How to Get a Teacher to Stop Sending Home SAD FACES and Why It Must Stop

April 10, 2015

in Ask Dr Lisa, Autism Challenges

Dr. Lisa, I am sitting here crying as I email you this. It seems like everyday my  son comes home with a sad face on his papers regarding his behavior in school. I have met with his teacher and she thought a daily behavior report home would be a great way to let me know how my son’s day went. It sounded great at first, but I am finding this so upsetting. Instead of feeling like we are working together making his behavior better; I feel like he acts up, she puts a sad face on his paper which makes him mad and I am left to correct this problem at home. How can the teacher and I help improve my son’s behavior at school? This is not working and only making me feel bad about my son.”- Kate 

Oh, how many of us have had those sad face notes come home?  I have been there and done this so many times that I feel this mom’s pain shoot through my laptop! 

It is upsetting and can be fixed with simple preventive measures, but first know that you are your child’s advocate. He cannot speak up for himself nor is he even allowed to challenge an adult in school. Only you can. We need to focus on improving poor classroom behaviors, but it takes speaking up and creating plans.

This often brings up a feeling of fear and nervousness. We sometimes feel uneasy about addressing issues with a teacher that we already talked about or is simply not working. Sometimes we are hurt by what they say, especially when they don’t  have too many positives to tell you about your child (I recall very few positive things said about my son for years)! 

It can be so very nerve racking. No worries here. I got your back. If you need more help with advocating, allow me to guide you in my book here.

Let’s discuss how to communicate and work with your child’s teacher.  All you have to do is contact your child’s teacher and together, work on the following:

My Behavior Management Solutions

Implement the Gotcha System

The Gotcha System is great for building character and reinforcing positive behaviors. This system can be implemented in a classroom or an entire school. It is fun for everyone involved and schools that have implemented this system have reported great success. Here is how it works…

 Each time you  (if it is implemented in the entire school this would be any adult) catch a student doing a good behavior that you want that child to learn, you hand him/her a GOTCHA paper. This paper can be of any color, shape or color.  On the paper you have printed GOTCHA DOING ________.

When you catch the child doing the good behavior you say, ” GOTCHA DOING _______________ and then write the good behavior on the paper, next handing the paper to the child. Perhaps the child was helping  a friend, being honest, or finished his work on time. The great thing about the GOTCHA is the more teachers and employees doing it, the more chances of reinforcing the very good behavior you want the child to learn.

 Gotcha papers are to be handed into the teacher (it can be the principal if the entire school is participating) at a certain time each week or month where the child is awarded a prize. The more Gotcha papers the child hands in the better the prize. I learned about this system from a dear friend when I was explaining how our school seemed to be focusing on what my son was doing wrong. He was quite often given detention at school, and I felt I couldn’t put him in time out, punish or take another thing away at home than I already have. I knew the negative approach was not working. She told me about how her school used the Gotcha System and how it improved poor classroom behavior practically overnight.

Design a Reward Behavior Game

Most kids work well when you motivate them, and when you motivate them with a reward, they tend to learn eagerly and rather quickly. When I  changed from a negative punishment approach to a reward based system, I found my son to respond and improve his behavior with more ease and speed. We argued less, his self-esteem and self confidence grew and we were able to work towards helping him learn the skills of positive behavior. 

Rewarding good behavior is an excellent way to reinforce it, but you must TEACH IT.

This concept that a child is choosing to be belligerent ON PURPOSE lacks understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The child’s nervous system keeps his/her body from responding or reacting to scenarios appropriately. Rewarding the child when the an appropriate response does occur is telling the child’s brain to repeat that appropriate response of good behavior. Each time you reinforce the child’s brain to continue a good behavior response, the brain and body will know that is what you want it to do. 

The brain figures out “When this happens, we need to respond this way.” 

The child learns ” When I respond this way (positively),  good things happen (good consequences occur), but  when I respond this way (negatively), bad things happens (negative consequences occur).” 

Neurologically you are building a pathway in the brain that says this good behavior is the appropriate response. The more you tell the brain this, the more this good behavior can be accepted, processed and implemented.

Create a Behavior Chart or Purchase One

A behavior chart does not have to be complicated. A simple behavior chart that you can laminate and then use a dry eraser on works well. 

Tell your child you are going to be starting a Reward Behavior Game where he will get a chance to earn prizes when he does good things. Discuss together what the rules are; ultimately you having control of them, but allow his voice to be heard. Decide what you will put on the chart. What good behaviors do you want to see you child do? List no more than three as it is not easy for a child to learn a new behavior right away. Decide on the rules of when he will get a reward, how many stars he must collect for a prize and also, decide what that prize will be. 

You can list for example, completing work on time, staying seated and being kind to a classmate. If your child’s teacher is sending home sad faces or negative behavior reports, list the good behaviors she wants to see. Decide if you are giving a check mark, star, or sticker on the chart each time your child does the good behavior listed. I have used this one here with great success and this one here too. What I like about these two is the ability to put down your own behavior you need to work on and not choose from printed ones.

You do not have to use a behavior chart to play this game. Rewards can also be small stickers, points, tokens, tickets, or a marble in a jar (and the check mark, star or sticker on the behavior chart). These little rewards should be given to the child each time a wanted good behavior is done. The little rewards add up to a bigger reward, so where the rewards go, what behaviors the child is working on and how many the child needs to collect, must be decided before starting the game.

If you are not using a behavior chart, I recommend listing the good behaviors and rules of the game on paper so you, your child, and the teacher are on the same page. 

Quite often as parents, we give our children so many “free” things (meaning for no special reason or earned), such as  iPads, iPods, computer time, video games, TV time, and trips for ice cream, movie and amusement type parks. Many of us don’t realize that we can make our children earn these items and time spent using them.  The reason I suggest this is because once I started to realize this beautiful idea, all of my sons started to behave better at home and in school. They even pitched in at home more because they became motivated to have the very things they love dearly. 

teachAs mentioned, the Reward Behavior Game can be used in the home and at school.  If at school, make sure the entire class participates so everyone is accountable for their poor classroom behaviors. Also, make sure the reward system your child’s teacher  implements does not take stickers, points, tokens, stars , checks or marbles away when the child does not behave well. I dislike the type of systems where the child is moved from let’s say a green zone to a yellow. All this does is upset the child and/or have the child feel defeated. My son use to give up once moving to green and back to yellow. He told me he would work so hard to get to the green, only to mess up and be back to the yellow by the end of the day. These type of systems are still using punishment as the means to reinforce good behavior and are very poor solutions for kids with ASD.

 Focus on rewarding the good behavior, be clear on your rules on how a child is to earn a reward, when the reward will be given, and how many rewards he/she has to collect for a bigger reward. Be clear on what the bigger reward is and make sure you follow through with providing one. Do not engage in arguments when your child fails to perform a good behavior. Simply let him/her know that you are so proud of how hard he is trying, and you know when a good behavior happens, he will get his sticker, points, token, check mark, star etc..

 Sad faces home are a form of punishment. The child sees the sad faces, knows the teacher is disappointed, fears mom will be upset and ultimately at the end of long sensory filled day, feels defeated. The child is being sent home as if the day was a failure.

 No day is a failure.

 Every day is a teachable day with many teachable moments.

 Mistakes are made to learn from.

 If your child is coming home with sad faces or negative comments, please talk to your teacher right away and discuss implementing the Gotcha System or a Reward Behavior Game in the classroom and at home. Take the time to teach your teacher how very important it is to approach poor behavior with positive praise this way you are re-reinforcing the brain to respond in a positive manner. Explain the brain and body connection and how working together, you both can implement positive management plans that will motivate  your child to shine.

 Remember, you have to learn now that you are your child’s advocate and YOU dictate the relationship with the teacher. Advocating for a child sometimes is perceived as arguing and fighting for a child and rightfully so, because I can attest there were many times I had to fight the administration for my son’s rights. However,  most of the time it is about learning to work with a teacher with confidence to speak up and provide solutions.

 Please remember, it is about improving poor classroom behaviors by rewarding the good behaviors you wish to see instead of punishing the poor behaviors. Let the child’s brain know exactly what you wish to see.

If you need more help on how to improve poor classroom behavior, I discuss how to do this in my book. The Overtilted Child: Creating a Sensational Classroom for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD and ADHD.  If you are having poor classroom behavior issues due to homework challenges, I created The Homework Survival Course straight from my son’s hellacious homework challenges which created problems at school and in our home. There are solutions on how to overcome ASD challenges. You simply have to allow someone like me who has made the mistakes and solutions to share them with you.


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