Parenting Advice Column
I have a child who is nine and seems to have trouble comprehending the concept of respect. He is a nice person for quite some time and then disrupts others in the class when the teacher is speaking, causing her difficulty and preventing the other children from learning. We remind him of appropriate behavior and respect and he is good for a few months. I have no idea what triggers these outbursts. Any suggestions when I speak with him about it when I pick him up from school?
Thank you for writing. I can see that you are feeling baffled and confused, and possibly somewhat embarrassed by your son's behavior at school. At the same time, you are concerned for his well-being.
You say you plan to "speak with him about it when I pick him up from school." So, first, a word of caution. When you discuss this situation with your son, it would be most beneficial to do so in a calm and relaxed atmosphere, such as a restaurant he likes, or some other favorite, comfortable place for him. I would definitely not recommend discussing this matter in a situation where you are rushed, busy, or distracted (such as while driving) but only when and where you would be able to give him relaxed, undivided attention, without the possibility of interruption (if at home, turn off the telephone).
The best approach would be one that is open-minded, positive and respectful, and avoids blame, guilt, ridicule, anger, threats of punishment, or any other negative statements. As the educator John Holt warned us, "when we make a child afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks"; we also stop the child from sharing his feelings and thoughts.
It might be best, when you meet him after school, simply to say something like, "We need to talk this over, but I want to do that when we're not distracted by anything else like driving. You've had a hard day today, maybe the best thing right now is for you to just rest until we get home, then we'll find a quiet place to talk (or, "then we'll go out to a quiet restaurant). The location isn't important as long as it allows for a relaxed, quiet discussion and your undivided attention.
When you are able to arrange this kind of discussion, focus on how he sees the situation, and ask him for his own recommendations for solutions. We as parents sometimes forget that our child may have better ideas than we (or "experts") have for resolving problems. We tend to think of our children as dependent on us to provide all the answers, yet when we remember to ask them for ideas, they can astound us with their insight and creativity. The most important thing to remember is that the questions need to expressed in a completely respectful way. Otherwise, the child will quite understandably and naturally become too defensive and angry to tap all that creativity.
When a child attends school, there are many hours each day when the parents must trust other adults to meet these critical needs. Before talking with your son, you might first talk with his teacher and school counselor to assure yourself that they are able to meet these needs. I would recommend also talking with other parents whose children attend the same school. If you do not feel satisfied that his needs can be met in this school or classroom, you might consider homeschooling or a change of teachers or schools, if possible.
I feel that you are a caring parent, so I would add "a word to the wise" to look at things from your child's point of view. It can be very illuminating to "turn the tables" in your mind; that is, to imagine that someone is asking you why it is that certain situations bring forth disrespect. Perhaps you have been in such situations yourself. Probably you would see your own "disrespect" as having been brought about by someone's disrespectful attitude toward you. Disrespectful attitudes are unfortunately not uncommon in a school setting, and the source can be teachers as well as fellow students.
Our Natural Child Project motto is "All children behave as well as they are treated." If a child is behaving in a "disrespectful" way, my best guess would be that someone has been treating him with disrespect. When a child, or even an adult, is treated with less than full respect and compassion, he will not only be angered by this but will also model this behavior. This seems to me the most likely possibility, especially as you say "he is a nice person for quite some time," between these incidents. If, after diligent sleuthing, you are completely satisfied that disrespectful treatment from others is not the situation, then I would suggest that these factors also be considered:
1. The possibility of food allergies (especially wheat and dairy) should be considered. Many parents have found that when allergenic foods were eliminated, their child became healthier and happier.
2. The need for sleep can vary from child to child and from day to day for one child; if he needs more sleep, seek to ensure that he can take this extra amount.
3. Recent changes, stresses, and distractions within the family, or with others he spends time with, may need to be resolved if possible, and discussed with him to see that important needs are not being overlooked. Such stressful times as moving, illness, visitors, a parent's job stresses, a relative's death (and even "happy" occasions such as Christmas, birthday parties, and exciting events) are an inescapable part of life that can affect a child very deeply. Yet it is precisely at those times that parents are most likely to be too distracted to notice that a child's legitimate needs are not being met.
A child's most significant need is unconditional love, expressed by a respectful approach, eye contact, gentle touching, and undivided attention. A reassuring hug and a reminder that we are on the child's side - and believe in him completely - can go a long way to making life easier for everyone, and to give the child the self-confidence he needs to continue to grow and mature.
In closing, I want to add a quote from the Spring 1996 Mothering Magazine editorial "That Crazy Mother" by Peggy O'Mara:
"It's good to be a little bit crazy. A little bit crazy about your child and willing to get crazy for him or her. I'm sure there's supposed to be at least one, maybe two people who think you are the greatest no matter what. Someone who rushes to defend you without knowing the whole story. Someone who sympathizes even after knowing it. Someone who is crazy about you."
Don't feel afraid to be crazy about your son!
Thank you for your advice. We started off by me saying, as you suggested, that we need to talk this over, hard day, etc., then we went to a bagel joint and had hot chocolate and a bagel. He was a little motor mouth and we had an excellent visit. After we talked about the situation, after I asked several unthreatening questions, I asked him how he thought it went. He said, "It was kinda fun." On the way home we talked about time together, just he and I, and that I would do the same with his brother. And we would do it just because, not only when we have a problem to discuss. Once a month, out for a treat, just for us, is our goal.
I am quite confident that his difficulty is not with teachers, but it may be with his cub night, every Tuesday. The last incident was after a cub function as well. There are 3 very difficult children in his pack and I believe one of the leaders has a hard time dealing with them (two of them being his own). Gordon and I spoke a lot about these kids and the different leaders and what he thought of them. My action plan is not just to ask questions about it, but observe a couple of meetings myself, in their entirety, and see what comes out of it. He is happy going to cubs but admits being annoyed by these children. We will keep the communication open between the teacher, Gordon, and me. I have asked her to see if he behaves differently, in general, on Wednesdays.
I loved the quote about "That crazy mother."
Again, thank you for reminding me to relax with my children and not feel I have to control their behavior but that respect and listening go both ways.
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