My seven year old child is good at school but bad at home. What am I doing wrong? (Denise, Bradenton)
Erma Bombeck was a writer and comedian for over forty years. Her titles included, If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, Why am I in the Pits? and, At Wit’s End. Erma claimed she had six children – but we know she actually only has three. She said: “I have my three away from home children – and my three at home children.” So, you are not the only mother to pose this question. Be glad the behavior is not the other way around. You are doing something right. Your child has learned to respect authority and follow the rules in public.
My son would hit the doorway at 3:45pm and have a tantrum on most days. The reports I received from the teachers were not only was he well-behaved, but he was their favorite student. What was I doing wrong?
I was a school counselor, so this was alarming behavior and tore at my self-esteem. I finally realized he did work hard to keep his active little body on task, and when he got home, he was letting out his pent-up energy. He was usually tired and had had a hard time focusing for the long school day. I learned, though, that I had to quickly give him my full attention for about twenty minutes to help with the transition from school to home. I had to make my “yes” be “yes”; and my “no” be “no” because I was too empathetic.
Teachers are consistent. They have a room full of children. The rules are clear and there are consequences if the rules are not followed. Teachers reinforce the behavior they want by verbal and tangible rewards. They ignore bad behavior when they can, and really notice when a child is doing well. They go over the rules often, and all the children are aware of their progress. Most rooms have progress charts or notebooks that keep track of each student’s behavior. Some of my best teachers took the unruliest student and complimented that child every time they did something right. Within the first few weeks of school they had complete control.
Children like to have power and they need you to be the pack leader just like animals need this to survive. Children need to be accountable. Choose one behavior to work on. Maybe it is fighting with their sibling when they get home. When you see them playing nicely for an hour or so verbally let them know how special that is and let them know they will get ten minutes extra time at bedtime. Conversely, they will lose ten minutes. Children hate their bed time altered. Do not single out one child over the other. Reward them both or the good child will get discouraged.
If your child gets rude or surly, be clear what your expectations are for them. If they choose to talk back, they choose to get a consequence. Keep the responsibility on them. It is not mom being responsible for the behavior, it is the child. This can be to sit at the dining room table until the timer goes off. Behavior management is not about punishing; it is about a consequence. If they choose to apologize or choose to control their anger, be sure to praise. You know from this column that I like to use tickets, play money, or tokens, to be used later on in the week for popsicles, game time, McDonalds, or the dollar store. Think puppies. Puppies do not respond to spanking or time out. They respond to praise and treats. If you yell, you will not change the behavior. Stay calm and state the rule and state the consequences. If you have trouble getting them to comply, then they will lose game time or TV time. Remember they choose this by not complying, not you. Follow through or you will undermine all your effort and authority.
I was out of town this week and was walking into a Ross Department Store. A family was coming out and the young school age child was having a huge temper tantrum. It sounded either really fake, or really tired. The tantrum stopped immediately and I wondered why. If the child was tired the tantrum would have kept on, so I knew the father gave in. They walked back in the store and the father said: “You cannot have the big truck, but you can have the little one.” The father just reinforced future tantrums. Make a scene, you get your way. It took all my self-control to not tell the father what he was doing. Children need to learn to delay gratification.
When a child gets angry at home, they can journal their feelings, kick a ball around, or some other exercise. Discuss problem solving ahead of time and remind your child they choose how to manage their feelings. Do not engage in their power play or give attention to bad behavior. Notice the good behavior.