With the start of a new school year, many parents may be a touch apprehensive about how their child will get on with their new teacher and classmates, particularly if the child has had previous behavioral or learning difficulties at school.

There is little doubt that children’s experiences at school as well as at home have a big influence on how children see themselves. This self-view colors their whole educational experience, impacting on their academic achievement.

And while teachers have always played an important role in the social education of children, ultimately it is up to us as parents to lay the foundations to help our children learn what is expected at school.

It is not surprising that young children who are defiant and disruptive may have trouble fitting in with the routines of school. Teachers generally expect a certain level of cooperation, such as following instructions, taking turns, and following rules — even from first graders.

One way for a parent to tell whether their young child is developing uncooperative behaviors that may lead to further problems at school is to give them about 10 appropriate instructions over a half-hour period. (Make sure you don’t do this while they are watching their favorite TV show!) If your child disobeys or ignores six to eight of the 10 instructions then you may need to help them learn better cooperation.

Parents should set a few simple good play behavior rules for their children when friends visit and be prepared to back up these rules with consequences. While it is common for young children to have occasional arguments with friends and siblings, they need to learn that spiteful comments, teasing, deliberately embarrassing, fighting and destructive behavior are not acceptable solutions to disagreements or disappointments. Examples of play rules are: be gentle, share and take turns, keep your hands and feet to yourself, and use your “inside voice.”

Once a child reaches school age however, sometimes it is the parents who discover last that their child is disruptive, uncooperative and aggressive at school. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is not uncommon for parents of these children to only learn about the problem after a serious incident has arisen.

If this happens parents should obtain accurate information from the school about their child’s behavior. Try not to be defensive or make excuses but listen carefully to the teacher’s views and share with them any similar difficulties you may experience at home. Ask the teacher how they think the problem should be resolved and how both of you can work together to help your child. A daily home-school report card which records a child’s progress toward meeting set class behavior rules is a good way to start.

While a good working partnership between parents and schools can reduce the incidence of disruptive and aggressive behavior, further professional help should always be sought if a child shows persistent and extreme difficulties following normal social rules, is violent with other children and suffers outbursts of rage, lights fires, is repeatedly insolent or rude, has been skipping school, repeatedly steals or has major learning difficulties.

Parenting Tip

When meeting with teachers to discuss your child’s problems at school avoid giving them advice on how they should teach, no matter how well-meant. Teachers often react negatively to advice from parents on how to run a classroom when it comes from someone who doesn’t. Remember, your child may be only one of a number of children with similar difficulties.

Dr. Matthew Sanders is a clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and founder of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program.