BehaviorBandAid.com Q&A

                                       

Day one: Physically forced my 1st grader into the classroom, gave a quick hug and left. That evening, boy yells and screams for an hour before completing his homework. Day two: Used threats to get my son into the classroom where his teacher tells me that he refused to do any work during the day prior. I agreed that he’s a tough one, gave him a quick kiss and left while he tugged at my shirt. I haven’t gotten over the stress of the morning and I’m already anxious about tonight. Any advice?

I really like this question because I think it speaks very loudly about the feelings felt by so many parents and the predicaments within which so many parents find themselves during the school year.  Here are my comments…

Back to the old routine-

There is a lot to be said about getting back in the flow of things when it comes to school.  The drop-off, the new teacher, maybe the new school, more homework, etc.  At the beginning of the school year, I think it is a great opportunity to create boundaries, rules and a positive atmosphere around all things school.  

Boundaries:

I appreciate the “quick hug” and leaving as quickly.  I know this is hard.  I recently read an article rerferring to separation anxiety that, despite the title, should give some reference to why it is O.K. to make the separation brief and not get into the habit of reinforcing the crying or tantrum by staying with your child longer.  Especially for first time parents, the kids will generally get over it quicker than you.  No worries…you are doing the right thing.  Hopefully in the time since the question was initially sent to me, the “quick drop-off” has continued and has gotten easier.

I would not recommend threats to get your child into the classroom.  You might run the risk of amping up the “anxiety” of the moment or could create the classroom as a not-fun place.  At this point, the classroom needs to be a fun, positive place with as little stress or pressure as possible.

Rules:

There are several rules and procedures involved with school and they differ a bit depending on the age/grade of your child.  At home, procedures include what kids can do when they get home from school, what they have access to (games, TV, outside time, etc.), when homework starts, when homework time ends, when electronics are to be off, when bathtime is, and when bedtime is.  I recommend kids having access to the preferred things after homework time and chore time (if applicable).  Access to those things is determined by successful completion of homework (as defined at the outset of the homework time period).  I also suggest setting a beginning time and ending time for homework to be completed.  This prevents the all-night arguments about getting to homework, etc.  Ultimately, homework is either going to get done or not and is rarely ever worth hours of arguing and debating.  If they get the homework done within the time period, they get access to the preferred stuff.  If they don’t, they can choose to continue or choose to move on.  Obviously, access to the preferred things is not granted for these nights.  Read more about this topic from a previous post.

Don’t engage with the arguing at homework time.  It is usually done to get more help or to suck the parent into doing it with/for them.  Not worth it.  Help up front, at the beginning, even do the first one with them, but then set the boundary, let them know what they need to do to be “done” and then don’t come back until then except to praise for independent work and effort.  Don’t allow your child to access more help (less effort on their part) by arguing, whining and complaining.  Let the access to preferred activities be the source of power (e.g., “as soon as you get that done, you can have your iPod and Wii”).  Don’t force it.  It will ruin your night and nothing good will come of it (even if you finally forced him to complete the spelling words for the night).  Remember, this is about long-term.

Overall, a lot of our anxiety and stress as parents comes from not knowing what to expect and not knowing what we would do if something happened.  More often than not, the scenarios are fairly predictable.  Reduce your stress and anxiety by making as many of these decisions ahead of time as possible.  

Create a positive atmosphere:

So much of school-related behavior is based on avoidance of bad things: staying out of the principals office, not getting a call home, not getting a bad home note, and not getting a failing grade.  There is a difference between the motivation to attain and A and the motivation to avoid the F.  See the previous post about “doing just enough not to get fired” for more explanation.  

As for parents, I recommend trying to create as much of a positive atmosphere around school as possible.  Sure, we are all freaked out from time to time about how our children are going to behave at school (trust me, there is pressure for the child of a behavior analyst to behave…pressure for ol’ dad).  Our goal is to avoid putting that pressure on the kid with “you better not, or else” threats or threats of punitive things that will happen if “mommy gets a call from the teacher.”  There are simply better, more effective and more frequent opportunities to reinforce appropriate behavior with positive strategies than to have the fear of possible punishment (that you probably have not figured out yet anyway) control their behavior.  

Focus on what behaviors you want your kid to display at school, not on the “not-to-do” behaviors.  Tell the teacher you are looking for those appropriate behaviors.  Practice them with your kid.  Let him in on the conversation with the teacher (as long as you keep this strictly positive and not “call me if he acts up again”).  Create a reminder note the teacher can refer to throughout the day.  It is so much more powerful for the teacher to remind and reinforce the student with positive calls home, positive notes, frequent and specific praise than threats that are usually only threats.  The bad days will be bad enough…it is often difficult to effectively punish bad school behavior at home (without ruining the night at home and having little effect on the next school day).  Don’t get me wrong, home should not be fun when they get home, but it doesn’t have to be torture.

I hope this helps.

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