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Kindergarten Behavior Help!

by Brandon
(Louisville KY)

My name is Brandon, I am 26. I am a single Dad with joint custody. My son is 5 - he is my only child, but she has other children.

He and started Kindergarten this year. Since then he has had accidents in his pants, talked during class and had notes sent home for behavior issues. I pick him up Fridays and he stays overnight so naturally I only can discipline or talk to him about the day I have him.

I did have him on Wednesdays before but his Mom asked if we could switch the times for him to get used to the school schedule which I agreed to with the knowing we would switch it back later.

Now she tells me he's had another note and the Principle called. She scheduled a meeting this week. I just want to know what to ask and what possibilities he has to keep from getting into more trouble and not be kicked out.

Comments for Kindergarten Behavior Help!

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Helping A Five Year Old Adjust To Kindergarten
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Brandon,
It is always hard as parents when our kids seem to be playing up and in particular when we get feedback from Kindergarten most parents tend to think they have the worst kid ever!

Firstly - The Kindergarten has a duty of care to let you know about anything that is happening with your son whilst in their care. But in terms of dealing with the behaviour, they have to deal with it AT THE TIME - and I am sure they will have strategies to intervene.

Don't Double Punish

One of the biggest mistakes parents make after hearing from school, is to double punish - and in your case maybe even triple punish since your son is living in two homes. You may not be actually giving him punishments, but by telling him off when he gets home - and maybe again when he sees you or his Mom, then the issue becomes even bigger. He will already be feeling bad enough!

He is only five years old. I am saddened that schools are so strict on a five year old, having to sit quietly in class all the time. The fact that he is having accidents - wetting or soiling his pants shows to me he is distressed and not
comfortable or confident enough to listen to his body.

Socialization Important

A large part of early education is socialization - learning to get along with other children, learning to co-operate and learning to comply. Sadly schools emphasise compliance as being the most valued trait and children that are not so happy conforming find it terribly frustrating and confusing.

You haven't given any details about the kind of behavior they are complaining about, and of course it is distressing to get notes from school. You also did not say how long you have been apart from his mother, so there also may well be some issues about that too. Of course the more you can work together to co-parent, the less conflict and confusion for your son.

Never-the-less, starting school is a major event for a little boy, and having to adjust and cope can be really tough. When kids are struggling, they act up, so he needs more support and positive input to help him learn.

Punishments, disclipline and disaproval don't really do much to help kids grow the neural pathways they need to behave differently. Kids just react without thinking. Thinking FIRST before reacting and behaving inappropriately is quite a sophisticated brain function, one that many adults don't master!

Part Two Follows . . . .

Helping A Five Year Old Adjust To Kindergarten - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

How To Deal With The Principal

So how do you deal with school? Don't be defensive, but ask them what they are doing to help him learn better strategies for succeeding in school. Ask them what they see as the issues and how you can help. If they suggest extended
punishments at home, and lecturing him, personally I would be inclined to look for a new school!

More than likely though, they will be looking to work together with you to help him adjust and cope better. If there is conflict between you and his Mom, then that is something you have to put aside to help him. He will be simply acting out any conflict or confusion he is feeling around your relationship. If the relationship is pretty
amicable, then work out strategies together for helping him to feel better about himself, and to be able to talk to either of you about how he feels about school.

Kids Need Neutral Opportunities To Talk & Explore How They Feel

Often when kids misbehave they get a lecture about how they have to be good at school, they are not allowed to do this that or the other, they are told off for pushing or hurting someone else, and at no point is there space for him to be able to say how he feels or what is going on.

He needs neutral time to be able to talk about school without feeling defensive or that he is in the hotseat. So a barrage of questions after a note comes home is not going to be a time when he feels supported and that you are there for him.
More than likely he will be feeling bad because he got into trouble at school, he will be feeling defensive because you are all going to be disapproving of him, and he may not even know why he acts up. Consciously knowing why we behave or react in certain ways is a more advanced rational brain function.

But he may know he gets mad when the other kids leave him out of a game - or he may know he gets anxious when having to sit still, he might be really excited to see his friends and just wants to talk to them, and can't see any good reason why he is not allowed to. Kids tend to head to what feels good, chatting to friends is fun, siting still and listening to a teacher is not fun.

Kinesthetic Learners Need To Move

He may also be a kinesthetic learner. These kinds of kids need to move, wriggle and physically do things to learn. Schools tend to require kids to sit still and pay attention to learn, and that does not suit a great many of us. If he is a very active child, loves physical things, jumps and
wriggles when talking, he may well be doing exactly what his brain requires to learn. Sadly schools don't cope very well with these kinds of kids - a teacher has way too many kids in a classroom to cope with half of them jumping around.

Part Three Follows . . .

Helping A Five Year Old Adjust To Kindergarten - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Learning to adapt and conform is a big part of socialization - our society does need us to fit in, but often this is out of balance with our natural style of being, our creativity and our being able to be in tune with our own needs. So our individuality gets squashed.

So, given that you may well not have much choice about his schooling, you need to be proactive about helping him to take care of his needs outside of school. He needs LOTS of positive affirmation and lots of opportunities to attempt
tasks that are a challenge.

High Energy Physical Games With Dad

He probably needs lots of physical activities, and that is where Dad's can be wonderful - Moms often are not so comfortable roughhousing, and playing physical chasing games etc.

Having physical challenges, and lots of body contact is a great thing for him, but also learning to have some quiet time when he gets too hyped up is a great way for him to learn control. So play mad chasing tickling games for 5 minutes or so, then play statues or Simon Says. Then go back to the crazy out of control games, then freeze again. Kids learn through play, and helping him learn control in a fun way is far more effective than punishment for something he did at school yesterday.

Create Space For Him To Reflect And Share Without Lectures And Judgements

If he comes home with a note from school - don't be disapproving, just try to stay neutral, and ask him open questions that give him space to share how he feels:

"Did you have a hard time at school today?"
"Let's sit down with some afternoon tea"
Instead of how was your day? (ok), or what did you do at school today? (nothing!) - ask things like, "what was the best thing that happened today?" "What was the worst thing that happened today?" - not just at school, he might have had a fight at home with an elder brother just before he left, so got to school in a bad mood.

Tell him stories about how you were as a little boy particularly with a solution built in it, or how you overcame similar challenges. So it is not directly aimed at him doing stuff wrong, but he can learn from your stories, and also feel like
you understand how hard it can be:

"When I was a little boy, I remember being really scared when I first started school. There was so much I was worried about; when I could eat lunch, remembering where the toilet was, and finding out I had to ask to go to the toilet instead of just being able to run to the bathroom like I was used to."

"I used to love seeing all my friends at school, but I had a hard time sitting quietly in class, the teacher was always telling me off! After a while I figured out that it was much more fun if I played really hard in the recess times, and then I took a deep breath when I came into the class room so I could listen to the teacher more. Then she was much nicer to me if I was not talking and giggling."

Part Four Follows . . .

Helping A Five Year Old Adjust To Kindergarten - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Socializing With Other Kids

If he is not socializing well, then have kids over to play, give him lots of other social activities where he can learn to get along and have fun without being so restricted with school rules.

Playing games like I mentioned above, when he has friends over, is the perfect way to learn to get along, and to learn control.

(And you will be the best Dad out - all his friends will want to come and play at your house!)

Is He Sleep Deprived?

There are also other physical factors that can contribute to a child not coping well at school. Sleep is a big one - many kids are sleep deprived, they are woken up instead of waking naturally, and they stay up way too late at night watching action or violent TV or playing computer games.

What happens the night before has a huge impact on how a child copes at school the next day. You likely don't have much control over that, but if you can work together with his Mom to talk about bed time routines and the amount of TV he sees, that can have a big impact on how he copes the next day.

Food Has A HUGE Impact On Behavior

Diet is another major factor. Children that have lots of sugar - sodas, cookies, sweets and ice-cream etc will have lots of spikes in their energy. They sleep poorly, so are chronically tired, and behave explosively. Keep sugary foods
for occasional treats, not as a daily diet. Most processed foods have high levels of sugar and salt, so keep to simple fresh foods as much as you can. Lots of protein, fruit and veges and whole grain bread rather than white bread is much better to help a growing child concentrate.

So bottom line is, you do need to know what is going on at school, but it is not up to you guys to discipline him all over again for things that happen there - that is their job.

But you can help him a lot by giving him positive experiences that help him to express how he feels - and you can then deal with any issues that come up for him. Learn more control though play and social experiences, and managing physical things like sleep and diet.

Sounds like you are a wonderful Dad, and having one on one time with you away from other siblings is a very special time together. Enjoy him and have lots of fun with him, he will learn more that way, and you guys will develop a very powerful bond.

Feel free to report back via the comment link below, I'd love to hear how your visit with the principal goes and what they recommend.

All the best,
Annie Desantis :)

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