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My 5-year-old boy is constantly in trouble at school. He is in his first year of kindergarten and the first week went great with no problems. After that he will not stop coming home with black remarks from the teacher.

Some examples of his behavior at school: not listening to the teacher, not sitting down when told, talking when he isn't supposed to, hitting other kids, drawing on other kids, laughing at the teacher when told to take a time out. These are just some of the things he is doing. The teachers are frustrated.

Prior to Kindergarten he was just as much trouble in daycare. He was kicked out of 4 daycares in one year because he wouldn't listen. Saying that he won't listen seems like a small problem, but trust me, it's not.

We have tried all forms of punishment: time outs, taking away toys, early to bed, having heart to heart conversations, asking him to choose his own punishment, explaining the wrong behavior and the impact it has. Nothing works. When he is asked why he is in trouble he will tell you what he did wrong so that leads me to believe that he is fully aware of his bad behavior. He will promise to have a good day tomorrow and that he is sorry and that he understands, yet the next day comes and the behavior will be the same.

We feel like we have tried everything. We are starting to think that we need to do something harsh to prove a point (remove all toys, as soon as he gets home he eats and goes straight to bed, spanking). What is a proper punishment for a defiant and misbehaving 5-year-old?

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    Welcome to Parenting.SE, Mary. What is his behavior like at home, either after school out on the weekends? Is it really different than school? – Acire Sep 17 '15 at 20:02
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    In a strange coincidence, see Kindergartner with no control over his emotions/behavior. – SQB Sep 18 '15 at 12:57
  • How does he behave at home? Was he the same all the years or is this something completely new? – puck Jun 10 at 11:05
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It doesn't sound like he is defiant. He doesn't deny his wrongdoing or throw tantrums. Maybe he really wants to behave but he just forgets, or acts on impulse. Or it could be that he is secretly defiant and has learned how to "game the system" by smiling at you sweetly and pretending to acquiesce, but then doing as he pleases.

Whatever the reason for his behavior, I have found rewards to be a lot more effective in modifying behavior than punishment. It might seem counterintuitive (why would you want to reward him for bad behavior by giving him stuff just to stop being bad?) but sense of outrage aside, the most important aspect of a strategy is whether it works.

What does he love? TV? Going out to dinner? Getting to pick what the family eats, or where they go on an outing? Books? Toys? Playdates?

Set up a point system for rewarding him for good behavior. First you will have to set a baseline. With my son, who loves all sorts of electronic entertainment, and also anything sweet, the baseline is that he gets no electronics and no sweets. We justified this citing the thousands of dollars that we had to spend getting all his cavities filled, and his bad grades and the fact that he was constantly "forgetting" whenever we told him to do something.

Then you set the market. My son gets fifteen minutes a day (cumulative if he doesn't use it) of electronics for brushing his teeth properly (we did inspections). When he was younger he got a daily "report card" from his teacher with numeric grades (1-5) for things like "sitting quietly", "respecting others", "doing schoolwork", etc. Each category in each grade earned him a certain number of "stars". We set the prices for things he wanted. An hour of TV cost 15 stars. A caffeine free diet soda cost him 20 stars. That expensive totally cool Star Wars toy that he begged us for at Toys-R-Us was prices at 150 stars. Nectarines and strawberries at the store cost 1 star apiece.

The reason that we didn't express his rewards directly in terms of money (for example, you get $1 per point per category) is so that we could set higher prices for things that might be financially cheap buy really expensive in other respects (candy, for example) and cheap prices for things that we wanted to encourage (like fruit)

This system has changed his behavior for the better when time outs, scolding, explanations and removal of privileges had little lasting effect.

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Some of the behaviors you describe sound like ADD/ADHD -- impulsivity (inappropriate talking, inappropriate actions, inappropriate aggression) and inattention (not listening to the teacher, not sitting down when told) are common issues. Consider having your son evaluated to see if this is contributing to the problems. Knowing whether this is part of the story will not solve the problems, but may help you and the teachers develop a more useful response.

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It sounds like he already has a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour (you say he was like that in daycares, too), so be ready to invest tons of patience, persistence and time to change. Until you provide more information according to the comment below the question, I am going to take a stab at what might be the issue with your approach.

What happens you take a toy away? Does he sulk for five minutes and then get back to his cheerful self? If that's the case, it means he's already forgotten about both his unacceptable act and the punishment. You might want to extend the duration of the punishment. In some extreme cases we'd ban our kid from watching cartoons for a few days (which he does every day for 15 minutes after waking up and before going to bed). Each morning/evening, he'd ask for his cartoons again, because he'd completely forget about the wrong act and the punishment. Each time we'd calmly explain why there will be no cartoons and each time he'd be disappointed anew, but thus he slowly learned that actions can have lasting consequences. We'd only restore the privilege after he was commended by the teacher.

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