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Sixth-grade son displaying negative behaviors at school


​​My 12-year-old son has always been a good student up until this year. Now he is in sixth grade and will not finish his homework. He has received Ds and Fs on his last two report cards, and he is acting out in class. He has even been suspended for picking a fight with another boy, and he is disrespectful of his teachers. He has friends and does not seem to dislike school, however. We have taken away privileges such as video games and other electronic devices. What else can we do?



It is possible that your son is struggling with school this year because he feels overwhelmed academically and does not understand what is being taught. When this occurs, children often act out behaviorally. A “bad boy” image is preferable to a “dumb boy” image in their minds.  

Or perhaps ​your son is having problems with his friendships and peers, and it is resulting in an increase in defiance and negative behaviors. Could it be possible that bullying is involved?

Stress in young children is often evident in behavior and changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Children don’t know how to ask for help and cannot calm themselves down with healthy coping strategies. Can your son talk to a school counselor? He might need the time and space to open up about what is really going on in his life.  

We encourage you to keep issuing consequences for his negative behavior. If the consequences you have established are not working, then reevaluate what is important to your son and take away related privileges. What worked for him last year or when he was younger might not hold the same value for him now.  Consequences must be meaningful to work, and what is meaningful to a child changes as he grows.  

Also, in conjunction with issuing consequences for negative behaviors, teach appropriate behaviors too. Do not assume that he knows what appropriate and inappropriate behaviors are. Whenever possible, link the consequence to the infraction. 

For instance, if he is disrespectful to his teacher have him write a letter apologizing to the teacher or have him list 10 ways he can demonstrate respect to adults. Then ask him to check in with you throughout the week to talk about how he is using the ways on the list with others.