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Young Boy Suddenly Begins Behaving Badly at School


My five-and-a-half-year-old son is in a Spanish/English dual-language kindergarten class. He's a native English speaker. His first semester went Okay. After the Christmas break, however, he's been very difficult in school, getting physical with other kids, talking back to the teacher and being disruptive.

I’ve heard some people say, “Don't punish them at home,” but others say that you need to give consequences at home. I’m not sure which route to take. His schoolwork is solid — he's at or above grade level in both languages — but he has speech issues (he's been in speech therapy since he was three). And at home, he behaves fairly well — he brushes his teeth and turns off the TV when asked — though he does seem to have a problem with frustration when he doesn’t get what he wants.



We can appreciate your concern and frustration regarding your son’s behavior. You mentioned that he is starting to get physical at school, in addition to talking back to his teacher. A physical reaction to ​anger is something to address through education and age-appropriate consequences. Keep in mind, it may take time for a five-year-old to “connect the dots” between his behavior and those consequences. Be consistent and prompt when addressing inappropriate physical aggression at home. Hopefully the school will do so as well.

Take time to teach him that he cannot hit, kick, push or shove to get his way or react similarly when he is mad. Show him other options for when he gets angry. Perhaps speak to his teachers regarding this; it would be helpful if whatever approach you use at home is consistent at school as well.

It is important to stay calm when this behavior is occurring. Granted, this is easier said than done, but if you give in to his temper tantrums, you will only reinforce his negative behavior. Try to anticipate his tantrums and engage in some instruction prior to the situation. Don’t be afraid to give out age-appropriate rewards if you see that he is doing better or at least trying.

Patience is key as you look for improvement, not perfection. It can be easy to focus on the negative behavior so much that we start to overlook the good behavior. So, remember to praise the good things he does. We call this “catching them being good.”