Sudden Anger

Act quickly when a formerly quiet child suddenly becomes prone to bouts of aggression.
Since my six-year-old has been in first grade, we have had a lot of trouble with his behavior. Prior to this year, he has never shown any aggression, and now he is hitting other kids, calling them idiots, and not listening to his teachers. He is also telling adults at the school that he doesn't have to listen to them.

We have set up a weekly note with his teacher, who does not seem real fond of our son. We grounded Josh from playing football with his friends, and took away things he loves to do, but we are at a loss on how to help him behave.

First grade is a big jump from kindergarten: Both the curriculum and teacher expectations change a great deal. The school staff should take notice, however, when a child suddenly begins to hit other children and call them names and to talk back to adults. Keep in mind the personality of his kindergarten teacher, and be sure at the end of this year to request a teacher similar to him or her for second grade.

Talk with the teacher about working with you to focus on the positive with you son. Weekly notes don't work well with first-graders, who need more immediate reinforcement for their behavior. Ask the teacher to send you daily notes, explaining that you don't need anything elaborate; something as simple as a "smiley" or "frowny" face or checkmark/check plus/check minus will let you know how his day was. Follow up at home with rewards for good behavior.

Talk with the school counselor as well. He or she may be able to give Josh some individual time or involve him in a small group on good behavior. The school counselor may also help support Josh's good behavior at school.

Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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