New Life Family Counseling

Therapy & Counseling Blog, Sylvia S. Roan

Why did Johnny get a frowning face put on his agenda notebook? -Tips on Improving Your Child’s School Adjustment

 After a long day working in a high stressed environment, Mary picked up her 9 year-old son, Johnny  from school.   Johnny's unhappiness was written all over his face. Mary asked, "Are you all right? Did you get into trouble?" With tears in his eyes Johnny said that he was trying to dig Sally out from the sand but the teacher gave him two warning slips. Johnny complained, "That was not fair! " "She punished me for doing a good thing!".  Mary reached over to take out Johnny's planner and saw a frown face displayed on Johnny's planner.  The teacher's note stated ,"Johnny did not have a good day. He did not follow directions to line up. When he was reminded to join the line, he continued to ignore me. Johnny refused to walk in  line, and he  refused to enter the classroom. Johnny had a bad day at school the rest of the day."  Mary felt frustrated and stressed out from being called by Johnny's school often. She wanted Johnny to receive therapy to help him improve his behavior. (For privacy's sake, the names quoted in this article are not their real names.)

During the therapy session, Johnny drew a picture about what had happened at the playground the previous day before it was time to go into the classroom in the morning.

According to Johnny, he saw four children burying Sally under the sand.  Johnny heard his teacher, Mrs. Smith,  calling, "Line up!" He went to stand behind his teacher immediately but as soon as he saw Sally was still under the sand and the four classmates continued to pile sand on her, he ran over to dig her out.   Mr. Smith called again for everyone to  line up. The four boys ran to line up, but Johnny stayed there to help Sally. Mrs. Smith came over to give Johnny and sally a warning paper slip. Johnny continued to dig Sally out. Mrs. Smith called again for  Johnny and Sally to join the line. She gave them another warning slip. Johnny got Sally out of the sand and joined the class. Johnny said he did not stay in line because he was very mad at Mrs. Smith for giving him the slips and the four boys did not get any slip at all. He was so mad that he refused to enter the classroom. He was so mad that he didn't do much the whole day at school.  Mary was surprised that Johnny was able to tell so much more about what happened. She only heard a little bit about the incident when she asked Johnny.

Johnny has had behavior problems at school. He could easily become irritated. Screaming, crying, physical aggression, insubordination, disruptive behaviors were the concerns that Mary heard from school quite frequently.   Being a single mother working full time, Mary could not afford missing more days at work to pick Johnny up from school.  That was why she called for an appointment to see whether the therapist at the office could help Johnny.

What adults considered to be obvious may not be clear to the children. In Johnny's example,  he thought it was more important to rescue Sally then to go line up. To his teacher, Mrs. Smith, Johnny needs to follow direction and let the teacher handle Sally's problem.  Mrs. Smith was too busy to find out why Johnny was that upset for the whole day. At school, classroom teachers are under lots of stress when teaching and managing at least 15 children at the same time. The result was Johnny's unhappiness and his not learning for the whole day, consequently a more stressed day for Mrs. Smith.

During this session when Johnny drew the picture of  what happened and explained to the therapist of the situation he was in, it became clear that Johnny was very caring to Sally's predicament and decided to take action to help her.  Since he thought he was doing something urgent and helpful, he did not think he should have been punished at all. The therapist complimented on Johnny's caring for his friend and discussed with him why Mrs. Smith gave him the two warning slips. Johnny learned that in school situations, his teacher is in charge all of the time and Johnny needs to listen and do what his teacher wants him to do. If he has a concern he could raise his hand to let his teacher know about Sally's predicament.  Johnny was able to see how his thoughts led him to his actions, and how his actions brought the consequence.

It is not an easy situation for a child like Johnny to adjust to the school situation easily.  It hasn't been easy  for him to verbally communicate his feelings especially when he was frustrated. When his/her frustration is not resolved,  the child may become angry or agitated based on his past experience, which then leads to tantrums, defiance, or aggression that result in being  reprimanded or punished. Children like Johnny needs to learn to recognize their feelings, and also to learn  to communicate calmly using words.

Mary and Johnny have felt much better since they came to Mrs. Roan for therapy. Mary has followed the recommendation of the therapist and has seen a great difference in Johnny's behavior both at home and at school. Johnny's anger outburst has greatly reduced.  There has been a much improved communication between Mary and Mrs. Smith.

We recommend the following tips for you to improve your child's school adjustment:

·       Find time to listen to your child

·       Keep good communication with your child's teacher

·       Model Calm attitude when you encounter conflicts

·       Teach your child skills of  problem solving at school and at home

·       Call (626)353-8772 to Schedule an appointment for consultation or assessment,  if you are concerned about your child's unhappiness at school.                                   


Sylvia Roan