If your child has had trouble with behavior at school in the past, you may be worried about getting off on the right foot in the new school year. Understood.org and Lynne Kenney, PsyD, pediatric psychologist, are on hand to answer your questions and share tips that can help reduce or avoid those challenging behaviors.

Understanding why their child is acting out can often help families and educators figure out how to help. Can you tell us: What are some of the reasons that kids might have behavior challenges at school?

Skill deficits underlie about 98% of children’s misbehavior

      1. Language challenges
      2. Communication
      3. Misunderstanding
      4. Need for stimulation
      5. Attention
      6. Slow cognitive processing speed
      7. Poor working memory
      8. Sensory overstimulation
      9. Overwhelm
      10. Trauma
      11. Stress
      12. Anxiety

With the new school year starting, how can families make sure their kids get off to a good start with a new teacher?

    1. Establish daily routines around wake-up, self-care, breakfast, snacks, getting off to school, coming home from school, homework, reading, sports, music and bedtime – write it post-it, print it.
    2. Post a family calendar where everyone can see it.
    3. Teach “The Sequence is the Secret”.
    4. Create well-stocked, well-lit, quiet homework centers.
    5. Make agreements re: digital time and real-life interaction time.

Should parents talk to their child’s teacher about any behavior concerns or learning challenges right away or wait to see how their child does in the first few weeks?

    1. Most teachers want to know what your child needs and how your child will best thrive in their classroom.
    2. Generally, we write a one-page bulleted summary and provide it to the teacher.
    3. Be careful not to over-label your student. Do not overwhelm the teacher with extensive history. 
    4. This can be a new beginning focus on what has worked in the past.

When should parents seek professional help for their child who has behavior challenges?

    1. Children’s brains and bodies go through developmental changes this can bring symptoms to the surface. Some behavior changes are a part of this growth and change process. If your child is behaving in a new way that appears to be interfering with any aspect of their daily functioning for two weeks or longer seek the guidance of your pediatrician or health care professional.
    2. Keep notes or a diary of challenges or changes. Under what circumstances do they occur?
    3. Speak with the teacher if the challenge is in school. What time, during which activities or subjects?
    4. Participate in interventions SLP, OT, psych, or tutoring early.

What can families do with their kids to help them get ready for the new school year?

    1. Begin your schools sleep, eat, and exercise pattern two weeks before school begins, the whole family needs to reset their biological clocks.
    2. Visit the school if your child is new to the setting.
    3. Do a practice run having breakfast and getting to school on time.
    4. Help your students develop the language of feelings. What are feelings? How do our feelings provide us messages about what is working and what is not?
      1. Feelings are messengers, we need to listen to them.
      2. Help your students name their feelings.
      3. Help your student identify how they feel about different things.
      4. Help your child monitor their excitement, energy, agitation, anxiety as well as their sense of joy and calm.

We have a lot of parents ask us about how to help their kids who have trouble sitting still, being quiet, or controlling their impulses during school. What are some activities that families can do to help kids learn how to self-regulate?

    1. Self-regulation is about internal energy management. It begins with self-awareness. Help your child monitor their energy. We use colors from blue to red.
    2. Talk about the fact that we all have an engine in our bodies, similar to a car, train or plane. Help your student identify when their engine is revving and when it is calm.
    3. Teach your children the “felt-sense of slowing down” with quick and slow”. This enhances their ability to politely raise their hand, wait their turn at the drinking fountain, refrain from pushing in line and more.
    4. Create energy management strategies. Have them at-the-ready.
      1. Before school play basketball, kick a soccer ball, jump on a trampoline, go for a swim, do whole body exercises at home as a family for 15 minutes together.
      2. In school have weight-bearing rhythmic exercises ready to go to alert and calm the brain. We call ours Think-Ups, we add simple quick and slow 4 count beats to push-ups, wall sits, seated desk work and more.

For children who have special education services through an IEP or 504, how can families work with the school to make sure that their child is getting the right supports and accommodations?

    1. At the beginning of the school year request an IEP or 504 meeting to make sure it is up to date.
    2. Consider to what degree your student’s teacher is on board with the accommodations.
    3. Provide the teacher with that he or she needs to implement the accommodations (head-phones, bouncy bands, flexible seats, stickers)
    4. Keep track of interventions. Do not be intrusive, be observant, organized and helpful.
    5. I think it is so important for all general education teachers to sit in the IEP or 504 meetings. This gives everyone an opportunity to meet in person and express their desires and concerns. It also allows for the parents to ask about partnering with the teacher and school for what they can do to support the school and staff. It is vital the checks are in place as well to make sure the accommodations are working and/if anything needs to be modified, via 4th grade teacher, Ashley Ezell.

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