Tuesday, July 15, 2014

6 yr old sensitive at school

I have 2 boys age 8 and 6.  I am struggling with my 6 year old at school. At home he is very sweet, cuddly, funny and very even keeled which is why I am struggling to understand the polar opposite character at school. He has struggled to join in with PE and shows. He was hit and bitten by another child in his first year and is now in a class with half the children from the year above as well. He is the youngest (June) and they are all big characters and some of them hard to handle. He seems to be overwhelmed and runs out of the classroom, crying and being rude when he is told to go back in. This seems to happen when he is told to do something he doesn't think he can do or feels some kind of pressure to complete. He has also hit or run away crying when he perceives that other children are being mean. He is very sensitive to injustice and being aggreived.  Last week this escalated so that he hit a teacher.

We are strict on discipline at home and encourage polite kind behaviour and reprimand rudeness. I reprimand the kids for saying each other is stupid etc and say it is not nice, and then when the other kids do it to him he feels they are being mean. He is very sensitive but he sticks his tongue out and yells "no" when the teachers try to get him back in the classroom. He seems to be out of control of his reaction in that he does not "cleverly" do it when the teacher is not looking, and the punishment seems to be nearly too much from his reaction to it but it does not stop the behaviour next time. The teacher introduced a smiley face chart where several times a day he had the opportunity to get a smiley face. He loved this a revelled in the praise but if he got a sad face he started to be frightened to come out of the classroom at the end of the day to tell me about it. I have never hit or really shouted so he seems very sensitive to peoples' opinions but unable to alter his behaviour accordingly. 

The teachers see him as attention seeking, mischievous, rude and opposing their rules. We (myself, husband, family and all his friends' parents, indeed anyone that spends time with him out of school) would describe him as gentle, funny.  He likes playing young games alone, he is an even keeled easy child, certainly not attention seeking and mischievous.

I have been reading about anger overload and it sounds very like our experiences. I have ordered your 2 books "Your Defiant child" (although he is not defiant in 99% of circumstances, only those that he is told to do something he is nervous about) and "Anger Overload a parent's manual". I was keen to hear your thoughts. I am a pet Behaviourist and have a Psychology degree and find it really hard to believe the behaviour of my child.

Thank you for your time.

Hi,  I think you are on the right track using the smiley faces.  Since your son is sensitive to negative feedback, I would hold off on the sad faces on his chart.  Instead just leave it blank when he is not achieving the goal. Also, think carefully about what to use as the goal.  It should be something that takes some effort but is not too difficult for him to achieve.  Over time, if your son is achieving the goal every day, you can increase the expectations gradually.

The other thought I have is to help him deal with the older, bigger children in his class.  Find out from your son and the teacher some examples of what unnerves him in school.  Maybe you can role play the situation at home; in other words, at home you would practice alternative behaviors that your son could then use at school.  First, say something empathic when you find out he has felt pressured or hurt by his peers.  Then wonder out loud what could he do when this happens so that he wouldn't get in trouble.  If he does not know what to do (most kids this age don't), suggest a few things and then have him pick one to practice with you.

Also, try to arrange a play date with one or two of the boys in his school.  If they become friends then it may help him during the school year to feel less intimidated by other children.  He won't feel all alone.  If he continues to have trouble bonding with some of his peers at school, think about other activities outside of school that might interest your son and that would involve other children his age.  It can help children to feel less "picked on" if they have a buddy they can see later in the day or later in the week.

Regarding the pressure he feels to complete his work, I would recommend his teachers take the pressure off, and have him finish another time or at home.  The pressure sounds like it is counter-productive.  Think about why he is having trouble finishing his work:  are there any learning issues or does it just take him a little longer at this age?  If there are learning issues, like difficulty with reading, then see if the school can work with him on any weaknesses.

My guess is that if he feels less pressure and more supported in school, there will be few outbursts.  Let him know too that being disrespectful to the teacher is not acceptable, and work with the teachers to give him the message about what is acceptable and what is not.  I find that some children do well if they know they can go somewhere in the class or outside the class to "chill" if they feel frustrated.  If the teachers can pick up on his frustration early on (before he is in overload), he is more likely to be able to show self control.  I explain more about this in my parent's manual.

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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