School can be very stressful for a parent and for a child. This is especially true if your child is having behavior problems or not doing their school work. It can be a vicious cycle: the child is having a hard time at school, the teacher expresses these concerns to the parent, the parent gets frustrated reacting in a punitive or harsh way and the child continues to do poorly.
The first step in breaking the cycle is to take a step back and look at what is going on in your child’s environment. Observe and talk with your child to get to the root of the problem. Situations that can be stressful to a child and reduce their ability to learn can include:
- Changes in routine or lack of a routine
- Inadequate sleep
- Lack of physical activity
- Marital/family conflict
- Parental stress
- Auto accidents
- Lack of financial resource
- Death of a loved one
- Death of a pet
- Birth of a sibling
- Moving to a new house/school
Next, a child needs to feel safe, secure, and loved. You can do this by establishing and maintaining routines, children function best when their life is predictable. Children are also more likely to feel secure when given choices; it helps them feel like they have some sense of control over their environment. Setting clear firm limits with an empathetic response rather then punitive consequences is also another way of helping children feel your love and security.
You are the expert on your child, talk with their teacher and school about what your child needs and follow up to make sure they have implemented the needed changes. It is important to work as a team in meeting the needs of your child. Children need predictability and empathy in school just as they need in the home. It might also be beneficial for the teacher to identify another adult that your child can seek help from if their own teacher is not available.
I knew a mom who was getting daily calls from the school requesting that she pick up her child for not following the rules. After looking at her child’s environment and determining possible causes to these behaviors, mom lovingly showed understanding and was better able to respond in a consistent and empathetic way. She made sure they followed a routine at home and she responded to the behaviors the same way every time. She helped the school understand her child and worked with the teacher to make a special predictable routine for her child in the classroom. When the child started to feel a little anxious or out of control the school identified an adult the child could go to when the teacher was unavailable. Once these changes were made the phone calls eventually stopped and the child was better able to stay in the class room and learn.
Tara Griggs, LMSW, is a Child and Family Therapist who offers in-home family counseling in Avondale, Glendale, Peoria, and Phoenix Arizona. Tara helps families dramatically improve their relationships with each other. Whether your child has ADHD, was adopted, or is just downright defiant and disrespectful, Tara can help parents create a plan to help their child that goes far beyond behavior modification. (Click to See Full Profile).