Strategies to Improve Your Child's Behavior at School

Portrait of smiling girl using digital tablet in classroom

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Getting a note or a phone call from a teacher about your child's behavior can be hard for parents. You might feel confused, upset, or embarrassed—all of which are natural reactions.

If your child gets into a fight at recess or says something unkind to another student or the teacher, don't panic. The first step you can take to help your child is to work with school administrators and teachers to determine the underlying cause of your child's behavior. Then, you'll be able to involve them in the process of developing a behavior plan that addresses their needs.

Establish Regular Communication

If your child's misbehavior is an isolated incident, monitor their progress for a few days to make sure it gets better. If your child is getting in trouble at school often, it might be helpful to establish daily communication with their teacher or a school administrator.

Contact your child's teacher to talk about how you can work together to address your child's behavior. This includes discussing how you can monitor your child's behavior on a daily basis. For example, you might create a journal or daily report card that keeps you informed and allows you to address your child's misbehavior quickly.

Teachers often have a preferred method for parent communication. Some teachers will keep a record of colored smiley faces (green, yellow, or red) to track a child's behavior throughout the day while others prefer to write a quick note.

Ask your child's teacher to send home behavior updates every day—not just on the days when your child misbehaves. Kids feel good when they can show you they've done well at school. When they have days that don't go well, you can work together to come up with ways to make the next day better.

Keep in mind that during the 2020-2021 school year, teachers are adjusting to teaching during a pandemic. Instead of making a request of your child's teacher at a time when they are likely overwhelmed, ask how you work together.

Let your child's teacher know you want to support them. Staying flexible will help show them that you are keeping their needs in mind, too.

Reward Desirable Behavior

Establish positive consequences to reinforce the behavior you want to see. Praise your child when you receive favorable reports from teachers. Celebrating these successes will motivate your child to continue working on their behavior.

Don’t expect perfection but do challenge your child to work hard.

To provide more incentive to do well, set daily or weekly goals, and reward your child when they reach them. For example, if your child goes three days in a row without any disciplinary action at school, celebrate by cooking their favorite dinner.

Remember that rewards don’t need to cost money. You can link your child's positive behavior to privileges, such as video game time. Larger rewards on a weekly basis (like a trip to the park) can help keep your child motivated.

Problem-Solve With Your Child

On the days when your child has a hard time managing their behavior, problem-solve with them about how they can do better the next day. Ask your child what happened and tell them you want to help them to do better tomorrow.

Calmly talk with your child and ask for their input about what would be helpful. Using a problem-solving approach can make them more willing to talk about how they feel.

Sometimes, kids can clearly explain the reason for their behavior. For instance, your child might be disrupting class because they're bored. The solution might be asking your child's teacher to provide them with more challenging assignments.

Misbehavior can also stem from not knowing how to do the work. Kids sometimes decide they would rather appear “bad” than “stupid.” They might act out rather than ask for help to avoid being teased by classmates.

Your child might be acting out because of the uncertainty surrounding school during COVID-19. Be patient, as they might have trouble putting these feelings into words.

Let Your Child Express Their Feelings

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), children often won't talk about their concerns because they are confused or don't want to worry their parents. Reassure your child that talking can be helpful, especially if they have questions.

Give your child space to talk about how they are feeling and why—even if their statements don't make sense or their thoughts are jumbled. The important thing is that they are expressing themselves.

Once they are done sharing, reaffirm that it's OK to feel upset, but reassure them that they are safe. You may want to share ideas on how you deal with stress and anxiety. Then, work together to find a solution that fits their needs.

According to NASP, kids become empowered when they feel like they have some control over their lives. Likewise, having a sense of control can reduce fear. Be compassionate about the challenges your child is facing and find ways to give them some control in their lives.

Let your child know that you want to problem-solve with them and ask them to suggest possible solutions.

However, if your child isn’t ready or willing to talk, don’t pressure them. Instead, the next time your child has a day that goes well, ask them what they did, how things went, and help them become more aware of "what worked." This can give you both valuable insight that you can use to encourage them when they have not-so-easy days.

A Word From Verywell

Any child can have behavioral concerns at any time, but attending school during a pandemic certainly comes with unique challenges. Kids will likely have a lot of new things to adjust to, like wearing masks, as will their teachers.

It's important that you reach out to your child's teachers and school administrators to ask what you can do to help. The school psychologist or counselor might also be able to offer new ideas and solutions.

Reaching out to other parents for commiseration and advice can also be helpful, not just in terms of coming up with solutions for your child but to give you support.

If you think your child's behavior could be stemming from an undiagnosed condition like a learning disability or anxiety, make sure to involve their pediatrician.

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  1. National Association of School Psychologists. Helping children cope with changes resulting from COVID-19.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Helping kids cope. Updated July 1, 2020.