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Ask the Experts

My Son Copies His 'Cool' Disruptive Classmate

By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant

Question:

My son is in awe of another boy in his kindergarten class. He constantly talks about how "cool" he is and tells me things he does that are "awesome." The problem is the things this boy is doing are constantly disrupting the class - burping, using bathroom words, making faces, etc. The teachers handle these disruptions as well as they can, but my son has started copying this boy both in the classroom and at home. How can I get my son to see that what this boy is doing is not acceptable behavior in a classroom?

Answer:

Your son is like many children entering kindergarten. They are being exposed to a new and diverse population of kids who may exhibit behavior and attitudes toward authority that many parents would find disrespectful. Fortunately, the type of disruptions your child admires are not extremely serious. You and your child have a great opportunity here to begin the process of making good decisions regarding peer influence that he will face throughout his school career and life.

It also gives you a great chance to work collaboratively with the teacher by shaping and managing your own son's behavior. The first thing you need to do is let your child know that good manners and being respectful of the teacher and other adults is an expected part of being in your family. This not only means that you will correct him when he says or does something disrespectful, but that you will also reward him when he does exhibit the behaviors and attitude you are hoping for.

The collaboration with the teacher involves setting up a reward system that gives you feedback regarding his day at school and whether he was respectful to her. A reward that targets specific behavior works the best. I often use a 3 X 5 card with the days of the week on it. Stickers work great at this age. If he accumulates a set number of stickers, then he earns the reward.

The type of behavior you describe is attention-getting behavior. Instead of giving him lots of attention for acting negatively, it is important to praise him for eliciting the type of behaviors you expect from him. Your son will eventually see that his "awesome" friend doesn't get the positives he is getting and will gravitate toward new friends, and this friend won't seem quite so awesome anymore.

Got a Question?

If your kindergartener has an academic or school-related behavior problem you would like help solving, send it to mykindergartener@greatschools.org


Dr. Joseph Gianesin is a professor at Springfield College School of Social Work. He has more than 25 years of experience as a child and family therapist, a school social worker and a school administrator. Along with his academic appointment, Dr. Gianesin is a program and behavioral consultant for public schools in Massachusetts, helping them develop and manage programs for children with significant mental health problems.

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

06/1/2009:
"Hello Doctor, I have a daughter with the same issue accept she didn't stop her behavior and has been suspended from class field trips, ostsized in class, the teacher sent her home fifteen pages worth of incomplete home work and she is now depressed and rebeling against the teacher and students who have labled her. What can I do beside remaove her to another location!"
11/12/2007:
"My son is only 3 soon to be 4. Do you think this system will work for him? I am dealing with the same type situation."
12/20/2006:
"Thank you soooo much for reinforcing what I have started trying at home with my own child. It's great to know that I was on the right path. This article really made me feel that what I am doing will benefit me child in school. That's where the problems occur. At home my child is well mannered it's that when he's away from me and his dad he acts negatively."
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