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If there was ever a ‘switch off’ button within your reach as a parent, I’m certain you would opt for it in a scenario where you receive that much dreaded phone call or email from your child’s school, reporting undesirable behaviour displayed by your child in the classroom. 

“The letter came from what felt like nowhere. No warning. There had been only one note of disruption in the classroom that we thought had been resolved, and then came an explosive letter,” shared Olwethu Leshabane as she related the experience she went through with her husband Neo Leshabane about being made aware of what was labelled as ‘bad behaviour’ displayed by their son at school.

On today’s #ParentingMonday, we get insights from experts on how the school, teacher and parent relationship should look like, to accurately mirror back what really is causing your child’s ‘troublesome’ behaviour in school as well as steps you can take to address a negative report about your child’s behaviour.

What’s behind the behaviour?

There are numerous reasons why your child may have trouble adjusting to classroom rules or the general aspects of school environment. When you look at the way the schooling system has been historically set up, there’s very little room for children to be individually assessed, and catered to in a way that will help them develop better and not conform to a specific system. 

“To us at home, he was inquisitive, busy, curious and explorative; and we’d channel the behaviour. We have activities such as the jungle gym, home arts, and crafts to keep the kids busy. We didn’t want to define his moments of wanting to push boundaries and explore them as naughty” explains Olwethu.

Highveld Primary School teacher Lucia Mahlako admits that educators tend to have very limited time with the individual pupil, especially being a public school educator where classes are often crowded. “The only positive thing about Covid is that it has forced schools to reduce class numbers, but the greatest con is that children aren’t at school every day and it has impacted on the learning pace”, she indicates.

Responding to the labelling of children as naughty or troublesome, Educational Psychologist, Iona Kotze warns that children have troublesome behaviour, rather than them being troublesome. “There are quite a number of reasons that can contribute to this kind of behaviour at school, namely: 

  • Mental health and emotional difficulties such as anxiety, frustration that is not addressed or channelled, low self-esteem, aggression, difficulties with regards to mood, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, ADHD etc.
  • Social difficulties, such as divorce, violence, stress due to a parent being retrenched, stress due to a parent that works far away from home, or who has to travel frequently because of work, difficulties within the community, exposure to social media, overexposure to technology, bullying at school, etc. 
  • Difficulties within the school itself such as lack of leadership and role models, discipline that is not implemented correctly, lack of services and resources. 
  • Developmental issues such as immaturity, learning barriers, scholastic backlogs, difficulties to cope with the curriculum. 
  •  Temporary stressors such as disruption in routine and structure, for example, the impact of Corona Virus on schooling system, load shedding etc.

The Value of the Parent-School Relationship

“Parents are sometimes surprised to get a call from the principal”, says Dr Mark Potterton, Primary School Principal at Sacred Heart College. “I immediately try to put them at ease, and then outline the problem. Most times I prefer having a face-to-face meeting with the parents to explore solutions with them. Our parents generally work with us to find solutions. Occasionally, you may meet a parent who is very defensive and does not necessarily want to work with you, but that very seldomly happens at our school. In rare instances, we might refer a matter to the social worker or involve a psychologist”, he adds.

Kotze emphasises that the parent-school relationship should complement each other and advises on the following steps to addressing perceived behavioural issues with the school;

  1. Meet with the school; discuss the behaviour and listen objectively to what is being reported, from there, become an investigator by trying to determine if this behaviour only happens at school, or other places.
  2. Act on advice that is given; establish a good relationship with the teachers and communicate with them regularly. Make sure you follow up on referrals to counsellors or educational psychologists, psychiatrists, remedial teachers, speech or occupational therapists.
  3. Discuss the behaviour with your child; help them see the bigger picture, the impact their behaviour has, and discuss ways to resolve them. Do not assume that children will be able to resolve these problems by themselves. Do not threaten your child in order to change their behaviour, for example, suspending sporting activities until behaviour changes – rather address the behaviour, and ways in which the child can improve.
  4. Become more involved with your child; review structures and rules at home – for example, when it’s dinner time, when lights should be out at night, the use of smart devices, etc.
  5. Model appropriate behaviour; for example, conflict and anger management, stress management, goal setting etc. Teach children to reflect on their emotions by interrogating why they feel anxious, why they do not get along with the teacher, and why they feel frustrated in certain lessons.

What do children really need to reach their full potential?

“I’ve learnt that the schooling system is really functioning as a cookie cutter method of teaching and learning. Not all kids learn the same way. Morgan has managed to advance by a grade because he was keen to learn. He wanted more work, more books, more math problems to solve, and that hunger kept him at his desk with much less disturbance from others. In the school he’s in now, he cues the learning. He is able to complete a task and has the choice to go play. I like this because kids learn also through play, and negotiating their way around the playground with others,” says Olwethu. 

According to Kotze, schools should have clear policies on discipline, “they need to communicate these policies clearly, and ensure that they are properly implemented. Schools also need to communicate this to learners and parents. Discipline does not necessarily refer to punishment as such, but involves strategies such as routine, structure, clear consequences if boundaries are overstepped, and fostering positive teacher-learner relationships. A consistent whole school approach to behaviour management should be followed,” she advises. 

She further adds that teachers, staff and principal should be role models. “If they do not present a positive work ethic, it is unlikely that the learners will, if they do not model socially accepted behaviour, it is also unlikely that the learners will. If they do not respect learners, they too will also not show them any respect.”

The idea that learners need to ‘fit in’ the schooling system says a lot about schools having adequate capacity to accommodate an inclusive community. Always remember that children that do not ‘fit in’ don’t need to be fixed, they need to be understood. It may be more helpful to relook at your child’s behaviour as an opportunity to relearn, and understand their true potential.