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:

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:

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.

How Do You Find the Cause?

Think of behavior as an attempt to get something or complain about something. Since behavior is a form of communication, you'll need to figure out your child's message. Is she trying to gain something - attention, an opportunity to move around? Is she trying escape or avoid something - doing an assignment she doesn't understand, sitting next to a child who annoys her? Once you understand what her behavior communicates about her needs, you can help her learn more appropriate behaviors.

What Happens Next?

After you've figured out the "why" of your child's behavior, these questions will help you develop a plan of action.

Who Should Be Involved?

When parents, teachers, kids, administrators, and other school staff develop a behavior plan together, success is more likely. Each person needs to understand his role and communicate with others involved.

Everyone, not just your child, needs rewards to keep a plan going. Send thank you notes to your child's teacher or principal commenting on the improvements you see. Let them know they're making a difference and you appreciate their efforts!