Changing Children's Behavior in School
Some kids with learning difficulties develop behavior problems that increase their risk of failure. Learn how you can help.
By Diana Browning Wright, M.S.
Success in school involves being able to complete work, stay organized, get along with kids and adults, be positive about your own abilities and school, follow rules, and do your best work. But some kids with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) also may develop behavior problems that add to the risk of failure. Here are a few warning signs:
- Your child has trouble following directions or getting along with other kids.
- She's discouraged or says she "hates school."
- She's frequently "in trouble" in school or sent to the principa's office.
- None of the usual techniques - rewards, consequences, home-school communication, behavior contracts - seem to help.
What Do Kids Need?
Before we can understand children's behavior, we must understand their needs. In addition to their physical needs - food, clothing, shelter - kids need fun, freedom, power, and a sense of belonging. If these needs aren't met in positive ways, problems develop. In some classrooms, kids have to sit quietly and listen for long periods of time, and this can be hard for them. Sometimes, you'll find your child just hasn't learned age-appropriate social skills. Here are some quotes that reflect how a child might express her needs through her behavior:
- Freedom: If I don't get some choice in the way I work or what I learn, I won't work at all.
- Fun: If my teacher never cracks jokes, seems to enjoy teaching, or thinks up interesting lessons, I'll make my own fun.
- Belonging: If I don't feel I'm a one of the smart kids, I'll be one of the kids who has problems and show I don't care.
- Power: If I can't be a class leader, know a lot in a class discussion, or do an assignment well, I'll be the class clown and get noticed.
Why Do Behavior Problems Develop?
Kids with LD and/or AD/HD may not pick up on cues around them. They may not understand what teachers or other kids expect from them or how to bargain with others. They may have a hard time waiting for the teacher to call on them. They may have a problem concentrating on things that aren't interesting to them. They may not have learned skills to be a good group member - taking turns, giving and accepting feedback, getting agreement, and compromising.
If your child with LD and/or AD/HD also has these problems, she may decide, "I'd rather be bad than stupid!" She's figured out if she doesn't try hard or turn in assignments, others won't know just how difficult the work really is for her.