Reaching out to the “bad” children who struggle with their behavior

Your friend is sad lately, and you're not sure why. Sometimes, your friend snaps at you angrily or turns down an invitation to join you.  Your friend may say, Sorry, I was upset or I'm depressed or I'm feeling hurt and angry.  You may know that your friend is going through a difficult time at home.  Hopefully, you try to understand your friend’s behavior and support your friend through a tough time.

Photo by Luis Cruz

Photo by Luis Cruz

Now, imagine that struggling friend is your child's three-year-old classmate. The child can't put words to those feelings, so s/he may push, hit, invade children's space, snatch toys, or disrupt circle time. The child's parents and teachers are working together to help that child, but it is hard work!

Sadly, that work is often undermined by classmates and their families who label the child as "bad" and avoid all contact with that child.  A very young person, who is already struggling, feels even worse about him/herself, as the rejection confirms what the child already feels -- I am not a good kid, and the only way I can get attention is through negative behavior.

Even though it may be hard to know that a child is taking toys from yours or requires more attention from the teachers, please try to focus on three important concepts: compassion, empathy, and appreciation. 

The child whose behavior is different or disruptive desperately needs compassion from adults and peers.  Remember, this is a very young child who cannot express the painful feelings with words.  Believe me, there is always a reason for this behavior, but teachers cannot share (or even always know) what is causing the behavior.

The family of that child needs your empathy.  All parents love their children.  Parents who are struggling with problem behaviors need your support.  Rather than complaining about their child's behavior to other parents and teachers, consider extending the hand of friendship to that parent.

Finally, teachers deserve your appreciation for the extremely difficult job they do. They work very hard to give each child the best possible experience. Teachers put a lot of time and thought into how to help a child having difficulties while still looking out for the welfare of the class as a whole.  So, please forgive them if they make a mistake (don't we all!) and support them in their efforts.

Please consider the possibility that you could teach your child a valuable lesson and help the struggling child, family, and teachers at the same time. Explain to your child that Billy is still learning how to be a friend and that the teachers and his family are helping him.  Ask your child how s/he could also help. You may be surprised by the answer!

As the holiday season approaches, we are often too busy to remember the simple truths.  Giving your compassion, empathy, and support are the most important gifts of all.

Parents of children who struggle with their behavior, what has been helpful to you and your child?

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