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HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

Help! My Grandson Misbehaves at School

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My grandson is in the first grade and his grades are good, but the teacher has sent a note home everyday this past week stating that he is talking, playing or interrupting the class. I have had talks with him, given him time-outs, taken things away from him that I know he loves in hopes that it would help him remember to behave at school.

He is a very sweet child. He does not talk back to me and he's been with me most of his life. He loves living with me, but after our talks before school and the hugs and "I love yous" he goes to school and comes home with a bad report of talking and throwing crayons. He knows he will be in trouble, but he does it anyway. What can I do to change this?

Answer:

There are many reasons why children are disruptive in class. Children have difficulty articulating their feelings; they show it by their behavior instead.

It appears from your comment, "he gets good grades," that his behavior is not linked to academic challenges, but might be a response to a stressor. Is this new behavior?

I assume that you are his primary caregiver since there is no mention of parental involvement. Although I have no details about your particular situation, I can provide some thoughts to consider and explore. Children that have no, or limited contact with their parents, may continue to have questions about this as they mature. Every developmental age creates opportunities to gain more understanding. It is common for a child to continue to process his circumstances, in order to feel safe and secure.

If your grandson still has visitation with his parent(s) the transition between households or differing parenting styles can be confusing. It may bring up loyalty conflicts and other big feelings. Some young children may "act out" at school because they are very concerned about rejection from their caregiver, even when the caregiver has demonstrated love, consistency and support.

Time-outs at home would not be particularly helpful as they are not a logical consequence of his behaviors at school, but a "quiet place" in the classroom, or learning other calming techniques would be. A behavior report is not sufficient; it is too far removed from the event. A behavior plan that includes both real-time consequences and future incentive is more useful at his age. In addition, have the teacher reinforce the times he is behaving appropriately to help him feel more successful.

A school counselor can help with his school behavior and a therapist might assist you and your grandson in better understanding his behaviors.

State Fact Sheets for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children can direct you to resources.


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.

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