By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My first-grader has problems with anger. When he does not understand a math problem or any work assignment at school, he becomes defiant, rude and destructive. In the early part of first grade, we did not have these problems; now they occur every day all day. I have tried talking to him, creating an award system and punishment (taking toys and television away). As soon as he's out of my sight (at school or any place I'm not) he's back to the same behavior.
He's been told he's the best reader in the first grade and that he's smart. I tried to let the school know that putting him on display when the school has visitors or showing off his artwork is not a good idea and to treat him as any other student. Now what do I do to help him stop being defiant, talking back and being quick to anger toward his teachers? Does he need medication or a psychological evaluation? Please give me some advice.
It sounds like you have two separate but related concerns. Let's deal with them one at a time.
First, you reported a negative change in your son's school behavior since the beginning of the school year. Abrupt or gradual behavior changes can signal a number of things, from matters as simple as classroom seating arrangements to physical difficulties such as vision or hearing changes, to more complex psychological issues, including disorders of attention or behavior, and even family problems at home.
It will take some collaboration to figure this out. Have your child's teacher put together a list of problem behaviors, specifying the circumstances in which they occur. Then, schedule a physical and a consultation with your child's pediatrician to rule out any medical problems, discuss your concerns (and the teachers' list) and formulate a treatment plan. Finally, while a reward system at home is always an excellent idea, immediate consequences generally have more impact on young children. Talk with your son's teacher about her in-class behavior system and how that was applied when he misbehaved.
Your second concern was that you felt uncomfortable with school officials' tendency to excessively praise your son's skills and offer him up as an "exhibit" when the school has visitors. Does the extra attention bother or embarrass your son? Or, are you thinking that school officials may have inadvertently rewarded his negative behavior with praise and attention? These are both legitimate concerns. It sounds like you have already asked that school officials refrain from doing this in the future; if it happens again, a meeting with the school principal would be in order.
A final thought: You mentioned that your son has been called "smart" and "the best reader in the first grade." Is it possible that your son is gifted? If so, his negative behaviors may stem from boredom and lack of sufficient academic challenge.
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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