View Full Version : Where to go from here? Behavior problems- long post
09-07-2006, 02:57 PM
I posted a few months ago about my neice (J) having trouble at day care. We thought it was the day care causing the problems since we never saw the behaviors here. My neice just started kindergarten and is now in danger of being suspended and if the behavior continues, expelled. My brother is at a loss of what to do. She's being physically aggressive towards the other kids and just says she is bad. When my brother asks why she does these things, she just says that she is mad.
A little background. My brother and J's mother divorced when J turned a year (my ex-SIL showed up one day and said she filed for divorce- my brother didn't know there were problems). Everything has seemed to go OK-as OK as it can I guess. My ex-SIL moved in with a guy, M and hs been with him ever since. My brother recently moved in with a girl and her two boys (ages 2 and 4) and it appears that J really likes my brother's girlfriend.
J has always been a little aggressive, but they could keep things under control (she was the biter when she was 2). It wasn't until about 6-9 months ago that things really went down hill. My brother started calling saying she was getting in trouble for aggressive behavior at day care. The day care wasn't helping by outwardly marking her behavior on a chart (they did with all the kids) every day (once they made her wear clothing that she didn't like as a punishment- very inappropriate). We thought things would improve when she changed schools for kindergarten, but as a precaution, they started seeing a counselor. The counselor seems to be very on top of things so far, but they've just begun seeing her. Unfortunately my ex-SIL wants to blame my brother for all of J's problems. She schedules counseling sessions for times that are difficult for him to be there, makes it impossible for my brother's girlfriend to attend (he boyfriend is at every session), and has been pointing out any and all flaws he has to the counselor and J's teachers (basically J's problems would have to come from him). My brother doesn't hit her (punishment is in the form of time outs), he rarely yells and has really made an effort to look at the positive in all of her behavior (even if it was a really bad day at school).
Here's what bothers me. We don't see ANY of this behavior when she comes to visit us. I have 2 DDs (ages 3 years and 2 months) and she's never been aggressive with either of them, EVER. She's stayed with us for as long as 10 days at a time- you would think we would see it here. My brother and his girlfriend say they don't see the behavior at home either- at least not to the degree that it's happening at school. Occasionally she'll get into it with one of the boys, but nothing that doesn't usually happen between kids that live together. It's very confusing for us.
Almost everyone has tried talking to her (I'll try when she comes to visit in a few weeks). She just says that she is mad and is a bad girl. She will occasionally say she is mad a M (ex-SILs boyfriend), but that's it. My brother is afraid he's going to lose his job from trying to attend counseling sessions, meet with school personel, pick her up when she's had a bad day, etc. And I know he's broken down emotionally over this- he just doesn't know what to do. Neither do we. Any advice on getting her to open up, to improve behavior, or anything. We're desperate.
09-07-2006, 03:51 PM
My heart goes out to your brother and your niece. Here are some thoughts. BTW, I am no expert or psychologist - just a former teacher who have seen a thing or 2 and a mom.
- Can your brother talk to his ex and try to patch things up? Having a contentious relationship between 2 divorced parents never had a positive effective on kids.
- it could still be fallout from her experience in daycare. Kindergarten is a different school, but the structure might be very similar in her mind, so she might still be living in that old experience.
- Can your brother get her into counseling himself? If expense is the problem, is there a pastor that he can go to?
- The fact that she calls herself a bad girl tells me that somebody has told her or is telling her that. She is beginning to own that identity which is not a good thing. She needs to know that her deeds are bad but she will always be loved.
- I think the gentle discipline your brother does is great. He has to be consistent. Some privileges willl be taken away when she gets in trouble at school.
- She'll open up when you least expect it. So provide opportunities. I used to sit down with some of the kids while they were drawing, painting or just playing. I sometimes would play with them and pretend. Maybe that's something you can do, do pretend play. Act out a school situation and see how she would react when she pretends to "hit" you. Start a conversation from there about how sad it made you to be hit and how it hurts. Maybe that will start the conversation on why. Just be prepared...it's very likely that she will not have the vocabulary for "why" she does it.
All this being said, I feel for your brother's sadness and applaud you for all the support you have been giving him and his daughter.
Keep us posted.
09-08-2006, 10:15 PM
I am a teacher and school is such a hard thing for some kids. Sometimes other kids just bring out the competative worst in each other. I would definitely meet with the school psychologist and the child's teacher to come up with a behavior plan and press for them to test for ED-emotional disability. I have some kids that mom and dad can't believe do the things they do until they see a video tape becasue the behaviors don't happen at home. Some spirited kids in our school have a cool down card to spend 5 minutes in a "safe" place when they get too worked up to be reasonable. Maybe there could be a chair tucked away that she could go and sit on when things get rough BEFORE there is a problem. Maybe dad could do some volunteer work in the classroom and observe/help out so she can feel safe and relax a bit. Perhaps if she had a job/special responsibility, she could take ownership. They could also start a positive rewards chart for good days (or hours, or lessons). For example--if you can quietly do your coloring by yourself, you get to put a sticker on the chart. If you get 15 stickers, you get to pass out papers or move your desk or some kind of control that she wants.
I'm sure she has good teachers, but I would really push for ED testing. This will get several things for her (at least in Indiana). If she does have an altercation, to suspend her, the school has to prove that the problem did not stem from her disability, which in this case seems to be anger management. The school also has to prove that they followed her behavior plan while the situation was escilating. It also can have psychologists working with her on a regular basis during school. That one-on-one time might make a huge difference if she feels like she can tell someone her feelings--esp. frustrations with other students. Being the teacher, IEPs make teaching a challenge, but if it helps your niece to gain more self control, it is worth it to all involved.
Good luck. It is so hard to be on either end with a spirited child.
09-09-2006, 05:43 AM
Thanks so much for your suggestions. I need to talk to my brother about setting smaller rewards for her (shorter periods of time to keep control). They do have a reward system at school already- small stars for smaller accomplishments and a big star at the end of the day if it was a good day. School's been in session for a month and she received her first big star Thursday. Unfortunately yesturday was a bad day though.
My brother's girlfriend has started having J be the little mommy at home as a reward (she has 2 young boys). J loves helping, so they have suggested it to the teacher to give her some responsibility around the classroom for good behavior. I hear that her teacher is wonderful. She's very concerned about J being labeled a problem child. She has been teaching for about 20 years, but says that J is a puzzle to her. She can usually figure out what triggers a kid, but she's not sure with J. Like us, she's not sure why she's so good some days and has such a hard time others.
I've never heard of ED testing. She was evaluated by a psychiatrist initially (not through the school) to screen for more psychosis/chemical imbalance, and he felt that there wasn't any. He made the recommendation to the counselor she sees. I'll have to ask my brother about the testing. Unfortunately I'm not sure about kindergarten and an IEP. Kindergarten isn't mandatory there, so I guess they can ask her to leave if she's too disruptive.
I think one of our biggest concerns is if there's any abuse going on that's causing the behavior. We're not concerned about physical abuse, more emotional. Someone is telling her she's bad (from what I can tell) and I think she's internalizing the label. It's really upsetting to see a 5 year old with such low self esteem.
Do you know of any books on the child level we could get her to help her understand her anger, etc?
09-09-2006, 06:15 AM
If it's not the tension between your brother and ex-SIL that's escalating things for her, then it could also be her peers. Even if her parents aren't directly getting her involved (and there's no guarantee that ex-SIL and/or her boyfriend aren't), then remember that 5 year olds can sense that stuff.
FTR, it's very common for children to act differently at home than at school. Think about all the differences in those two environments and the tempraments and number of people in them. Think about how the different norms and expectations might affect a child.
Here's some good books for her to read:
When Sophia Gets Angry by Molly Bang
I was so Mad by Mercer Mayer
When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Maude Spelman
Goggles by Ezra Keats is about bullies (not saying that she is one)
I like Myself by Karen Beaumont (good for her apparent self-esteem issues)
09-10-2006, 01:11 AM
As a school psychologist, I would definately recommend that your brother seek some form of intervention through the school. I would recommend he ask for a "student study team meeting" (at least that's what we call them in my district...others call them student success teams or other names) Essentially, this is an opportunity for the school staff (e.g. teachers, principals, psychologist) and family to sit down, discuss student strengths and attempted interventions, and make recommendations to help the child better function in school. The school psychologist could then get involved with the teacher and family in helping to develop a behavior support plan (and tweak it until they find what works for the child). The role of the school psychologist is not necessarily to sit down and counsel children, rather to assist teachers and parents in making effective, appropriate changes in children's environments.
Regarding an assessment for Emotional Disturbance.... I would recommend trying interventions recommended through this meeting (and also from the psychologist) before looking at labeling a child with this pretty heavy duty label. This is especially important given all of the changes the child has been through; especially since the behaviors are not observed across all environments (a child with ED would display the behaviors in multiple settings, not just at school or day care). If your niece's behavior was unresponsive to the recommended interventions, then, it's my opinion, that an evaluation for ED would be appropriate.
I love the idea of using the books posted above. Also, it would be helpful to think about how you manage your niece's behavior when she is with you, and what strategies you observe to be effective with her (and share your ideas with her school team!)
Hope things improve with your niece's situation :)
FYI, here is the criteria for an ED label:
a student is considered to be “emotionally disturbed” if he exhibits one or more of the following characteristics, over a long period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects educational performance.
(1) An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(2) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers or teachers.
(3) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances exhibited in several situations
(4) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
(5) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
09-12-2006, 11:47 AM
Snowy: Thanks for the criteria. She doesn't really meet them on a continuous basis. I think she's depressed after a bad day, but in general is a pretty happy kid. When she was here visiting over the summer I was actually shocked by how outgoing she is. We took her swimming and she went right up to the closest kid and said, "Hi. My name is J. Do you want to play with me?" She also appears to be progressing in school just fine for now- at least the teacher said she does not have any concerns regarding her ability to learn.
One thing I like about the counselor they have her with is she runs group sessions to work on appropriate behavior (with other young children) and role playing. I'm hoping that'll really help her.
southerner: Thanks for the book recommendations. We picked up 2 of them over the weekend. When she's here to visit next weekend, we'll give them to her and sit down to read.
09-12-2006, 03:06 PM
Just curious, which ones did you get? Be sure to read it to her dialogically (meaning have lots of dialogue, asks lots of questions, etc.) She'll get way more out of it that way!
12-03-2006, 08:01 PM
I was reminded of your neice when I saw you in the letter thread. How's everything going for her in kindergarten? Is she behaving better?
12-05-2006, 10:56 AM
Thanks for thinking of us:D
She is doing much better, thankfully. She had a rough start, but has adjusted very well. She is receiving stars for behavior almost every day and was asked to read to the principal (I had commented that she's reading really well in the other thread) just the other day. She's developing a lot more positive self esteem and it shows.
She still has her moments, but they are few and far between, and they are much easier to correct. Before she used to refused to talk to anyone for quite a long time after she was put in time out- insisting that she was bad, etc. Over thanksgiving she was here and she scratched another little boy (my brother's girlfriend's son who lives with them, so they act like brother and sister now). I saw it and put her in time out immediately. After her 5 minutes I went and talked to her and she was absolutely fine. She knew why I put her there and was truly sorry. That was a much improved response over 6 months ago.
So, long story short- she still has some minor impulse control issues, but I don't think they're outside the range of normal for a 5 year old anymore. Hopefully she'll continue to thrive.
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