Tuesday, December 18, 2012

6 year old lashes out at school

I am on my last leg with my 6 yr old son. His behavior at school has gotten so out of control that he is on the verge of being kicked out.....permanently. The school has a system where your name either gets written on the white board or a check mark is given by your name. My son lashes out verbally and physically when this occurs. He fully understands why this happens, but still has this behavior. He has changed teachers due partly to his behavior and the teacher's personal issues.
I have tried to sit with him and discuss why he acts this way in school, he always seems to blame other kids as his reason for acting out in school.
Do you feel counseling is an option at his age?

Hi, Yes I think counseling would be appropriate.  You would want a therapist who is also going to communicate with the school staff and with you.  It would be important for everyone working with your son to think about why he is getting so upset when he gets a check mark, and what alternatives there might be.  Sometimes, cuing him when his behavior is starting to be a problem, rather than using a check mark, may work better for your son.  Try also to "normalize" check marks.  Though not ideal, they are not the end of the world.  In the morning before school, predict that he might get one, and tell him you won't be angry.  I would even consider a small reward the next couple of times he gets a check mark and does not blow up about it.  (It could be a pat on the back by the teacher, or a high five when he gets home, or a treat that he does not usually get for dessert.)

Also, ask the teacher to keep track of what your son is doing before he gets these check marks.  Is he interacting with peers, is he angry about something,  is he easily distracted, or is some subject matter in class frustrating for him?  A psychologist could help you figure out if there is anything else going on with your son that is contributing to his reaction to the check marks.

Sometimes, when I meet with a child and the parent, we go through what happened leading up to the blow-up.  I ask what was happening before the child gets angry, what he said or did, and what others said or did.  I say that I am just trying to understand what happened.  (I do not judge or assign blame.)  Once a child is comfortable with this process, I might add:  "what can you do so you won't get in trouble next time?  I see why you are angry, and I want to help figure out a way you can deal with it so you do not get punished."  I try to get the child to see me as an ally, and we work on the issue together.  If the child does not have suggestions, I offer some alternatives and then ask which he would prefer, if any.  The next time the child comes in, we talk about situations that happened that week, what he said, and what other options he would have.  I do not criticize, nor do I expect him to be able to use my suggestions right away.  Also, this process cannot be done in the heat of the moment (while he is still angry) and cannot be done until your son has an alliance with the therapist.  See if there is a therapist in your area who works with children on anger issues.  In my parent's manual, I outline other approaches you can use to help your child deal better with angry feelings.

All the best, Dr. Gottlieb  

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