Child Acting Out in School: What to Do | Empowering Parents (2022)

Every parent of an acting-out child knows that once your kid has a reputation for being a troublemaker at school, it’s very difficult to undo that label. That’s because your child becomes the label. When the teacher looks at your child, the teacher often just sees a troublemaker.

Sadly, it’s hard to change that image because even when your child tries harder, the label is reinforced when they slip up.

And then they’re really in trouble, because not only are they still a troublemaker—now they’re seen as a manipulator, too.

We all know that teachers and other adults (including us) assign labels to kids all the time. And we know that doing so doesn’t help the problem. Labels are unfair, subjective, and stick with a child even if that child manages to change for the better.

Nevertheless, school teachers, like all of us, label kids. And that’s not going to change. Make no mistake, teachers talk and are well aware of who the troublemakers are before they get to their class at the beginning of the year. After all, it’s part of their job to anticipate and plan for the behavioral issues they will be dealing with in their classroom.

Be Honest With Yourself About Your Child’s Behavior

I advise parents to be honest with themselves about their child’s behavior. Have an open mind about your child so that you can help the school improve your child’s behavior.

Part of what you have to do as a parent is distinguish between the label and your child’s style of functioning in school. In other words, if your child has been called a troublemaker, ask yourself what exactly that means. How do they make trouble? Do they speak out of turn in class? Are they easily distracted and bothersome to the students sitting next to them? Or are they disrespectful, threatening, or abusive?

Don’t Defend Your Child When They’re in the Wrong

It’s important to assert yourself as a parent and advocate for your child at school. But it’s just as important not to defend them when they’re in the wrong.

Understand that defending your child when they have behaved inappropriately will not help them develop appropriate behavior skills. So if your child is known as a school troublemaker and is disruptive and rude in class, you must acknowledge that.

Don’t forget, for many parents of kids with behavior problems, it’s easier to fight with the school than it is to change their child’s behavior. And when you fight with the school, you let your child off the hook instead of having him or her make needed changes.

Therefore, whenever possible, though it can be difficult, parents need to work in tandem with teachers and the school.

The New School Year: Starting Off On the Right Foot

If your child is in danger of having the troublemaker label follow them from grade to grade, you’re probably wondering how to start them off on the right foot.

At the beginning of any school year, coach your child about the importance of first impressions. Let your child know how important the first couple of weeks of school are in terms of getting along in class and doing well in the eyes of the teacher. Tell them that presenting themselves as respectful and responsible will make a big difference for them. You can say to your child:

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“Remember how we talked about what you would do differently in school this year to get along better? Well, one of the things we mentioned was that you should be polite to your teachers and not talk back. When you have the urge to talk back or be rude, what could you do differently?”

Don’t Undermine the Teacher’s Authority

If parents have a problem with a teacher or the school, they should never discuss it in front of their child. Make no bones about it, if you undermine the teacher openly at home, it becomes almost impossible to get your child to behave appropriately with that teacher.

I understand that parents won’t always agree with their child’s teacher. In certain cases, I thought my son’s teachers had some rules that didn’t make sense. My wife and I talked about it and discussed it with the teacher, but my son never knew it. That was because we wanted to uphold the image of the school as an entity that has to be respected—and one in which our son knew he had to behave respectfully.

Teach Your Child That Life Isn’t Always Fair

Don’t try to eliminate everything your child doesn’t like in life. Instead, help them manage things even when life isn’t fair. After all, there’s going to be injustice in school and life, and parents should explain that to their kids. I think it’s good to say to your child:

“That’s an injustice, and you’ll have to deal with it. Life isn’t always fair.”

Some things in life aren’t fair, and part of growing up is learning to deal with that fact. There is no such thing as a school where everything is fair, and there is no such thing as a workplace where everything is fair.

Teach Your Child That School is Like a Job

In my opinion, going to school is like having a job. You coach your child through their school career the same way you might give them advice when they start a profession. You can say:

“You have to learn to get along. There are going to be good people and bad people. There are going to be good times and bad times. There are going to be people who don’t like you and people you don’t like.”

When I worked with kids who didn’t get along with their teachers, I would say:

“Look, it’s your job to get along with your teacher, not your teacher’s job to get along with you.”

A teacher’s job is to be respectful of their students and to help them learn. It’s not their job to humor kids when they’re in a bad mood or when they act out. No workplace does that. So when your child complains about their teacher, I would say:

“Whether you work at a gas station or a law firm, your boss and co-workers won’t put up with that kind of behavior. You have to learn how to get along. That’s part of becoming a grown-up.”

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We all know that some of the most important criteria for success at a job are: “How well does this person manage adversity? How well do they get along with people they don’t like? How do they deal with supervisors who are a pain in the neck?”

We’re all going to have that in life. So the idea is to give your child the skills to get along no matter who he or she is dealing with.

When to Give Additional Consequences at Home for Behavior at School

Let’s face it: every parent whose child acts out in class gets sick of hearing from the school—even if they know their child is legitimately a problem.

Many parents don’t want to hear from the school about their child’s behavior. Rather, they want the school to handle it. But, often, the school thinks parents should be more involved in dealing with inappropriate behavior.

So when should parents get involved? I think the answer to that is straightforward. In my opinion, it depends on whether the problem is functional or relational. Let me explain.

A functional problem is an inability to follow the rules consistently. Functional problems include being late for class, chewing gum, or running down the hall. I think schools should handle those problems. It’s their school, and they need to manage it. I do not think parents should give additional consequences at home for functional behavior problems.

But the whole game changes when it comes to relational problems. Relational problems are an inability to get along with others or an inability to respect the rights and property of others. Disrespect, threatening, verbal, and physical abuse are all relational problems.

If your child steals, if he’s physically abusive, if he’s threatening, if he gets into a fight, the parents need to hold him accountable and give consequences at home in addition to the consequences the school assigns.

How to Handle Functional Problems — The Inability to Follow Rules

If your child tells you, “I got detention because I was running in the hall,” the thing to ask them is:

“All right, so what are you going to do differently next time? What did you learn from this?”

Don’t give speeches. Rather, just ask simple questions that help your child clarify the situation. Don’t judge them and be as matter-of-fact as possible. Just shrug and say:

“Well, that’s life. You can’t run down the halls in school.”

And teach your child by simply saying:

“Look, you know what you’re doing. You made a choice. Now take your consequences and learn from them.”

(Video) School "Misbehavior" & What to Do About It

And leave it at that—no long lectures. Just state the facts and allow them to bear the consequences of their choices to break the rules.

How to Handle Relational Problems — Disrespect, Violence, and Abuse

If your child has been caught destroying property, speaking rudely or obscenely, or hurting someone at school, as a parent, you need to deal with that very strongly. Find out the facts and then let your child know very clearly that there are consequences at home for that kind of behavior in school. And the first consequence is:

“I’m not going to defend you—I’m not going to fight with the school to protect you. You need to pay the price for your actions.”

And then give a consequence in addition to their school’s consequence. For example, if your child has a fight in school and they’re suspended, I recommend no electronics for the length of the suspension. They should not be suspended from school and then be allowed to goof off and relax at home all day.

Make the suspension unpleasant for them. If it’s not unpleasant, it’s not going to shape their behavior. The whole theory behind a consequence is that the unpleasant memory of it will shape the person’s behavior next time. So don’t undermine the school’s consequences by making the suspension a week of play and vacation for your child.

Don’t Shield Your Child From Consequences

Again, one of the things parents have to avoid is shielding their child from consequences. You’re making a big mistake if your child destroys property or assaults someone at school, and you do everything you can to protect them so that they don’t have to face the consequences.

I think it’s okay to support your child while they deal with consequences—I would. But the more you shield them from consequences, the less likely their behavior will change. Let’s face it, people don’t change until there’s pressure to change. And unfortunately, that pressure often comes from negative consequences, whether it’s a ticket for speeding or a suspension for being physically aggressive in school.

As adults, we understand that people get tickets all the time for speeding. You may not like getting a ticket. And you may not think it’s fair that you were singled out. But the bottom line is that the ticket makes you look at your behavior and change it.

When a child gets in serious trouble at school, many parents become worried that it will go on their permanent record. Is that a legitimate worry for a parent? Yes. But you don’t soothe those worries by sweeping the problem under the rug.

Let me be clear: if your child assaults someone at school and doesn’t get a record now, they’re going to get a worse one later—that’s all there is to it.

Tell the Teacher What Works for Your Child

I recommend that you tell your child’s teacher how you deal with their behavior at home. If your child has a history of behavior problems, meet with their teacher early on in the year and say:

“We know that Jake can be disruptive. This is how we deal with it at home. And if there’s any way we can help you, please let us know.”

Certainly, you should tell a teacher what works and what doesn’t work at home. This doesn’t mean you’re limiting them. Instead, you’re helping them be more effective with your child’s behavior in the classroom.

So if you have specific techniques you use, share them. An example might be:

(Video) Is Your Kid Acting Out?

“We find Jake does his homework better when his door is open, or he’s sitting at the dining room table. So he might do better in school if you have him sit close to your desk.”

Or:

“We find Jake does better at home when we get him started. So if you could take a minute to get him going on the assignment, it might work out better.”

Be sure to ask your child’s teacher how you can be helpful. Be open to what they say—they might have some great ideas. Ask the teacher:

“What can we do at home to help support you at school?”

Parents and Teachers: Be on the Same Team

Parents and teachers should be on the same team. But too often, they’re not. There was a time when teachers and parents worked together—when if the teacher called a parent, the parent genuinely worked on changing their child’s behavior. Kids were held accountable at home, and their behavior was better at school. Nonsense just wasn’t tolerated the way it is today.

Things are different now. Too often, parents blame teachers, and teachers blame parents. And children are in the middle and often get away with their inappropriate behavior by playing their teachers and parents off one another. Kids can be highly manipulative in this respect. A misbehaving child doesn’t want the parent and teacher on the same team.

I think the parent’s attitude should be, “How can we help the teacher do their job? What can we do at home?”

Similarly, the teacher’s attitude should be, “In what areas do I need the parents’ support, and what is my responsibility? How can we work together to get this child on track?”

I’ve heard a lot of stories about bad teachers. I’ve met one or two myself. But, by and large, I believe most teachers are trying their best. And if you have an issue with a teacher, I recommend you go to that teacher and talk about it. And if that doesn’t work, set up a meeting with an administrator.

Just realize that the more adversarial your relationship with the school, the more your child’s behavior will go unchecked. And the more the troublemaker label is going to stick. And that’s not good for your child. Don’t forget, when parents and teachers fight, nobody wins. And the result is that your child doesn’t feel they have to change their behavior.

Conclusion

The bottom line: support your school if your child has a discipline problem. That is what is best for your child. It may not feel best for your ego, but that is what’s best for your child. Is this a lot of work? Yes, it is. But I think parents need to try to find the time to do it.

I know that sometimes I expect a lot from parents. But kids need a lot of parenting nowadays. And often, that means working with your child’s school.

Related content:
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“My Child Refuses to Do Homework” — How to Stop the Nightly Struggle Over School Work

(Video) Parents & Teachers - Wanna know the SECRET?

FAQs

How do schools deal with children's behavior problems? ›

How to handle difficult behaviour
  1. Do what feels right. What you do has to be right for your child, yourself and the family. ...
  2. Do not give up. Once you've decided to do something, continue to do it. ...
  3. Be consistent. ...
  4. Try not to overreact. ...
  5. Talk to your child. ...
  6. Be positive about the good things. ...
  7. Offer rewards. ...
  8. Avoid smacking.

How do you deal with an unhappy child at school? ›

Talk to your child if they're unhappy at school or you're worried about their education. Find out as much as you can.
...
Talk to your child and their teacher
  1. explain the problem to the teacher.
  2. ask what they can do to help and when.
  3. ask when they'll give you an update.

How do you react when a child acts out? ›

One of the best ways to deal with your child acting out aggressively is to remain calm throughout the experience (as trying as it may be). A child acting out aggressively is not something to take personally; you're not a terrible parent and your child doesn't hate you (even if they scream it once or twice).

Should I punish my child for misbehaving at school? ›

Don't punish your child.

Your child isn't bad, and you're not bad for having a child with a behavior problem; these things just happen." Punishment for bad behavior will only make your child feel terrible about himself and prolong the difficulty by further shutting down his thinking.

How do you address behavior issues at school? ›

Here are some tips on how to handle challenging student behavior and get back to class.
  1. Get to the Root of the Matter. ...
  2. Reach Out to Colleagues for Support. ...
  3. Remember to Remain Calm. ...
  4. Have a Plan and Stick to It. ...
  5. Involve Administration When Necessary. ...
  6. Document, Document, Document.

How do I report safeguarding concerns about school? ›

Contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. They will then pass the concern onto the local child protection team who will investigate it. Report your concern directly to your local authority child protection team. You can find your local team here.

Can Camhs help with school refusal? ›

Contact CAMHS early.

Mental health professionals can advocate for your child with the school, but waits can be long, so don't delay.

Why does my child act out in school? ›

Reasons Tweens and Teens Act Out

Sometimes they will act out or rebel for the same reasons they did as a child—they are hungry, tired, stressed, or simply want attention. They may even act out because they are being bullied, going through a breakup, or are having friendship issues.

Why does my child misbehave at school? ›

They Have Big Emotions

They may even act out when they feel excited, stressed, or bored. When kids have better control over their emotions, they can use healthy coping skills to deal with their feelings. Instead of misbehaving to express their emotions, a child may learn to take a time-out to calm down.

Whats a good punishment for your child? ›

Early Bedtime or Extra Nap: Early bedtime or an extra naptime is an effective positive punishment for younger children. Children do not want to sleep when they could play or be active, so being forced to sleep is a great deterrent to bad behavior. Also, most small children act out more when they are tired.

What are the 6 common behavioral disorder? ›

Mental health disorders (MHD) are very common in childhood and they include emotional-obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, depression, disruptive (oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) or developmental (speech/language delay, intellectual ...

How do you discipline a child who doesn't care about consequences? ›

Here are 10 tips for how to give consequences that work—even when kids say they don't care.
  1. Use Consequences That Have Meaning. ...
  2. Don't Try to Appeal to His Emotions with Speeches. ...
  3. Make Consequences Black and White. ...
  4. Talk to Your Child About Effective Problem-Solving. ...
  5. Don't Get Sucked into an Argument over Consequences.

How do you deal with a misbehaving child in the classroom? ›

Goals for Responding to Misbehavior

Maintain children's dignity. Develop children's self-control and self-regulation skills. Help children recognize and fix any harm caused by their mistakes. Demonstrate that rules help make the classroom a safe place where all can learn.

When should teachers call parents? ›

Only make phone calls to parents when they are necessary. Telling parents that their children have made improvements are just as necessary as telling them that there was room for improvement. Do your best to make sure the first phone call home is a positive one.

How teachers deal with behavioral problems? ›

Effective General Teaching Strategies for Behavior Issues
  • Provide a calm environment.
  • Minimize distractions.
  • Emphasize routine.
  • Behavioral expectations should reflect behavioral abilities.
  • Focus on assisting student rather than disciplining.
  • Provide a time out/study area away from the group.
  • Make sure the student feels safe.

How the teacher manage the students behavior? ›

6 Behavior Management Strategies for Your Classroom in 2022
  • Maintain a Routine. ...
  • Set Rules Together With Students. ...
  • Create Stimulating Lessons. ...
  • Use Positive Language. ...
  • Develop a Relationship With Your Students. ...
  • Adjust Your Scoring Methods. ...
  • Developing a Positive Behavior Management System for Your School.
30 Apr 2021

Should I force my anxious child to attend school? ›

Be empathetic but firm that your child or teen must attend school. Tell her you are confident she can face her fears. Let your child know that while physical symptoms of anxiety, such as stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue, are certainly unpleasant, they are not dangerous.

How do I make my child happily at school? ›

Below are seven tips to make your child go to school happily.
  1. Teach your child to Avoid procrastination.
  2. Ready your child's uniform.
  3. Make time for some fun with your child.
  4. Have your child Keep a “done list.”
  5. Encourage your child to Participate in class.
  6. Talk about things that are bothering them.
9 Sept 2016

Who should you talk to if you have a concern about a child in school? ›

Call 0808 800 5000

It's free and you don't have to say who you are. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles. All our calls are recorded for training and quality purposes. Call +44 203 879 8560 if you're living outside of the UK but have concerns about a child resident within the UK.

How do parents report safeguarding issues in schools? ›

Any parent, carer or professional who is concerned about a child and wants advice or guidance can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 500 for expert advice and support. If you believe a child is in immediate danger, you should call 999. All reports can be anonymous.

What are the 5 main safeguarding issues? ›

What are Safeguarding Issues? Examples of safeguarding issues include bullying, radicalisation, sexual exploitation, grooming, allegations against staff, incidents of self-harm, forced marriage, and FGM. These are the main incidents you are likely to come across, however, there may be others.

Is school refusal and anxiety Disorder? ›

School refusal often is associated with comorbid psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. It is important to identify problems early and provide appropriate interventions to prevent further difficulties.

What rights do parents have in schools UK? ›

A person with parental responsibility can make decisions about the child's upbringing and is entitled to information about their child. For example, they can give consent to the child's medical treatment and make decisions about the child's education.

How do you treat school avoidance? ›

Talk with your child about the reasons why he or she does not want to go to school. Consider all the possibilities and state them. Be sympathetic, supportive, and understanding of why he or she is upset. Try to resolve any stressful situations the two of you identify as causing his worries or symptoms.

What causes a child to misbehave in school? ›

They feel bad about themselves

Children sometimes misbehave because they feel bad about themselves. Children act consistently with what they think is true about themselves. They make self-fulfilling prophesies. So if they think they are stupid, they may not try to do well at school.

Why is my child lashing out at school? ›

They may lack language, or impulse control, or problem-solving abilities. Sometimes parents see this kind of explosive behavior as manipulative. But kids who lash out are usually unable to handle frustration or anger in a more effective way—say, by talking and figuring out how to achieve what they want.

How do you deal with a misbehaving child in the classroom? ›

Goals for Responding to Misbehavior

Maintain children's dignity. Develop children's self-control and self-regulation skills. Help children recognize and fix any harm caused by their mistakes. Demonstrate that rules help make the classroom a safe place where all can learn.

What are 5 reasons children misbehave? ›

Here are some reasons why children misbehave:
  • Your child is trying to get a real need met: ...
  • Your child is misbehaving as a way of asking for your attention: ...
  • Your child wants more independence: ...
  • Your child is too young to be able to reliably follow the rules: ...
  • Your child is stressed or has strong emotions:

How do you discipline a child who doesn't care about consequences? ›

Here are 10 tips for how to give consequences that work—even when kids say they don't care.
  1. Use Consequences That Have Meaning. ...
  2. Don't Try to Appeal to His Emotions with Speeches. ...
  3. Make Consequences Black and White. ...
  4. Talk to Your Child About Effective Problem-Solving. ...
  5. Don't Get Sucked into an Argument over Consequences.

Why does my child act out at school but not at home? ›

Some children act out because they are responding in a normal way to a situation that has upset them to the point where they are unable to manage their emotions. 3 Sometimes, a child that acts out at school has been goaded into responding to other students in the class.

How do you discipline a high anxiety child? ›

10 Tips for Parenting Anxious Children
  1. Don't try to eliminate anxiety; do try to help a child manage it. ...
  2. Don't avoid things just because they make a child anxious. ...
  3. Express positive—but realistic—expectations. ...
  4. Respect her feelings, but don't empower them. ...
  5. Don't ask leading questions. ...
  6. Don't reinforce the child's fears.
29 Feb 2016

What to do with a student who constantly misbehaves? ›

How to Handle Bad Student Behavior
  1. Bring difficult students close to you. Bring badly behaved students close to you. ...
  2. Talk to them in private. ...
  3. Be the role model of the behavior you want. ...
  4. Define right from wrong. ...
  5. Focus more on rewards than punishments. ...
  6. Adopt the peer tutor technique. ...
  7. Try to understand.

When should teachers call parents? ›

Only make phone calls to parents when they are necessary. Telling parents that their children have made improvements are just as necessary as telling them that there was room for improvement. Do your best to make sure the first phone call home is a positive one.

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