“But He Doesn’t Act That Way at Home (School)”
Human beings do not exist in bubble. We are adaptable and highly contextual beings. We exist in dyads, family systems, school systems, work systems (and an infinite amount of other systems). With that being said, it is no wonder that I often hear parents speak of their child’s school behavior and state “we never see those behaviors at home.” I also hear parents pleading with school-based professionals for help, and school officials respond by saying “we never see those behaviors at school.” In some cases, behaviors are consistent across settings. This is what differentiates a child with behavioral issues from a child with a diagnosable psychological disorder. Why does this happen? The easy answer is that a child often behaves in a way that they believe is adaptive in that setting. For example, a child may act out in class because the material is far too challenging for them. In a sense, they are acting out to escape or avoid the difficult schoolwork. At home, a parent may be able to sit with them one on one to complete schoolwork and not see these behavioral problems. Another example would be the child that is able contain their emotional distress during the school day because they do not want to face the social ramifications of a behavioral meltdown. As soon as that child comes home, a parent or sibling may soon face the wrath of the emotional containment. Things can become more complicating when it is believed that the trigger or at least part of the cause for the behavior is occurring in a different setting than the behavior is actually occurring in. This causes parents and/or school-based professionals to feel powerless to help and frustrated because their strategies also seem impotent. When this occurs, a trained professional with expertise in both behavioral assessment and family systems can be very helpful.
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