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A Two-Pronged Approach to Good Behavior

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My seven-year-old stepson has been misbehaving at school -- he's always talking out of turn, refusing to do his work, and getting out of his seat. He doesn't behave this way at our house because he knows it's not appropriate. We've tried everything to help him improve his behavior -- taking away his toys, withholding privileges, and providing him with a reward chart -- and he still continues to misbehave. What else can we try?

A: Talk with your stepson's teacher and decide on one or two behaviors to work on first. Ask the teacher to send you a daily note (this could be as simple as a smiley face or a check mark) to tell you how he did, then follow up at home.

You say that a reward chart has not worked, but try again to focus on the positive. The key to any reward system is to use it consistently over a long period of time. Sit down with your stepson when you are all calm and ask him what rewards he's willing to work for. Keep in mind that rewards don't have to cost money: a good day can earn an extra bedtime story, 15 minutes of computer time, or a walk around the block just with you. Two or three good days in a week can earn having a friend over to play on the weekend. You can increase the time required to earn a reward and tackle other behaviors as his conduct improves.

Talk also with the school counselor. He may be able to give your stepson some individual time or include him in a small group on good behavior. The counselor may also be able to observe your stepson in the classroom and help the teacher see some ways to improve the situation there. Changing your stepson's seat or starting a positive reward system for the entire class may make a big difference in his behavior.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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