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Ask Dr. Sears: Disruptive in School

Q  My son is six and is in kindergarten. I am constantly hearing from his teacher that he is friendly and smart, but that he is disruptive. He talks too much, talks too loud, interrupts, and likes to move around the classroom. Is this normal behavior? Is there something more I should be doing to change this behavior? Since he gets his work done and doesn't hurt anyone, maybe I just shouldn't worry. But, I don't like the feeling that someone is thinking, "Wow! You need to control your son."

A Sounds to me like you have a great kid! Many six-year-old boys simply are not yet ready for school structure. They get unfair labels because they can't sit still in circle time. It's a problem that's especially true in a child with the three B's: a bored, bright boy.

As I was reading your question, the thought occurred that the real problem is often with the school system and not the child. Schools expect classroom conformity, where every child sits quietly and attentive and doesn't disrupt the class. The fact is that some children, because of their basic temperament, need more help in conforming to the structure and expectations of the classroom. This is particularly true of these bright boys who, if not challenged, become bored and act out. In fact, if you look into the history of famous people whose temperament and intellectual quirks made this world a better place to live (for example, Edison, Mozart, and Einstein), I think you'll find they had great difficulty settling in school.

School entry can be difficult for boys. Seldom does a week go by that don't hear a worried parent sharing concerns that their son's teacher has raised about behavior. (And a lot of these parents worry about "A.D.D.") In fact, such concerns are so common that I will bring the subject up myself during the routine five-year-old school exam. I tell parents that they should expect their child to gain some sort of label over the next year. You have to get rid of discouraging labels quickly and replace them with encouraging ones. The first two years of school are really your best chance to create a healthy school attitude so that your child loves to learn.

Try these suggestions:

Celebrate his differences. From your description your child is a kind, sensitive, and bright boy. Value these qualities. One of the keys to success is identifying a child's quirks and using them to work to his advantage.

[BLUE_TEXT_BOLD {Frame your child positively. Children expect their parents to look beneath external behavior quirks and value the person inside. When anyone starts tagging your child with negative labels, such as: "disruptive," "draining," or "stubborn," respond with positive ones, such as: "sensitive," "compassionate," and "interesting." Suppose during a school conference the teacher says, "He sure is disruptive and hyper." After acknowledging the teacher's concern, respond, "He sure is curious." Perhaps you can teach the teacher something.

Framing works as a behavior modification technique just like how you would change the appearance of a photo by changing the theme around it. Certain personality quirks or challenging temperaments are tagged with unfair labels. The more the child hears this label, the more he may believe it and actually wear it.

[BLUE_TEXT_BOLD {Match class and child.}] As I mentioned earlier, school issues are often result from a mismatch between child and classroom, rather than a problem within the child itself. Perhaps your child needs to be in a more challenging class or matched with a different teacher. Take a few hours and sit in the classroom to see if the attitudes and style of the teacher are a positive or negative influence on your child. Identify what you see as the problem and give your child some behavior-modifying tools to help him. For instance, you might tell him, "Before immediately blurting out the answer (because you're so smart and excited to immediately tell the teacher your answer), count to five and then give the answer."

Consider home schooling. Keep a diary of your concerns. It could be that time and maturity will work them out, so that your child eases comfortably into a school routine. However, if you see that there's no improvement or the problems are getting worse, it might be that your child isn't yet ready for structured school. He may do better with mom as a teacher. And with you being a stay-at-home mom, who better would be able to spend the time and attention to match the right teaching style with your child's style of learning?}]

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