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Our 8-year-old boy is now living with us, taken away from his mom due to abuse and now living with his dad, new home and new school. He spent his first 7 years with his mom and dad had weekend visits twice monthly. When living with his mom he was late to missed school 34 times in 2nd grade. His mom drank a lot and took him around lots of boyfriends. He was left with his grandmother a lot.

We have had him here for 6 months now and he is getting in trouble at school several times a week. Talking, knocking cups out of students' hands, running in the hall, acting silly, reading while the teacher is teaching... He says that he is trying to make friends or that they are not paying any attention to him when he raises his hand.

His dad thinks they might be picking on him. We have him playing soccer and martial arts. He didn't get to do any of that while with his mom. We have him going to see a therapist twice a month for the last 5 months. I know it's a lot of changes. I would like to know what discipline actions should be taken at home for the check marks at school? At first we were taking away his tablet and grounding, but there have been so many more check marks that he would stay grounded always.

He is good at home, he is a pleaser. He has to keep his room clean and feed the dog. He receives check marks on his conduct folder and he has to fill out a form to what happens and why and how to correct to make sure it doesn't happen again, the teacher signs it and the parent. There have been a couple of times that I have being talking to him about the issues at school and he starts to get louder and swinging his arms, I bring that to his attention and tell him he needs to try to stay calm and not be so upset.

His dad has said that mom was loud and wanted to be the center of attention and that is how he is acting. What to do?

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    Hi and welcome. More detail would help. What have you tried so far as consequences or as a disciplinary measure? Has he been in family counseling? How does he behave at home? How did he behave in his old school? What do the teachers do when he misbehaves? Have you tried to work on a plan with them? All these things matter, and help guide us to giving you a more useful answer. – anongoodnurse Oct 4 '17 at 15:13
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    yes, he is going to family counseling twice a month for the last 4 months. He is good at home, he is a pleaser. He has to keep his room clean and feed the dog. He receives check marks on his conduct folder and he has to fill out a form to what happen and why and how to correct to make sure it doesn't happen again, the teacher signs it and the parent. There have been a couple of times that I have being talking to him about the issues at school and he starts to get louder and swinging his arms, I bring that to his attention and tell him he needs to try to stay calm and not be so upset. – Joy Oct 4 '17 at 15:16
  • His dad has said that he mom was loud and wanted to be the center of attention and that is how he is acting. – Joy Oct 4 '17 at 15:20
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    It sounds like the focus is on punishment. It might be time to look at the rewards side of the equation. – pojo-guy Oct 5 '17 at 2:04
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    Counselling was the right move. Could you share what the therapist thinks is the root of these behavioral problems? – Xander Oct 9 '17 at 11:03
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It sounds like this is all very recent. You say he has been in therapy twice a month for 5 months - has he been with you guys only 5 months? That certainly seems implied by his being 8 years old and having been with his mom during second grade. He's probably just started 3rd grade in August or September I would imagine. In terms of therapy for understanding and healing from almost 8 years of instability and abuse, 5 months is nothing. And as an aside, is there a reason he doesn't go to therapy every week? Two weeks feels like forever to most kids - he may not be able to grasp therapy as an ongoing process with so much time in between.

It sounds like you guys are doing half of the equation really well: the consistency half. It's fantastic that you guys are providing a stable environment with predictable and reliable expectations. This is absolutely key for all children, but especially those coming from unsafe/abusive situations.

However, it also sounds like there's a huge focus on his behavior as wrong and in need of correction. As in, "we need to fix him because he is a damaged person as a result of his experience with his mom, and we'll know he's been fixed when his behavior conforms to such-and-such an image of what a prototypical 'good' child's behavior should be."

If his mom was, as you say, such an alcoholic, the child is likely used to walking on eggshells at home, because it's very dangerous to upset an alcoholic. It makes sense that he would be on best behavior at home. Oddly, he may actually be acting out at school because he feels safer and more in control there. Someone asked about his behavior at his prior school - did he act out there, too?

The half of the equation that seems to be missing (which may be more a result of the focus of your original post rather than a reflection of reality) is affirmation, compassion, and encouragement. When he comes home with one of these check marks, do you start with, "why did this happen? Don't you know it's wrong to...?" Because the fact is he might not know. He might be reacting to emotionally difficult moments in the only way that has been consistently demonstrated to him, and therefore the only way that he understands, and that makes sense to him.

My recommendation: start by listening to his description of the incidents (rather than going by whatever description was sent home with him - that description will probably give you the most accurate dry facts, but you need to know what it looked like from his perspective- including his feelings, and what he perceived others' feelings and intentions to be). Then empathize with him - "I understand why this made you feel that way, and I'm sorry that happened." Then, if you think based on the information you have that his interpretation of the situation was off-base, explain: "I don't think Generic Boy was ignoring you on purpose. It's more likely that he was just playing with the friends he knows from last year. It always takes time to make friends at a new school, especially when the other kids all know each other already." Then address the reaction: again, start with empathy - "I understand why feeling hurt and rejected would make you want to xyz, but I think we can come up with a better way to handle this kind of situation in the future." Then I would come at the solution from two perspectives: 1) Results. Probably there is something he wants to achieve, such as eventually making friends with people at school. You can ask, "did your response help you with this goal?" Likely the answer is a resounding no. Help him come up with a way he could have responded that would serve the eventual goal of making friends (or whatever it happens to be that he wants to achieve). 2) Social conventions for what is appropriate/acceptable behavior. Because his mom did not demonstrate this aspect to him, it should not be taken for granted that he knows. Explain to him what is generally regarded as appropriate behavioral parameters in the given situation and why. This last may be hard, because once a concept of good and bad behaviors is instilled in us on a more or less instinctive level, we sort of stop thinking about why. But the reasons will be very important for him to understand if you want appropriate behaviors to become internalized for him at some point.

Last: take the time to observe and affirm when he does things well - with particular focus on handling emotions appropriately. If he's getting worked up in a conversation, for example, and when you point it out he actually calms himself down, let him know how impressed you are with his ability to handle those difficult emotions so well. You can help him recognize other areas where he does well, too, so he can start to build a better sense of self-worth - because ultimately acting out tends to be a response to insecurity caused by feeling inadequate or unsafe. The safety will come over time with the consistency you are providing, especially if home is an emotionally safe environment. Self-worth might take a little more work, especially if the focus is always on what he's doing wrong. Start focusing on what he does right.

  • MAA- First, thank you for replying to my post. – Joy Oct 24 '17 at 13:47
  • MAA- First, thank you for replying to my post. He came to live with us April 2017, he was going to therapy once a week for the first 2 months and we have backed it to twice a month since. We had a conference with his teachers and now everyone is in a better understanding of the check marks and we are handling them as you have suggested in hearing his story and trying to understand the reasons for the acting out. I appreciate the open eye to the point of him feeling insecure or inadequate in the situation at school for being the reasons for acting out. – Joy Oct 24 '17 at 14:01
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    I have pointed out to him a couple of times that we are having a conversation about something and he starts to get upset, I have him take a deep breath and try to stay calm. He has gone 2 weeks without a check mark which he was getting 2-3 weekly since the meeting with the teachers. He is improving and seem to be a happy boy. – Joy Oct 24 '17 at 14:02
  • What suggestions or advise do you have about his mother, she is allowed to call him on Saturdays at noon and has not done so for the last month, he talks about missing her and wants to see her. His dad has told him that mom needs to get help before he is able to see her and have explained that it is for his protection. – Joy Oct 24 '17 at 14:02
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    @Joy I'm really glad to hear all that, thanks for the update :) I do have some things to say about the situation with the mom, but it might be lengthy for comments - here I'll just say, if there's animosity between mom and dad, she might be avoiding calling because of not wanting to interact with dad, without realizing what the effect is on her son. If dad can call her and remind her how long a week is from a kid's perspective that might help with at least the element of her not calling – MAA Oct 24 '17 at 18:23
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It sounds like you're taking all the appropriate steps--you've involved the school, you're providing a stable environment for the child, and involving him in sports which will help him make friends and build confidence. Yet you're still seeing problems, which means the next step is to involve a neutral, professionally trained third party: aka, a therapist.

The child has been in an incredibly tumultuous situation with little stability or security.

Our 8 year old boy is now living with us, taken away from his mom due to abuse and now living with his dad, new home & new school. When living with his mom he was late to missed school 34 times in 2nd grade. His mom drank a lot and took him around lots of bf's. He was left with his grandmother a lot.

While he may be happy and compliant at home,

He is good at home, he is a pleaser. He has to keep his room clean and feed the dog.

he's acting out in other areas of his life, which might be related to his upbringing (assuming he spent the majority of his life with his mother in that situation).

I would keep doing what you're doing, but also seek an experienced counselor for the child to get professional help and a professional opinion on next steps.

  • Thank you for replying. We have him going to see a therapist twice a month for the last 5 months. I know it's a lot of changes. I would like to know what discipline actions should be taken at home for the check marks at school? At first we were taking away his tablet and grounding, but there have been so many more check marks that he would stay grounded always. What to do? – Joy Oct 4 '17 at 18:06
  • He spent his first 7 years with his mom and dad had weekend visits twice monthly. – Joy Oct 4 '17 at 18:19
  • @Joy I would update your original question with these details, as well as the ones anongoodnurse prompted, as well as anything else about specific actions you've taken. Include any medical evaluations that have been performed on the child, and what the therapist says. – Marisa Oct 4 '17 at 18:24

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