Q: One of my third-grade boys curses all the time. I tell him it's unacceptable, but his classmates laugh and his parents don't seem bothered by it. How can I break this bad habit?
A: Frankly, I don't see how you can break his habit on your own. You may persuade him to stifle off-color remarks in your presence, but he'll retain the notion that such talk is okay if everyone else in his life is amused by it. Presumably, his classmates admire him for being fearless about breaking rules. They wouldn't put themselves in a worrisome situation, but they get vicarious pleasure from seeing someone else take the risks. What the boy's parents think is more bewildering. Do they find it acceptable and even funny, or are they worried about their son's breach of etiquette in school?
I once heard a story about a family whose 18-month-old daughter asked, "Where is my ‘blankety-blank' hat?" to which the father responded, "Where did that ‘blankety-blank' child hear such ‘blankety-blank' language?" The question obviously answered itself, and the parent came face to face with his own unacceptable behavior. I hope I am not putting you out on a limb to suggest that you get together with the parents to discuss how one's life changes when an alert, verbally precocious child enters the family. Self-censorship is imposed by most parents because no one wants to hear a young child cursing, particularly one's own when, for example, the boss comes to dinner. There is no use telling our children, "Do as I say, not as I do." They are not that smart; or maybe they are actually too smart to buy that injunction.
You and the parents can talk about how astute children can be. "We can't get away with anything, or not much, anymore." I think that if you approach the parents with a sympathetic tone, this story could turn out to have a truly happy ending.
Q: I have a first grader who, while warm and thoughtful, is quite the chatterbox. She came to us late in the year, so I hoped that she would settle in. That didn't happen, and her perpetual talking is taking its toll. What can I do?
A: It must have been difficult for this child to enter a classroom of youngsters who have been together for seven or eight months. By this point, they have developed a familiarity with one another's personalities, limitations, and strengths. While she might have watched carefully to get an understanding of her new school, your first grader has apparently chosen to entertain in an attempt to make new friends. I would suggest that you speak to her alone, during a free period or after class.
When you meet, tell her you know how hard these last weeks must have been for her. Help her to see that studying the situation before speaking out might be a better idea. Look at a recent assignment together to demonstrate a thoughtful way of approaching the material, and discuss your classroom dynamics. It's important for her to understand with whom she is dealing; once she knows, she can frame her comments with those facts in mind. Since she is a warm, thoughtful girl, she is sure to find friends among her classmates. Encourage her to be patient; in time, a person with her qualities is sure to make lasting friendships.
Got a question for Dr. Brodkin?
Send it to instructorscholastic.com.
Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., has been a child development consultant to Scholastic. She is the author of Raising Happy and Successful Kids and Fresh Approaches to Working With Problematic Behavior, available at the Scholastic Teacher store.