A child’s emotional health is either increased or diminish by how he or she fares in school.

School days or school daze?

When I worked in Mott Haven, not just the home of the Yankees, but also the poorest corner of the Bronx, I was always happy and sad when school started.  As I headed to my office, I would  pass school after school. At the elementary schools the kids would be lined up waiting for the doors to open while the  parents waited near by to wave them in and wish them well.  Smiles abounded.

Jonathan Kozol, author and social critic roamed the streets of Mott Haven at the same time I worked there.  The books he wrote from his roaming aptly  describe the difficulties of life for so many who lived and worked there.

In Ordinary Resurrections, Children in the Years of Hope, he said this about teachers and children just starting school:

Good teachers don’t approach a child of this age with overzealousness or with destructive conscientiousness. They’re not drill-masters in the military or floor managers in a production system. They are specialists in opening small packages. They give the string a tug but do it carefully. They don’t yet know what’s in the box. They don’t know if it’s breakable.

I love children, they are indeed our hope and that hope shines brightly when school starts.  Hence my happiness passing all the kids and their parents on the early days of September.

My sadness? The inevitable trampling on those hopes for so many.  By the time I headed out for my lunch time walk, a different group of kids would have begun appearing: the hopeless, the drop-outs, the drug runners. For the most part school had failed these kids and the kids had failed school.

As one of my favorite shrinks, Robert Catenaccio, MD  head of the Children’s Psychiatric  Emergency Room Service at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx often remarked, “School drives kids crazy.”

His statement was backed up by examining referral statistics.  Few children were referred to his service during the summer months but grew rapidly as school began and continued.  Standardized testing times often saw a big jump in the referrals.  Our referrals followed the same pattern, for many came from his service.


If school is not driving you or your kids crazy, be grateful.  Be very grateful.  Read on in order to increase your understanding of why some have not been so lucky.

Four things create problems for some kids and parents at school and they are bad parenting, behavior problems,  learning disabilities, and mental illness.  Over the next posts I will address all four.  This post is going take a brief glimpse of behavior problems, particularly in those attending school for the first time.  I am going to talk specifically talk about “goodness of fit” behavior problems in terms of parenting style.

There are four  types of parents: soft love, tough-soft love, tough love and abusive.  Teachers also  fall into each of those categories.

Goodness of fit refers to the meshing of these styles.  The meshing that creates the greatest possibility of problems for a beginning student is soft teaching style and tough or abusive parenting style. Why? The simplest explanation is that the child raised in a tough home does not accept a gentle “No.”  In fact, he or she most likely hears a gentle “No” as permission to do as he or she pleases.

The conflict will not develop immediately. Most kids take a few days to start behaving as usual in any new situation.  A clue that this might be a problem is when your very-well-behaved-at-home-child arrives at your doorstep with a teacher’s note about misconduct.

Tip one:  Try not to blow your stack, tear your hair, or punish your child.

Tip two:  When you are not seeing red and are feeling calm, have a quiet talk with your child about your style versus your teacher’s style.  You and your child’s other parent might want to do this after dinner.  Ask your child how he or she knows when you mean “No.” Then ask how his or her other parent means “No.” Then how teacher means “No.”

Tip three:  Roleplay each parent and teacher saying “No.” Have the child play a parent or the teacher some of the time. Make it a game.

Tip four: Make it clear, after doing the above, that you expect your child to obey the softest “No” from a teacher. No means no whether followed by a swift removal to the time out chair  or if  not accompanied  by a consequence the child understands.

Tip five: Plan to repeat this conversation and the game a few more times.

Tip six: Have a conversation with the teacher. Give the teacher a copy of this blog post.  Tell her you are a very strict parent. Ask her to have a conversation with your child about her way of saying “No” so the two of you can be on the same page.  Suggest you and the teacher meet with the child and role play each other’s “No.”

If time-out follows non-compliance in your home, designate a time-out place in the school room.  The child’s desk will work, with a few adjustments.  As the child should probably stay there when time-out is over, it might be wise to make “Head down”  part of time-out in school. Teacher can signal the end of time-out by saying the child’s name.

Tip seven:  Work out a reward system for improvement in obeying at school. Ask the teacher to make a check mark on an index card every time your child obeys and send it home with the child.  Reward the child for obeying when you review the card.  Rewards can be simple.  “I’m proud you obeyed so much today.”  Comment on improvement.  If the child slips backward, express your disappointment.

Tip eight: Ask the teacher to let you know when your child is as obedient as most of the other children in the class.  At that point the teacher should not send home an improvement card.  The child should get a special reward such as a trip to the ice cream store, his favorite dessert, or staying up a bit later.  Thereafter the teacher should send home notes when the child is particularly troublesome and a consequence is imposed.

Tip nine: Be patient. Some kids get it quickly, others take a while.  If the problem persists after six weeks of working the above, it is time to re-group and consider other problems, perhaps getting some psychological testing.  More about that in future posts.

Tip ten: Remember what matters.  School does matter,  but other things matter more.  Daniel Goleman, the popularizer of emotional intelligence, reported in his first book on a study that pointed to the fact that manners, getting along with people and handling negative emotions, mattered more than graduating from college. Many famous people failed school and made a huge success of their lives.


Be kind to me. Like this post or share it.  You will be helping me stay strong and maybe some others as well.  Another way to help me is to watch for the E-publication of my book Parents Are People Too.  It is revised and updated and Amazon will be selling it. The book is sub-titled An Emotional Fitness Program for Parents and details how to strengthen your emotional fitness skills.

Click here for a quick view of the  Daily Emotional Fitness  Exercises.  If  regular practice of these 12 Daily Emotional Fitness Exercises does not improve the quality of your life, more might be needed.  That is the time to think about counseling.

Good luck, life is a struggle. Caring relationships matter most but are difficult as well as wonderful.  Being a parent is the hardest and best job in the world. Despite all, life a feast.



Sometimes my posts are a bit peppered with mis-spellings, oddly used words, weird punctuation.  These stem from a lesser known learning disability called dysgraphia, but also from rushing.  My apologies. Don’t read or check back in a day or so, as I usually catch most of the errors when I re-read.  Also practicing forgiveness is a useful Emotional Fitness Exercise, so forgive me, I do the best I can, we all do.  Sometimes the best is not good enough, that is when forgiveness matters and forgiveness is yet another Emotional Fitness Training Exercise.

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