Have Mental Health Questions? Ask a Psychiatrist Online
Welcome, I'm a professional counselor and behavioral-consultant. I'd like to chat with you for a few moments to better understand your question.
Thank you. I've worked as a school board wide behavioral consultant and as residential treatment program designer and psychotherapist for kids. So I'm hoping I might be able to provide a strong practical answer...
But I need to get a much clearer picture of the problem...
1. How long has there been a problem at school for? When did it start?
2. How has your son done academically over the last couple of years?
It has been going on since the start of this school year. I moved both of my kids from another school and as far as I know there were no problems like this at the other school.
He is advanced in almost every subject in school but does not like to do the work
3. What % of the time over a typical school day, has your son been having these problem behaviors?
As far as I know it is every day. Some days are better than others, usually when he knows he will get to do something special. But it seems like the teachers are always calling me or scheduling meetings to discuss his behavior
When you say counselors what do you mean? Are there school counselors working with your son right now?
There is one psychologist that I am aware of that has been observing him in class
Have you had any report from the psychologist yet?
He has been in a couple of the meetings, but nothing as far as a report has been written, just feedback on the behavior he has been seeing.
No one seems to know why he is acting the way he is
Thank you for the info so far....
What stands out for me at this point is that his behavior stabilizes when he is looking forward to a "special" activity or reward, and that he has performed strongly in his school work up until this year....
How is he doing right now with his marks or grades?
He is in an accelerated math class, reads at 4th grade level, is in the 99th percentile for writing
The teachers always stress about how extremely smart he is
Well I have 2 suggestions:
1) Make sure to get to your family doctor to rule out or address any possible underling medical issues. I've seen behavioral issues resolve when problems related to diet or environmental sensitivity have been addressed....
2) I think that very precise "behavioral" observation will be incredibly helpful here. I'm not sure of the psychologists "orientation" but hopefully it's behavioral.........
Ideally teachers would use fast, simple classroom - ABC data collection sheets to really get a sense of what is most commonly triggering the behavior and what consequences are maintaining it or keeping it going. 1 week of simple observation and data collection would give everyone involved a much clear picture of what's going on....
For example, in those minutes or hours that things are going well, what specific people, places and/or activities are most likely to support the good behavior?
When the bad behaviors happen....
what sets them off? For example, very subtle peer ques can trigger and maintain problem behaviors. Teasing or bullying may be an issue and that can often happen under the radar of adult supervision......
Setting up a really simple data collection/observation process will often get teachers to really pay attention to details they may usually miss. It can also get them actively thinking about the causes of the behavior and strategies for helping to support positive change.....
If there is some medical or more serious behavioral or developmental issue, precise ABC data collection and related positive behavioral intervention strategies, would certainly help by providing evidence that proven environmental interventions have failed. What are your thoughts?
I feel that he is being singled out and that the other children's behaviors toward him are not being recorded. I have been told by the teachers that I should take him to his doctor and maybe have him evaluated. But why would this behavior only happen at school and not at home where I can actually agree and understand what they are saying about my son? I have asked him if some of the kids were being mean, or teachers but he says no
The fact that it's happening at school and not at home is actually a good thing, in terms of a possible formal diagnosis of say a disruptive behavior disorder.....
Many teachers are just very busy, and if there was a problem with teasing or bullying, like I said, it can get very subtle, they call it "stealthy' behavior. A very smart and sensitive child may feel embarrassed to report a problem. At other times it can be that the problem or problems are to subtle for the child to grasp.....
It's very common for teachers to single kids out the way you describe, when there is a behavior problem like you've outlined. They get frustrated because they are so busy, and they can often get locked into a coercive-exchange pattern with the child, if he or she has already been triggered.....
What I've always found to be helpful is 1) to help teachers focus on the possible solutions; 2) provide teachers with tools that are simple and fast to use (because they are already so busy) and that get them more focused on what really counts behaviorally.
For example, you could tell the teacher you agree and you've actually consulted with an experienced clinical behavior consultant (me) based on her own suggestion. You could mention that my suggestion was to do the ABC data collection to really clearly define the problem to 1) Help by providing "data" to any medical or specialist assessment and; 2) to actually tailor a positive behavioral support strategy to effectively support your son's positive behavior change....
I've found it to be incredibly helpful with even the most negative, resistant teachers to empower them with the right tools. They usually start to see what's really going on and to make changes in their own behavior that are then reinforced by the child's positive behavior change....
Let me get you some links while you consider your response to what I've typed so far. Back in a few moments...
So, should I make an appointment with his doctor and have him medically evaluated before I approach his teacher with the request of another meeting? If so, do I just need to tell them what the teachers are saying he doing in school? Will they know the necessary tests to perform?
What other questions should I ask my son? How do I get him to actually open up to me and be honest about what is actually causing his behavior in school?
Actually, I would recommend that you see if you can work with the teacher to get more reliable information about what may be causing or triggering the behavior problems the teacher is describing. The goal here would be to work with the teacher make some simple, proven changes that often make a world of difference.
I say this because I've seen so many problem behaviors resolve through this kind of simple intervention.
If a simple, proven behavioral approach fails, then there may be a more serious problem.
For example, if there are no identifiable triggers in the classroom, then a few days of subtle recess observation might shed light on triggers...
As far as talking to your son goes.....
It depends on what the actual problem is. If it's teasing or bullying, than what I've found really helpful is to spend some really quality time together and maybe read one of the great age appropriate bully awareness books with him. Having a child read an enjoyable book with you on the topic can really get some deeper thinking and focus going on in that area. You might even consider bully-proofing to not only get the conversation going but to actually teach some protective skills.
Would going back and forth between me and his dad (we are divorced, been for 2 years) be causing any of these behavioral issues? Should I ask my son if me and his dad not living together is causing him distress? Should I even try asking him what goes on at his dad's house when he is there? If his dad is doing something to make him sad or upset? Would that be appropriate?
He is in karate, has been for 2 years
Here's some great "bully proofing" resources from a world expert: http://www.micheleborba.com/Pages/ArtBMI03.htm
Yes, divorce can be a major stressor for kids and can impact school behavior. Kids are incredibly in tune with the emotional connection or emotional distress patterns between their parents....
In my experience working with families, it's always best to insure that parents are on the same page as co-parents, more so than placing any parenting type responsibilities on the child. You also mentioned that these behavior problems are school specific, they don't happen at home with you. That is usually strongly suggestive of environment specific (i.e. at school) triggers and behavior support/change needs for the child. You haven't indicated if there is a change in school behavior while at dad's vs when your son is with you.
Here's what I mean by co-parenting: http://www.singleparentstown.com/blog/2011/03/22/michele/7-key-strategies-to-co-parenting-with-your-ex/
I'm not sure other than asking the teacher if there are specific days when he is having the most difficulty. That might be an avenue
It can't hurt to ask about how things are going at dad's and what activities they do etc, but I'd avoid imposing any kind of adult observation role etc.
Again, If the teacher did 2 weeks of basic ABC observation/data collection, (I say 2 weeks now given the new insight around co-parenting) you would get a very clear picture of any differences in behavior. You wouldn't even have to mention the mom dad thing.
Effective co-parenting is also about setting up a very similar schedule in both homes. It's normal for many kids to get out whack schedule wise if they are eating and going to bed at different times etc.
And of course it's always best to minimize TV/electronics in the 2 hours before bed when ever possible, as part of that routine.
My kids say that they are always making their own breakfast because dad won't get up early and do it. I'm pretty sure that they don't go to bed the same time as at my house. My son had problems with a movie he watched at his dad's house, I tried talking to my son about it, I think it got better but I'm not sure if that is still an issue. I did discuss it with his dad.
So we should just get together and make a schedule for them to follow at his house as well as mine and just monitor it?
Well, just like with some teachers and getting them to pay attention to the real sources of behavior problems, it can be very helpful to read a really good book or 2 on effective co-parenting with your ex. That way you are really on the same page about things like setting up similar routines and effectively target communicating around behavioral and other issues.
Here are some examples of co-parenting books that may be very helpful: http://www.amazon.ca/Co-Parenting-Survival-Guide-Conflict-Difficult/dp/1572242450
If you scroll down you'll see some neat suggestions for books that can help kids cope too.
on that amazon link.
Ok, am I able to save everything we talked about? I would like to print up the entire discussion to read over and maybe go over with the ex and the teachers
Yes. Once you press the green "Accept" button you will be able to save the chat exchange directly or e-mail a copy to yourself.
Have I answered your question(s) ok today?
You were a big help. I now have some suggestions to bring up to the teachers that maybe they didn't consider.
Ok thank you. Well, I wish you and your son the very best. Take care!