8-Year-Old With Classroom Problems

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Dear Kristin, I have several Certified Positive Discipline Associates who help me asnwer questions. If you read any of the Positive Discipline books, you will find that we don't advocate punishment of any kind. Rather we use methods that are respectful and designed to teach life skills that help children develop good character. Christine Haymond has done an excellent job (to follow) of respectfully answering your question. Jane Nelsen

School Problems

Q. My eight year old is having some difficulties completing school work, staying focused, and talking at inappropriate times. She is very bright, kind, and tries to always be helpful. Her 2nd grade class has cards that they use to let parent's know how the child's day was. The students are told when to change their cards after they have been warned a few times to behave appropriately.

Green - good day (very few warnings)
Blue - Not good (few warning and must turn card)
Yellow - Time out 5 minutes
Orange - go to another class, time out 10 minutes
Red - time out and must write what they did to get to this point and what the resolution to this behavior is, and warning after that involve parent contact and principal contact.

I have a great relationship with my daughter's teacher and we speak frequently about Alanna's behavior. She is also at a loss as to how to get Alanna on track. She even gives Alanna more chances than the other kids cause she feels that my husband and I work with her all the time so she lets something's slide.

Last week Alanna brought home 4 blue and one green. So far this week she has brought home a green and a blue. She has been spanked, is currently grounded, and I don't know what to do. This discipline is not working. Her teacher has moved her desk away from other's in the class and she still can't get her work done. When she tries really hard she does great but lately she just can't focus and stay on top of things. Yesterday the other students in her class were done with their seat work by 11:00 and she didn't finish until 2:00.

I tell her how proud I am when she brings home green and tell her how disappointed I am when she doesn't. I know she can do it cause before the holiday break she had 2 full weeks of green. Last night I had Alanna sit in her room and write down what she has to do at school, how she will do this, and what she felt the consequences should be if she gets blue. I want to be positive, not yell at her, or spank her cause it breaks my heart when she is in trouble. It is hard cause I want to go do things with her but when she is grounded, I don't feel I can. Please help me search for better ways to discipline her or motivate her to behave while in school.

Thanks!

Kristin


Dear Kristin, I am a teacher in Ohio who discovered Positive Discipline five years ago. Your letter touched me both as a mother and an educator. I currently teach middle school, but spent 8 years as an elementary teacher. I also had a child for whom school was never easy ( he is 23 now) so I really empathize and feel like little bits of me have played every part your letter describes- First I have to say that Alanna is lucky to have a mom who is willing to seek help when things just don't "feel right".

A supportive/ cooperative relationship with the classroom teacher is very important and I am always willing to go that extra mile when I know the parent is cooperative, interested, and involved. But I have also learned that it is just as important to understand school through the eyes of the child. The teacher must feel that the card system works for most of the kids, because it sounds like a lot of work so it must be worth it. I am reluctant to ever criticize another teacher's style, because we are all very different. That is the beauty of public education. Over the years kids are exposed to many different kinds of "bosses". But I would to share a story from my own classroom experience and explain how my home/school system has evolved over the past 16 years.

My first two years of teaching ( 3rd grade) I sent home daily "passbooks" to parents, often with comments. I used stars- one to four- to indicate behavior and the kids had to bring them back signed.--This seemingly worked well . My intentions were good : to make the kids accountable for their behavior, and of course to involve the parents-. Well, year number three brought me a lesson by the name of Adam.-Adam was a one star kind of kid .Two on a rare day. During the fourth week of school Adam became even worse than usual. I began to think I should design a minus star passbook especially for him! I called his mom and in the course of the call realized that he was being punished at home every night. No T.V. In bed early. No allowance. The mom felt she was supporting my intentions. We both meant well. But what I had done, I realized after much thought, was build a wall of mistrust between Adam and I. He felt I was tattling. I imagined how powerless this must have made him feel, and academics were enough of a challenge for him. We talked and he said he felt like he "lived in the land of What's the use? "That was my last year with the home passbook. And I have learned since not to sell kids short- to allow them their dignity in the workplace, i.e. school. Of course I call parents when necessary, but my first responsibility is to respect the child.

That was a dramatic "aha!" for me as a teacher. Later, I would read the words "getting into the child's world" in Positive Discipline and realized that Adam took me there. Imagine going home from a bad day at work, just glad to be in the one place you can just "be". Your husband is waiting for you, hands on hips, scowling. Your boss just called him to tell him about your day! What an awful thought! Everyone is ganging up on me!

I'm wondering if you might say to your little girl something like " you know, Alanna, I'm not sure how I feel about the cards you bring home. I liked them at first, but now I'm feeling a little confused. What do you think? " She might be very relieved. I don't think this would be "going against the teacher" in any way- just showing some empathy and being willing to listen to her feelings and perceptions. Perhaps you could separate school and home consequences for awhile and see if that helps her anxiety level. And yours!

I faced a similar situation with my son Mark in 4th grade. He was a distractible kid ( and like your daughter very kind and thoughtful. Aren't we lucky?!!!) who needed lots of positive strokes, and the discipline system that year was very negative. As a teacher/ mom I did not want to make a lot of fuss, as I know this can impact kids badly, but I let him vent with me as needed and we talked plenty that year about what he had to do to get through. He often needed extra time to finish I did speak with the teacher about this. As long as he was working, It was important to me as his mom that the effort was acknowledged. As long as Alanna is finishing her work, I would offer her encouraging words. She is probably comparing herself to the faster students ( and is faster always better in the grown up world?!) so letting her know you appreciate her effort is important.

I always had to remind myself that the best parts of my son- his kindness, sensitivity, and gentle spirit would never receive grades on his report card. Keep reading, and have faith in your parenting instincts. Your child will guide you to good answers.

Christine Haymond, Canton, Ohio, Certified Positive Discipline Associate

P.S. Christmas is coming. Since you and the teacher have a respectful relationship, perhaps she would enjoy the book Positive Discipline in the Classroom. It is awesome!