These are complicated acting-out behaviors

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  January 12, 2012 06:00 AM

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My 6 year old is in kindergarten this year for the second time around. She did very well the first time around at a different school, but we took her out and home-schooled her for the second semester because she came home and told me that a teacher made sexual inappropriate comments to her. We spoke with a psychologist and with the county dhr and nothing was done so we started over in a new school this year.

It seems that she is upset because she is in kindergarten again, which I understand and only did this because I didn't want her to be behind. She has had some problems with lying and stealing since she started school and I am just not sure what to do about the situation. I know that moving schools and being taken out of school in the first place was a traumatic event for her, but I didn't know what else to do because the school wasn't willing to do anything...how could I continue to let her attend a school who wasn't willing to keep her safe? The truth is, I don't know for a fact that the teacher said those things to her, but I do know that she didn't learn those things at home and I felt the school should have been more concerned with where it came from, if nothing else. Please help me, this has all been so difficult and I just want her to be happy and healthy and to not have any psychological issues due to this.

From: Amanda, Cedar Bluffs, Alabama

Dear Amanda,

I'm not convinced that repeating kindergarten is the source of her acting out behaviors, Amanda. This is a complicated story and she certainly sounds like an unhappy little girl. One suspicion is that she's looking for attention and has found lots of negative ways to get it.

So let me see if I can get this straight. A teacher made "sexually inappropriate comments" to her but you admit you "don't know for a fact that the teacher said those things to her, [or] if they really happened." You spoke with the school, with a psychologist and with the DHR and "nothing was done." Here's what all this tells me: 1. That a bunch of professionals didn't find fault with the teacher and/or, for reasons unclear, didn't find your child's story credible. 2. Nonetheless, you pulled your child out of the school. I'm not saying that was a wise or unwise thing to do, but one consequence is that it gave your daughter a lot of power. She saw that she her words got lots of reaction from adults. That can actually be scary to a child. At this point, she may not be able to figure out what really happened and what came from her imagination. At this point, it doesn't really matter.

What does matter was that those words came from someplace because they are not part of a young child's vocabulary. You say they didn't come from your home. What about a playmate's home? What about from a playmate? What about from a babysitter? From a relative?

As for the stealing and lying, take them seriously. When you know for a fact that she is stealing, address it head on: "Honey, taking something that doesn't belong to you and not telling the person is called stealing. We need to return these things right away." Give her a choice: "Do you want to return it now, or in the morning?" Be firm but not angry. Do not negotiate with her about what needs to happen. When you go to return it, help her to say, "I took this by mistake and now I want to return in." If she's unable to say that, speak the words for her: "My daughter took this gum without paying for it. Now she knows that was wrong." Then pay for it. Taking her with you to do this is really important. The message you want to send needs to be loud and clear, but calmly expressed: "You have something that isn't yours, you shouldn't have it, and there are consequences for that." There's a chapter in my book on stealing that you might find helpful.

When you think she's lying, don't try to trap her by accusing her of lying. Instead, say, "I'm not sure if you are telling the truth or not. Before you say anything else, I want you to think some more about this. I'm not happy to have a rule broken, but I'm even less happy if someone lies about it. Telling the truth is really important in our family." That sets the stage. She knows your values about truthfulness. When she changes her story and tells you a clearer version of the truth, praise her for it: "I'm glad you didn't lie. I'm proud of you for telling the truth, I know that must have been hard."

I'm not sure how helpful all this is for you. My bottom line is this: if you're seeing these behaviors frequently -- several times in the course of a week -- I suggest seeking professional help to figure out what's going on for her.

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2 comments so far...
  1. I agree with Barbara that the issue does seem to involve more than just the fact that the child is repeating Kindergarten, but at the same time, it's not clear why she's having to do this: was she actually behind after her semester of home-schooling? Did the new school assess her and recommend that she repeat? It seems odd that after doing "very well" at the first school, even if the second semester's homeschooling didn't add much, that she should have to repeat. Usually if there are good reasons for doing it, it's not that hard to get the child to buy into it at that age, if one approaches it positively - especially at a new school, where it's not even a question of the child's friends all moving up without her. Is it's just because Mom though it would be a good thing to do?

    Posted by alien57 January 12, 12 01:58 PM
  1. One question to the LW: when you home schooled your child, why did you then demote her by sending her back to the grade that you claim to have covered?

    If I tell a 5-6YO that they did their grade at home, they will rightfully feel lied to when they are put back to that grade a second time at school Children of this age have a reasonable idea of BIG rights and wrongs. They can't fully articulate the concepts so they act out their frustration and distrust.

    I would guess that counselling the entire family would be necessary to sort this out. The therapist may even be able to clarify the details of reported abuse that started this whole matter. With the publicity about DECADES of child abuse being covered up by a religious system, we should NOT assume that a flat denial from the school is the end of the matter.

    Posted by Irene January 13, 12 11:10 AM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. I agree with Barbara that the issue does seem to involve more than just the fact that the child is repeating Kindergarten, but at the same time, it's not clear why she's having to do this: was she actually behind after her semester of home-schooling? Did the new school assess her and recommend that she repeat? It seems odd that after doing "very well" at the first school, even if the second semester's homeschooling didn't add much, that she should have to repeat. Usually if there are good reasons for doing it, it's not that hard to get the child to buy into it at that age, if one approaches it positively - especially at a new school, where it's not even a question of the child's friends all moving up without her. Is it's just because Mom though it would be a good thing to do?

    Posted by alien57 January 12, 12 01:58 PM
  1. One question to the LW: when you home schooled your child, why did you then demote her by sending her back to the grade that you claim to have covered?

    If I tell a 5-6YO that they did their grade at home, they will rightfully feel lied to when they are put back to that grade a second time at school Children of this age have a reasonable idea of BIG rights and wrongs. They can't fully articulate the concepts so they act out their frustration and distrust.

    I would guess that counselling the entire family would be necessary to sort this out. The therapist may even be able to clarify the details of reported abuse that started this whole matter. With the publicity about DECADES of child abuse being covered up by a religious system, we should NOT assume that a flat denial from the school is the end of the matter.

    Posted by Irene January 13, 12 11:10 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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