; a special phone call, an opportunity to go on an outing or to bake cookies together can be sufficient enticement for many children to invest effort in working on new habits.
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.
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