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Poor Student Behavior: Getting the “Message” to Parents

This is the second of a biweekly series about “The Business of Before and After School.” Look for other posts on this topic by selecting Business from the category list below right.

Chronic “border line” student behavior, never clearly breaking the rules that would justify suspension or expulsion from a before and afterschool program, but serious enough that a child is always on your staff’s radar, can be a challenging problem for program administrators to address.  Most afterschool administrators have been here before, the point at which your staff are saying to you “something has to be done,” about a student’s continued poor behavior in your before and afterschool program.  Sometimes getting the “message” to parents is easier said than done, especially when attempting to convey good faith guidance and strategies to them about their child’s continued inappropriate behavior while in a before or afterschool program.

Many have experienced the case where a child’s behavior is clearly inappropriate for the situation, however not at a stage where suspension or expulsion from your program is warranted.  The challenge is how to deal with this situation, most importantly for the benefit of the child but also for the sanity of your staff.  The following two examples cover very different types of “border-line” student behavior issues and are followed by the strategies that helped convey the seriousness of the issues to the children’s parents, which in return helped show a unified front to the children involved and led to improved behavior:

Case Study #1, Upper Elementary:  Chronic complaining and non-participation in your after school activities. (The child just doesn’t want to be there!)

The Issue:

John has been in the afterschool program forever (well 6 years, to be honest) and has progressively made his feelings known that he would rather be at home playing his Wii-box-5 million and eating cheetoes.  Attempted strategies to try to get John to enjoy his time in the afterschool program included:  making sure that the past games and activities the supervisor knew John has enjoyed are happening when John is there, and allowing John to opt-out of some activities, have fallen short, and when John has been “required” to join into the fun activities he did everything possible to ruin the fun for everyone else.

How Success was found:

The Site Supervisor recognized steps needed to be taken, early in the school year, to prevent John’s lack of enthusiasm from growing to a more significant problem for both John and the other program participants.  In this case the supervisor had a very direct conversation with John and asked John to regard his time in the After School program as his job at this time in his life.  He was asked to recognize the fact that his parent’s job was to go to work and provide the income that John’s family needed, and that John’s job was to attend the afterschool program in support of this family effort.  Additionally, the supervisor enlisted John, now on the job, to assist the afterschool program with a number of daily tasks, including snack administration (this also included selling some snacks for a large afterschool program event) and sports equipment accountability.  The most important job the supervisor asked John to assist with was during the monthly activity planning (activity scheduling) to give his input on which activities—from John’s years of experience participating in them, he felt would be best received by the younger children.

The Supervisor’s final step was to make sure that John’s parents were fully aware and supportive of this strategy to improve John’s attitude and behavior during his last year in the After School program.  As it turned out, John’s behavior gradually improved that year and two years later, after having left the afterschool program in 6th grade, John returned to the Program as a volunteer counselor-in-training during his 8th grade year.

Case Study #2, Early Elementary:  Chronic “accidents,” whether accidental or purposeful, pant wetting during after school activities.

The issue:

Jane is 7 and has been in your program since Kindergarten, now for a little over 2 years.  From day one, she had issues with toileting and even now continues to have at least 1 wetting “accident” a week in your after school program.  The behavior has gotten better over the years (fewer accidents) however it is still occurring.  The Site Supervisor has done all of the right things up to this point including: using clear simple language, being direct, creating a bathroom “routine,” having the school’s special services department assess the child’s behavior (no physical problems, Psychological testing inconclusive, observations ongoing).  The Site Supervisor has also kept the parents informed of the issue; however the parents have always taken a “she’ll grow out of it” stance.

How Success was found:

To get the parents on the same page as the Site Supervisor, especially, to be conveying the same message “you need to be in control of your body and use the bathroom when needed, it is not okay to wet your pants in 2nd grade” to Jane, the Site Supervisor required the parents to pick-up Jane after any wetting incident in after school (Jane would change and then wait for her parents to pick her up).  This was a change from the normal procedure of allowing Jane to change following a wetting and just rejoin the group.   This new step was taken first out of necessity, as there was a day in which Jane had an accident at transition time (around 3:15pm) changed her clothes and then had a second accident at around 4pm, at which time her parents were called as there were no dry clothes for the child to change into.    However, from that day on the Supervisor called the parents following an accident and required them to come in to pick up there daughter as soon as possible.  This imposition, on the parents, coupled with the fact that it forced the parents to deal with the chronic behavior, led to an almost immediate improvement in “real” communication between the Site Supervisor and the parents regarding the child’s behavior.  With the parents now completely engaged as partners in trying to reduce and ultimately stop Jane’s accidents, if not for the benefit of the child and the afterschool, but also to allow the parents to keep a regular work schedule, Jane began to show some improvement.  The final step was vigilance on both the Supervisor and parent’s part.  Over time (a number of months) the real, open lines of communication strengthened between the Supervisor and parents, and ultimately involved the child’s homeroom teacher and school social worker.  After “focus” was brought onto the issue and it’s impact on the child and the afterschool program and the parents took ownership of there crucial role of delivering the same message the school and afterschool program was attempting to do on there own previously, did Jane’s consciousness of her actions and actual behavior truly improve.

These two cases of “border-line” behavior illustrate the wide range of types of behaviors that may fall into the multitude of behavior issues being dealt with in today’s out of school time programming.  Many other challenging behaviors could be used as examples; however the real challenge is how to effectively resolve these “border-line” behaviors before needing to consider suspension or expulsion, as this resolution in most cases will be for the benefit of all parties involved.

Vince small

Vince LaFontan has worked in the after school field, and as a consultant to youth-serving organizations, for 20 years.  Currently he is the Director of Farmington Extended Care & Learning in Farmington, CT , a Board Member of the Connecticut After School Network, and Vice Chair of the National AfterSchool Association’s Board of Directors in Washington, DC.

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