October 04th, 2020

Back to School Behaviour

I wonder if anyone else is experiencing less than desirable behaviour from the children now that they’re back at school. Is it down to tiredness, or something else? 

One mum wrote to us about her 8 year old son (we’ll call him Tom) whom she described as being very articulate and likes everything to happen to his agenda. Some kids do have a very regular temperament and they don’t handle change well. And we have written about the desire for self-governance before. 

This mum said that during lockdown Tom’s behaviour and attitude was mostly lovely, but now he's back at school he's getting overtired and his attitude is deteriorating. Being the sort of person who likes things to go according to his plan he will have been thrown by all the changes at school this term and it will be tiring for him to deal with it all. Then when he comes home he releases those feelings. In lots of ways that's good as it indicates that home is the safe harbour where he feels safe to express himself and knows his feelings are accepted but it's wearing for the parents. 

Temperament plays a big part here. For some kids schooling from home was a blessed relief as they could learn at their own pace, did not have to deal with the noise and distractions of their peers and did not feel the competition from others. For other kids of course they have been sorely deprived of the social interaction and stimulation they thrive on. The classroom is a very tiring environment for children on the introverted end of the spectrum and for more sensitive children. For kids who are highly perceptive (or distractible) and find it difficult to focus on one thing it can be exhausting. 

Our mum described a situation where a friend turned up in the middle of family dinner with a gift of Lego cards and albums for the children. Huge excitement. Of course Tom wanted them NOW but dinner needed to be finished and there were jobs to do afterward; reading and homework. Tom, with his very persistent personality, was relentless in arguing for the cards and he sought to negotiate having them sooner. Of course at age 8 it is very difficult to do reading practice and homework when there is something more exciting on offer. 

The adults tried to explain what needed to happen but explanations utilise the rational part of the brain whereas children gripped by feelings are operating from the emotion centres in the Limbic system. At Tom’s age they just don’t have the life experience or perspective to accept that it is better to put off the exciting things and do what has to be done first. Delayed gratification is very difficult for an immature pre-frontal cortex, the emotion-regulating, impulse-controlling centre of the brain. Frustration built, tempers frayed, doors were slammed, things were thrown and words were said. Tom was very rude. But he was doing the only thing he could manage given how he was feeling. He didn’t know how to express himself differently (despite being quite articulate when he wasn’t so deeply in his emotional brain) and he didn’t know how to manage his powerful feelings. 

And mum had her own feelings too. Her buttons were pushed by what she felt was disrespect for her and said there’d be 'No Lego cards till tomorrow'. She wasn’t immediately able to help him and said her own hurtful words which she deeply regretted later. But she had maturity and perspective on her side so when she came back from a run she was calm and could see what he needed. The next day she apologised to her son for losing her temper. She explained how his words had made her feel but did not excuse her actions. She knew he needed help to manage his feelings so she started by describing how she thought he was feeling. “Last night you were so excited about the Lego cards and so frustrated that you couldn’t have them straightaway. You were really annoyed at having to do homework when you'd already had a full day at school and those cards were calling to you. Maybe it felt like I didn’t care about what you wanted and only wanted you to do what I wanted. I get it now. But I wasn’t very understanding last night. And I want us to be a family where we think about how others feel. I’m sorry.

Can we play a game called ‘Back To The Future’ where we replay what happened but do it differently.  Was there anything you could have done differently?  What can you do next time when you’re feeling like this?  

Really being aware of your child’s own personality, their default setting for approaching life, will help to tailor your approach to behaviour you’re not happy about. Just because your child has an in-built way of responding to life doesn’t mean those characteristics are set in stone. You can help your child to be more flexible, more adaptable, more willing to try things. You can support them to slow down, to think, to focus and to be able to curb impulses. Yes, it takes a lot of work but the result is a child who can get along in life without feeling that they are wrong or unacceptable the way they are. Kids who find school requires an awful lot of energy will need compassion and understanding and support at home. 

And yes, they probably need more sleep right now as well so prioritise it and do whatever it takes to get into good sleep habits to help them as the nights draw in. Remind yourself you’re modelling good sleep hygiene when you take an early night and tell your kids that’s what you’re doing. Make sure schedules aren’t overloaded and have some screen-free evenings where you just hang out together as you learnt to do during lockdown.

Posted in: Behaviour , Schooling , Temperament

 

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