There is no doubt that one of the most difficult conversations you may ever encounter as a parent occurs when the Principal calls your home to discuss the behavior of your child in class today. “This is the third time this week that Seth was disruptive. Is he off his ADHD medication, perhaps?”
It’s tough to realize that your child, your baby, has been labeled as a Behavior Problem at school. You may naturally blame yourself or look for others to blame before making the connection that the school your child is attending may not be the best fit for him or her after all.
We must initially acknowledge that our American school system is only equipped to handle the mainstream population, meaning that any student who is an outlier from that average fails to have his or her needs completely met by the system itself.
I see this often in my line of work. Children who have I.E.P.’s (Individualized Educational Programs) and B.I.P.’s (Behavior Intervention Plans) a mile-long may really be suffering from lack of structure and accommodation at the school they are attending. Any teacher will tell you that out of a class of 27 there will be at least five students who come with an IEP. It’s unlikely they can solely cater to this student’s exact needs without a shadow or teacher’s assistant to alleviate the stress and time constraints of getting through the lesson, assigning homework, reviewing for the quiz, and answering 27 different questions in 48 minutes or less. They will also tell you those students with extra needs may slip through the cracks while no one is watching. It’s a slippery slope from being labeled as “disruptive” to being suspended indefinitely. I’ve seen it happen, usually to very bright but non-conformist kids.
So what can you do about this?
My first recommendation is to fight back, nicely of course. If your child is being labeled as a Behavior Problem it is your job as the parent to be your child’s advocate by getting involved, which gets the attention of the school. To do so you can attend PTA meetings, parent/teacher/principal meetings, allow your child to undergo psychological testing to rule out or define true learning or behavioral issues, ask for classroom accommodations such as sensory supports, and hire a shadow or tutor to help your child identify what he or she may be doing that is perceived as disruptive. Lesson of the Day: Be on the side of the school without being on the side of the school.
My second recommendation is to look inward: Are you providing the appropriate structure and accommodations in your home environment? This is always a delicate issue to bring up but a necessary one if you want to get to the bottom of your child’s behavior issues. Chances are if there is little to no structure in place at home and your child doesn’t respect you (the authority figure and his or her model for appropriate behavior) then it is likely your child doesn’t respond well to structure and authority figures at school. This may be the root of the issue. It takes a bigger parent to admit that they are part of the problem, but the good news is that you can also be part of the solution. Start by making structure a priority in your home: open up the family forum to set a weekday schedule in place (see my example here). Then, stick to it! Follow-through teaches your family perseverance and the ability to take action on a plan. If you need help with initially instilling structure in your home call upon a professional Family Coach. Their job is to create, implement, and facilitate positive discipline and structure that naturally gives way to positive changes. (Read more about Family Coaching here) Remember, it takes 21 days to form a habit and only three to break it so make it a priority to stick with the plan once it’s in place. If you do, you’ll see noticeable differences in just a few short weeks.
My final recommendation is to research other schools that may appropriately accommodate the behavior challenges that your child exhibits outlined in their IEP or BIP. There are a ton of wonderful private schools out there that may seem unreachable from where you stand but let me assure you that the right school can provide the right education, both mentally and emotionally, for your child. We all know that the right education, only second to the positive foundation provided at home, makes all the difference moving forward in school and, perhaps, in life. I implore you to do your homework and research the best fit for your child; it could make all the difference. If you’re in Los Angeles, contact Stacey at SchoolShopLA.com. As an expert in education Stacey’s mission is to, “Help families choose the perfect school that fits for their child… [and] help lead the way in picking an environment that will make a difference in your child and family’s life”.
These are difficult changes and realizations to make but I ask that you take a hard look at the particular situation you’re in, being as objective as possible. If your child has been unfairly labeled as disruptive then it is your job to get to the root of the issue by openly communicating solutions with your child and your child’s educators. If your child really is struggling with a behavior challenge then acknowledge the need and provide the best care possible by making appropriate accommodations, reaching out for help, and fighting for your child’s ability to learn in a conducive, stimulating environment. Most importantly, whatever you do don’t give in or give up. Education is too important to have your child sitting on the sidelines or in the Principal’s office day in and day out.
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