How did they adjust their behavior to help Jerry improve his behavior?
- Parents talked to their kids about how Jerry struggled to control his behavior and that he wasn’t intentionally trying to harm them.
- Adults in the classroom stayed near Jerry so that they could intervene before he physically attacked someone.
- Some invited Jerry over for playdates so that he could deepen his friendships.
- Jerry’s parents had him working with an Occupational Therapist to improve his sensory issues.
- Kids learned to set boundaries with Jerry. For example, when Jerry asked to sit on a bench by a boy,
he responded “'Sure . . . If you don't hurt me.' And quite earnestly, Jerry answered, 'I won't hurt you.'”
When the parents and kids worked together, they were able to help Jerry become a successful member of the class. Expelling Jerry would have transferred the problem to some other school while also making Jerry and his family feel rejected. Jerry improved his interpersonal skills by practicing with kids who were caring enough to tolerate his failures until he achieved success.
Setting Stronger Boundaries
Children who behave poorly need others to provide clear, strong boundaries. However, setting clear boundaries is not easy. Kids may need guidance in figuring out how to set more explicit boundaries.
The kids in Peter’s first grade class needed help in understanding his behavior and setting boundaries. Peter often spoke out of turn, grabbed things out of other kids’ hands and sometimes threw tantrums. The kids initially reacted by keeping their distance from Peter.
Although Peter was intellectually keeping up with his classmates, he was failing socially. Peter’s parents turned to Dr. Bruce Perry for help.
In his book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog
Dr. Perry explains that Peter spent his first three years in a Russian orphanage primarily in a crib prior to being adopted.
This early trauma and neglect led to parts of Peter’s brain being severely underdeveloped. He had missed the loving interactions babies need to establish their social brain connections.
Dr. Perry visited Peter's first grade class. He explained why Peter's brain was different than theirs and how they could help Peter. Once his classmates understood, they helped him instead of excluding him.
They helped Peter by setting more explicit boundaries perhaps like these:
- “You can sit by me if you don’t hit me.”
- “I’ll play tag as long as you won’t grab me or knock me down.”
- “You can use this marker I have if you first say please.”
- “It scares me when you yell. I will listen to you if you talk in a quieter voice.”
With the help of his classmates, Peter’s social skills improved.
Taking Action When Boundaries Are Crossed
Specifying boundaries up front allows everyone to get on the same page. If a child agrees to honor a boundary but then later breaks it, there are consequences.
For example, a middle school science class had been given a large project. The kids could chose to work by themselves or with another student. Tyler asked Sam if they could work together. Sam was concerned because Tyler sometimes did not pull his weight on projects.
Sam agreed on the condition that Tyler would do at least half the work on the project. When Tyler failed to do his share, Sam got permission from the teacher to work independently on the project instead.
Being able to both set boundaries and enforce boundaries is an important life skill. When your kids know how to set boundaries, they have the skills to include classmates whose behavior they sometimes find challenging.
Schools are safer and more welcoming when everyone feels a sense of belonging.