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Kindergarten Misbehavior


I found your website because I'm concerned about my 5 1/2 year old son. His teacher says he is a very friendly and sweet child and enthusiastic about being in school, however, this enthusiasm "inhibits his ability to have self-control." On the comment section of his report card, the teacher wrote this:
He needs reminders to keep his hands to himself while working with other students. Ryan is very inconsistent in his efforts to listen in class or follow directions. He continues to ask for directions repeatedly and when he does not follow through, he says "I forgot" or "I didn't hear you."
His hearing and speech have been checked. He does have trouble with pronouncing certain sounds, but has been checked out by the doctor and does not require services.
When my husband and I met with the teacher, she informed us that our son was at the bottom of her class. Basically, everyone else can follow directions, but him.
What concerns me is the fact that she began saying he needed directions repeated multiple times at the beginning of the school year. Now, the school year is half over and he is still having trouble. I think it is frustrating to her. She said she has never seen a child like him.
I am at a loss of what to do, and so is she. She is a first year teacher and has commented that her plate is full and that everyone thinks teachers have it so easy. She is studying for her masters in Instruction and Curriculum.
I assume someone getting a masters in instruction would know how to motivate or encourage a kindergartener to follow directions.
What should I do to help my little guy follow directions in her class?
Thank you, Paula


Dear Paula,

My name is Melanie Miller and I am one of the Positive Discipline Associates that answers questions sent to our website.   I teach Positive Discipline Parenting Classes in my community and have worked as a Grade School Counselor.  I am also the mother of two….one of which is a kindergarten boy! 

It must be difficult to hear your son’s teacher say that he is “at the bottom of the class”.  I imagine your son to be an enthusiastic little boy with lots of energy and excitement for the world around him. Some wonderful characteristics which probably suit him well on the playground, climbing trees or playing with friends, and challenges him at school.  I’m curious how your son does following directions at home?  Does he play well with other children? Is he able to focus on a play activity (legos, drawing pictures, puzzles etc.) for a length of time?  Do other children or adults complain about his misbehavior?  Do you have any home concerns that are similar to the teacher’s concerns?  Does he have siblings that misbehave at home and he has the good behavior? 

In a classroom, it seems that one child always ends up at the “bottom”, just like one child ends up at the top.  Often, energetic little boys wind up at or near the bottom of the class.   Could it be that your son is in a class filled with mild, easy going children?   If he were in a different class would he stand out as much?   Is his day filled with seatwork? Does he have time to move around the class, do hands on projects?  Or, is he mostly sitting at his table putting crayon to paper?  (Sitting for long periods of time with no social interaction to peers can be very challenging to an enthusiastic friendly five/six year old.) Is he liked by his peers?  When he goes to library, PE or Music, do you receive the same reports of not listening?  What was his pre-school experience like?  Did he have these same behavior concerns?    

As your son’s teacher said, teaching is a very difficult job.  First year teachers can be very overwhelmed.  Much of the coursework they have taken is all about instruction and not much about how to build relationships with children and how to guide their misbehavior into constructive contributions to the class.  What teachers are often taught is how to manage and control their students.  Managing and controlling children can have a negative affect and not produce the desired behavior.  There is a good chance that she has tried some typical managing and controlling interventions with your son.  It could be that your son came bounding into kindergarten on the first day ready for an exciting year with new friends.  The teacher may have seen this as misbehavior and something to be stopped if she is to have control of her classroom.  In so doing, she may have reprimanded him.  He may have then repeated the behavior and received another reprimand.  Eventually he may have decided that he just can’t get this behavior thing right so why try.  Or he may have decided that if the teacher is going to see him as the troublemaker, he might as well be the troublemaker, at least she and the other children notice him then.  Children are constantly making decisions about themselves within relationship to others.  What decisions do you think your son is making in regards to himself and his teacher and classmates?

I’ve asked a lot of questions.  I hope you will consider them to get a clear picture of your son and his relationship to his teacher.    Following are a few more thoughts on what might be helpful.

*As a parent, do what you can do to increase your parenting skills.  Whether you are seeing these behaviors at home or not, you might enjoy reading Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen.  If you find that you like the approach and concepts and find them helpful with any misbehavior at home, you can share with the teacher what you are doing at home that is helpful and effective.

* As a parent you have very little control over your son’s behavior at school.  Let the misbehavior stay at school.  Often times, teachers will send home notes and behavior charts asking parents to go over the day’s behavior with the child and provide some kind of consequence.  By participating in this, you’ll be setting up your son for seeing himself as a trouble maker at school and, now at home.  Provide a listening ear when your son has a hard day, ask him if he wants some help finding ways to have better moments at school.  Have faith in your son that he is capable of being a respectful, fun and contributing kindergartner.

*Ask the teacher how you can support her in her day.  Work with her not against her.  Ask if you can volunteer in the classroom, make copies in the copy room, pick up supplies at the store.  A nice hot latte or an encouraging note might be just the thing she needs to get through a challenging day.

*Meet with the School Counselor.  A school counselor can often observe a child in the classroom and report to parents any concerns.  School Counselors can also offer support and interventions to teachers.

I hope this answer is helpful to you.  Thank you so much for your letter.

Best wishes,

Melanie Miller, M.Ed.

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