NORMAN — Q: Our son started full-day kindergarten in September. For the first three months he had no problem with his behavior at school, but for the past few weeks he has gotten in trouble for talking, not listening, and he spit at a child at school today. Taking away privileges hasn’t made a difference in his behavior. He was always such a well-behaved child so we are at our wits end as far as what to do. Any suggestions for punishment would be greatly appreciated.
A: Sometimes punishment is the answer for a classroom behavior problem; sometimes it isn’t. In this case, I am reluctant to recommend punishment (but I’ll go ahead and describe an approach that may work) because your son’s problems began rather suddenly after three initial months of good behavior. That’s certainly puzzling. It suggests that something happened — and is still happening — at school to cause this sea change in your son’s attitude. That intuition is strengthened by the fact that he’s never been a discipline problem.
Is the teacher young or inexperienced? Did some incident occur — an embarrassing one perhaps — in class on the playground that might have caused the other children to change their attitude toward your son? Is he being teased by his classmates? Did his best classroom friend suddenly decide to abandon him in favor of some other child? You first need to do a certain amount of detective work in order to determine if such an incident did occur. The fact that taking privileges away hasn’t worked to set your son back on the right path leads me to think there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Sometimes a seemingly small event can rapidly cascade into a major problem. If so, then it may be that things have gone downhill to the point where a change of teacher, even a change of school, is called for — a fresh start, in other words.