4 Reminders For Discouraged Parents Of Disruptive Kids

parenting disruptive behavior in school
mgorthand / iStock

Are you filled with a sense of dread every time you see an email from your child’s teacher in your inbox? Do you unconsciously hold your breath until you’ve read far enough to realize that it’s only a reminder about spirit day? Then do you let out a sigh of relief? You’ve made it another day without the wheels falling off.

I feel your pain. We’ve gotten a lot of notes home from my one of my kid’s teachers this year. Almost all of the notes have been about behavior (or a lack thereof): staying on task, talking during class, going for the laugh but carrying it a little too far. You get the idea.

The notes aren’t a shock; these are things we’ve been working on at home too. And even though our interaction and collaboration with the teacher has been very, very positive, there’s no denying that, as a parent, getting these notes is demoralizing. After all, shouldn’t my child be able to make it just one day without getting called out in class? What kind of a parent am I that I have no influence on this kid? How is everyone else getting this so right when I’m getting it so wrong?

But while it’s easy to get sucked into this kind of thinking, these negative thoughts contribute nothing to the problem but frustration, anxiety and fear.

Before I get swept into the vortex, there are four things that it helps to remind myself of:

1. My child is a work in progress.

Who he is today is not who he’ll become tomorrow. Period.

2. My child’s poor choices are not a reflection of my parenting.

When your child fails, it’s easy to feel like you’re failing. After all, aren’t I my child’s first teacher, the person they model themselves after, and their Chief Compliance Officer? Yes, yes and yes. But their mistakes are theirs to own, not yours. While I need to figure out how I’m contributing to the struggle, I’m doing us both a disservice by accepting responsibility for actions that aren’t mine.

3. My child’s shortcomings are actually developing strengths that are raw and yet to be honed. To focus on the big picture, I need to reframe these troublesome character traits.

Our little talker is a people person through and through. He makes friends on the playground. He chats up the young and old alike in grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and airports. He’s even struck up conversations with the homeless. The upside to all his talking, once he learns to tame it, is that he’ll never be lonely.

There’s a reason our kid can’t stay focused in class: The world is his oyster. His sense of creativity and imagination is second to none. There was a period of months when we didn’t have a single working pen in our house—our son took them all apart to see how the springs worked. He did the same to the stapler. We were exasperated and short on office supplies, but he was learning to feed his hunger for knowledge. With enough guidance, he’ll learn to lead his source of curiosity, not follow it.

Our all-or-nothing kid is prone to big emotions. When he’s happy, it’s as if he swallowed a thousand suns. Conversely, when it rains in his world, there is no umbrella big enough to cover his sorrow. You may as well just start building an ark. But we always know where we stand with him. His feelings are not a mystery, either to him or to us. Someday, he may have a lot to discuss with a therapist, but buried feelings won’t be one of them.

4. Behavior needs to be viewed objectively, not personally.

Recently, I was chatting with another mom. She told me that her son plays soccer non-stop. “We took all the pictures off the walls,” she told me. “And I can’t keep tomatoes and onions in the house,” she continued.

I understood about the pictures, but the vegetables? Is salsa the secret sauce of soccer players? “He kicks them when he gets his soccer ball taken away,” she said shaking her head. I didn’t know whether to laugh or hug her. In the end, I just shook my head too. “Boys,” we said, knowing we’d said it all.

This mom was looking for commiseration, not parenting advice. So I bit my tongue. But what I really wanted to tell her was that she’ll never have to guess at her son’s passion—even the vegetable crisper knows what it is. And her child’s ingenuity? Impressive.

But as I walked away, brilliant advice still churning in my head, I realized that I could see the upside to this child’s behavior because he wasn’t my kid. If I was mom to the onion-kicking soccer player, I’d probably be staring at a blank wall in frustration too.

Sometimes we’re just too close to a situation. We need to step back and analyze our child’s behavior the way we would if that were someone else’s kid. By removing ourselves and our emotions from the picture, we can view the situation from a different perspective.

Someday, the Year of the Emails will be a distant memory. We’ll look back and see how far our child has come, not just in math but in learning self-control and building character. Until that day, I’m opening my email with trepidation, but not a sense of doom. We’ve already come a long way, baby. We’ll get there yet.