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Back-to-School Discipline Problem

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My son got into a little trouble his first day of school. (All of the pre-K teachers liked him at his daycare and I feel he learned a lot.) When my wife or I have a disscussion about what he did wrong, he laughs. Could this be a sign of nerves? If you ask him why he was talking loud in the hall and restroom he has good answers, like the other kids were watching him, or he saw someone he knew from pre-K, so you don't want to be too hard on him. But he threw a rock at another child because he wouldn't listen to what he was saying. That made me very angry. If we try to discuss it he snickers and covers his face. I wish I could get him over it, but I don't know how.

A: Dear Friend,
I think that your good common sense is on target here. His laughter and snickers and covering his face when you discuss this uncomfortable subject are a nervous response--his way of showing his anxiety over having to "face the music" about something he knows he is in trouble for.

Given his good reports from his pre-K teachers and your knowing your boy is a good kid, I would chalk up this little "blip on the screen" to early school jitters. You rightly need to be concerned about his chucking rocks at kids if he becomes frustrated or angry with them. So be patient with him and remind him of all the good things he does daily and of all the new things he's accomplishing in school. Teach him to use his words when he disagrees with a child or adult and role-play the different ways he can respond in non-physical ways.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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