If you’re a parent of a child struggling with inappropriate behavior at school, you might find yourself answering this question at an SST or IEP Meeting: Does your child’s behavior impede his/her ability to learn in the classroom?
If you answered yes, then know that you’re not alone. As a Wraparound Support Provider, I hear this all too familiar story from parents just like yourself:
It started with little things, like not paying attention to the teacher, failing to turn in homework, or talking when he’s not supposed to, but it soon escalated to an alternation with another student, maybe a former friend, on the playground or in the lunchroom and now the school is talking suspension. Phone calls from the school increased from once a week to twice and now it’s nearly every day. And every day it’s a struggle to understand why this is happening.
You know your child is smart, knows the rules of school and although may have had a little academic or behavior issue in the past, it has never been something to worry about. But now, you find yourself worrying about his future and wondering ‘why?’
The Behavior May Be Hiding the Learning Difference
When trying to uncover the reason behind a behavior difficulty at school, we must focus on the root cause. It is imperative that we refrain from putting too much stake on the surface behavior. Yes, the behavior is causing daily problems, but it is likely hiding something more serious. The only way to uncover the real issue is to take a thorough look at all areas of your child’s life: (1) Home Environment; (2) School Environment; (3) Individual Needs
What’s Going on at Home?
Family dynamic changes can be difficult transitions for kids of all ages. The first question to ask: What changes have occurred at home?
Was there a change to the structure of the family, parenting style, or the way the home is run? If so, we have to look closely at these changes, no matter how minute, because they are part of the bigger picture.
Let’s make sure not to play the blame game.
Parents cannot blame the school alone for their child’s behavior and the school cannot blame the parents only for their student’s difficulties. Really, no one should be blaming anybody but it often feels that way, doesn’t it.
We need to change that.
Looking at what changes have occurred in a child’s home environment is one part of the mystery. As parents, you must do your due diligence and answer that question honestly, keeping an open mind.
What’s Going on at School?
The second question to ask: What’s happening during school that perpetuates the inappropriate behavior?
Maybe the new teacher is not your child’s favorite this year or maybe there’s another kid that’s picking on your kid.
School is just as much about social preservation as it is about academic prowess.
When delving deeply into the school day, we want to be mindful to look at social struggles as well as academic ones. If your child is facing a problem with one of his friends, that could be the precipice for the behavior. Even it is seems minor, it may be a major source of strain for your child.
It’s hard to remember that kids are just that — kids. We’re adults now and can handle more stressors and triggers, but our kids have yet to go through the ups and downs of life that we have. So when faced with what presents as a minor social hiccup, perhaps they aren’t as prepared as we’d like them to be because they haven’t yet had to deal with that particular situation.
A child who’s acting out in class may be masking a more serious learning difficulty.
We have to also look at the academic needs of the student. Oftentimes, the behavior is masking a more serious issue, like a learning difference.
This is a hard one because it’s not a quick fix and may very well be something the student must learn to navigate through not only in school but in life. And that’s okay.
We’ve come a long way in the way we think about learning disabilities, disorders and differences. We know that there is no one right way to learn and that standardized testing does not tell the whole story nor determine success in life. It’s still important, however, to acknowledge that there is a learning difference so that the school can put appropriate accommodations and modifications in place.
What’s Going on Internally?
Getting to the root cause of a behavior need, may uncover a learning difference, but we’ll only really have concrete evidence of that if your child is evaluated for one.
A Psychological Educational Evaluation (often called a Psycho-Ed Assessment/Eval) is conducted by the School Psychologist at the request of the parent. It is also the start of the I.E.P. process.
I recently had a parent tell me that requesting testing was initially a scary process because she didn’t know what the evaluation would reveal. By choosing to look at it as a general check-up, however, it lessened the worry and put things in perspective. If a learning difference is found and her child is able to get services through the school, then that is one more piece of the puzzle solved.
Collaboration is Key to Bridging the Gap Between Home & School
Teachers, Parents, Providers want the same thing: to solve the puzzle. We can’t do that, however, by piecemealing the process. We have to collaborate. We must look beyond the outward behaviors to the core issues, working together to understand what’s happening at home in conjunction with what’s happening in the classroom.
To label a child a “Behavior Problem” is the equivalent of just looking at someone’s outward appearance and deciding their whole story. It’s unfair of us to do so. We won’t know the whole story until we uncover the root issue. It takes time, money, patience, and expertise. Once completed, however, we have a clearer picture of what’s really going on.
If your child is in need of behavior support or you want to find out more about services available for behavior needs, click on TerryTutors.com for more information.
Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”