>he agrees with things she says, says all the right things, and says "yes, I'll do X to help with Y" but once we leave the office he either forgets or just straight up ignores her advice, no matter how many times I repeat (and have him repeat) what she said.
Then these solutions are not realistic solutions, which makes them essentially useless. I'd suggest you take a look at The Explosive Child or Lost at School (same book, targeted at parents / teachers respectively) for a more solid, evidence-based problem-solving strategy. (Good article about it here.)
The only issue there is you can't realistically solve problems that happen at school without the teacher's participation, and of course the process is not instantaneous; it sounds like she's actually put in some good effort already but she's at the end of her rope and it sounds like she (or the school) may not be willing to start over again. (Still, if not this school, you'll have to tackle these problems in the next one.)
I might suggest, if you go to the teacher/school with a good, solid plan (and a few copies of Lost at School), such that they feel there's a chance something different might happen this time, they may be willing to stick it out a little longer. You're going to be doing a lot of Plan C (temporarily dropping expectations) at first, and that should at least minimize the classroom disruptions.
Ok, let's set aside everything else for a moment.
If you want a problem-solving method that works, with detailed instructions for how to get information out of your kid in a positive, constructive, effective way, there's actually an evidence-based model for that; it's described in The Explosive Child. There's even worksheets to help you prepare your questions properly, and a helpful cheat sheet for the questioning process (don't rely on the cheat sheet without reading the book).
One of the more valuable aspects of the book is that it makes you rethink your own expectations to a more reasonable standard, and also encourages you to take it slow and stick to positivity rather than negativity. The model is effective for precisely those reasons. Overwhelming your kid by "going through all of his bad decisions" or bringing him to "tears and blubbering" is not conducive to his openness and thoughtfulness, nor does it result in any useful problem-solving.
My only concern with you trying this model is it will take him a while to believe and understand that you've really changed your process and your thinking. Be patient. Edit: To be clear, I'm talking weeks or months here. But also to be clear, much of what you're talking about here is minor one-offs that don't need problem-solving at all (ie. breaking a pencil); repeated unwanted touching is a good example of something that does need it.
Check out The Explosive Child - it's an evidence-based discipline model that works for strong-willed or inflexible kids without using punishments or rewards. More info and resources can be found at the Lives in the Balance website.
A dozen huge paragraphs and punishment is really the only strategy you focus on at all (post title included). But studies show us that punishment is by far the least effective discipline strategy.
>My wife and I are sadly at a loss. I don't want to label him as a bad kid, nor do I want him labeled as one within the school. I do want him to learn that self-regulation is an important life skill.
Punishment doesn't teach self-regulation skills. Punishment doesn't teach, period. Punishment says you'd better figure this out or you'll be unhappy, but it does nothing to help with the "figure this out" part. It is, at best, a motivator (one with well researched negative side effects).
Behaviorist (reward/punishment) models would focus on carefully (and relative immediately) rewarding positive replacement behaviors. Rewarding what you do want is far more effective than punishing what you don't (and doesn't produce those negative side effects). But behaviorism is not really my thing (if you want to, though, look into Alan Kazdin's books; he's a behaviorist with solid evidence-based advice). Far better, IMO, to focus on actually solving the underlying problems than manipulating behaviors that are really just symptoms of those problems.
There is a good, evidence-based problem-solving focused discipline model I like; it's described thoroughly in Raising Human Beings (which is an everyday, "typical kid" version of The Explosive Child . The gist of it is to carefully identify specific problems your son is having, and work with him to understand his concerns and then find realistic solutions that address both your concerns and his.
If you go the punishment route (and to a large degree even with the reward route), all you're doing is attempting to force him to do the same sort of problem-solving on his own, under added stress and almost certainly with less success. 7 year olds need guidance. In the long term by helping him problem-solve, you're teaching him actual tools and strategies that will help him "self regulate" in the future.
(Edit: It's worth noting that problems at school will very likely require the teacher's input to solve. It would be difficult to accurately express the teacher's concerns without her there, and even more difficult to find a mutually satisfactory solution without her approval. ie. The solution of being seated further away from the disruptive kids is not something you could personally approve. You can explain the process to the teacher pretty easily, but if you like there's also a version of the book for schools ; like The Explosive Child it focuses more in the difficult end of the spectrum and your kid is nowhere near there yet, but the process is the same either way.)
Kohn's book is great but does not contain much in the way of actual strategies to support the philosophy. You would be well served by also reading The Explosive Child , which gives you a practical, evidence-based model for handling problems without punishments or rewards.
> Social services are aware of this and their response is "pick your battles". I refuse to allow a child to do wrong and not have a consequence for their actions, so there is always a consequence. Usually we all suffer because of it.
So you continue to do something that is clearly making the situation worse - against professional advice.
You need to rethink your entire strategy. Punishment is a poor behavior corrector at the best of times, and with some kids it's far worse than doing nothing. You'll have a hard time slowly clawing your way back from the sort of attitude and detachment it can create. You want the kid to work with you, you're going to have to find ways to work with him.
Fortunately there is at least one discipline model that does not rely on rewards or punishments that has proven effective and additional resources can be had at the Lives in the Balance website (please check out The B Team Facebook group linked there).
Your situation is particularly difficult and I'd also recommend professional help. As far as CPS goes, however, there seems to be only one trained provider in the UK, in York. Even if you're not nearby it may be worth contacting her to see if she knows of any more local resources for you.
I was recently recommended the book, The Explosive Child and I found it very useful. Your son is young and probably nowhere near the level of "difficult" that this book is geared towards. However, it might be really helpful in understanding why your kid is having meltdowns and give you a different mindset on how to deal with them.
I also can't stress enough how much sleepiness can affect behavior. I would highly recommend finding a preschool that allows your son to nap or at least doesn't interfere with his napping schedule.
Please check out The Explosive Child - it describes an evidence-based problem solving discipline model that is designed for kids with difficulties. You can try twisting his arm and hoping it'll somehow force him to do better (it's interesting to me that people here are saying "imagine how stressed he is with everyone bossing him around and his life in turmoil - you should fix this by bossing him around even harder") or you can actually help him identify and address his specific problems.
This requires you to talk with him to understand each specific problem in depth, and them work with him on a realistic solution. Because you've tried things vaguely like that and complained they didn't work, I'll address a couple of those points.
> he basically ignored the advice I was trying to give him.
Much of your advice is probably (and I say this meaning no offense) vague and not immediately helpful. "Look what you're doing with your life, if you don't focus you'll have to repeat a grade!" does nothing to help him actually overcome or work around his difficulty focusing on writing (or anything else).
It also may not be targeting the right problem, since you haven't been able to get detailed information out of him - for example, giving him ideas for what to write about in his essay is not helpful if the coming-up-with-ideas part of the process isn't the part where the roadblock is.
Lastly, your advice is yours. Many people are naturally resistant to doing things when it's by the demand of some external force -good idea or not. Someone who is bossed around all day is unlikely to come home and welcome yet another set of demands.
The process described in The Explosive Child avoids all of these pitfalls: You work only on very specific problems, you get the maximum possible information about that problem so that the solution is more likely to be realistic and relevant, and you involve him in creating the solution rather than implementing it by fiat.
>And the "I don't know" answer is all I ever get - How was school? Why'd you get in trouble yesterday? Why do you feel sad?
These are all vague or accusatory questions. The answers to vague questions may be non obvious or too numerous to consider for him. "Why are you sad?" for example, encompasses dozens (maybe hundreds!) of likely problems and can be overwhelming to even think about (particularly for a kid with ADD!), assuming he has the introspective skills to even begin such a quest. Easier to answer "I don't know."
The Explosive Child will give you the tools to ask careful, nonaccusatory questions that are about an extremely specific problem, and the tools to follow up in the right ways to probe and flesh out answers.
It sounds to me like you get angry and escalate a lot of these situations. A kid not wanting to admit (assuming she participated) that she searched for "girls butts" is hardly surprising and nothing to go ballistic over. (You know what the research tells us encourages kids to lie? Over-the-top punishments.)
You don't have to weigh biting your tongue vs addressing behavior. You just have to address behavior constructively rather than in a way that stokes additional drama. I know that it's easy to get aggravated, frustrated, and angry in reaction to kids that also feed into that cycle - I've been there. But it's possible to change your mindset and find better ways to communicate. I want to focus on one particular comment wrt your sister:
>Every time there's a blow up...i talk to her the next day and she cries and apologizes and tells me she doesn't want to leave and she just said that because she's mad....but then the cycle repeats next time. Trying to talk to her rationally when she's like this is impossible.
You're right that the middle of a blowup is not the time to deal with her problems. Heaping punishments on her afterward (or worse yet, during) will not teach her the skills she needs to deal with her problems, either - that's why they keep recurring. You need to help her identify the problem situations and then create solutions so they don't happen to begin with. The cycle is over once she has the tools to stop falling into it.
There's a proven, evidence-based model for doing all of the above: changing your mindset, communicating clearly and positively, and working to solve problems. The model is described in detail in The Explosive Child , which I suggest you take a look at. It will take practice, but it can change how you interact with both of the kids. If you go that route, more support can be found at the Lives in the Balance website.
I'm going to tackle this from another angle. If your house keeps flooding, cleanup strategies can be helpful but the long-term solution is to tackle the plumbing problems so the flooding stops. An ounce of prevention, and all that.
I'd suggest you take a look at The Explosive Child - it describes an evidence-based problem solving model that is proactive (stop meltdowns from happening to begin with, rather than focusing on dealing with them when it's already too late). It also gives you a very thorough strategy for identifying those problems and getting past those "I don't knows." You can find more resources at the associated Lives in the Balance website.
>All I can think is that there is something in her school environment that is setting her off but I don't know how to figure out what it is short of me sitting in class with her. Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas?
You are on the right track with the idea that you need to actually identify the problems she is facing; all the time outs, apologies, and punishments in the world aren't going to give her the tools to handle those problems on her own.
I suggest you take a look at Lost at School (or The Explosive Child , but they're essentially the same book and Lost at School has a more school-based focus in its examples and suggestions). It utilizes an empirically-proven problem solving model that helps you (and the teachers) and your daughter identify and solve specific problems. The process for identifying problems and getting your daughters input on them is quite detailed. It also describes a few strategies for engaging in problem solving with children who have significant communication/language processing delays, which it sounds like you might need. More helpful information and assistance can be found at the associated Lives in the Balance website (including some very helpful Facebook groups).
>I suspect part of is that his personality clashes with this particular teacher and, as his primary teacher suggested, it’s a lot of time standing still.
You suspect. The teacher suggests. If you intend to solve the problem, you need to actually identify it so that you and he can come up with a solution. Writing lines on paper doesn’t actually address whatever difficulties he’s having in the class.
I’d suggest you check out The Explosive Child , which describes an empirically-proven problem-solving process that’s designed to help you figure out your kid’s difficulties and then solve the problems together. The reality is though that the problem is at school and involves the teacher, so, much like the wobble seat, the solution will probably require teacher input or at least approval.
> Talking isn't getting through to him. It isn't helping with the problem
Here . Don't be put off by the title, it's useful for any kid who is having difficulty meeting expectations (though you might ignore the paperwork portion for just a few minor issues). The entire book describes in detail an empirically-supported process for properly identifying and discussing a problem so that together you can come up with a realistic solution. It seems like a simple concept - and in the broad strokes it is - but there's a reason it fills most of a book. Doing it right isn't always as simple as we wish it to be.
I'm not a fan of behavior charts, but if you're going to do them, do them right. Unless your kid has invented time travel, you never remove a sticker from a chart. Those are earned and done. Does your boss pull last week's paycheck from your bank because you failed to show this week?
I have to say he was right: it was mean. It was a heat of the moment reaction that was purely intended to be punitive. And when he got upset and yelled at you, your reaction was to... get upset and yell at him. You both need to model appropriate behavior and problem-solving skills.
As I said, I'm not a fan of behavior charts. His behavior is concerning, but it's a symptom of some underlying problem(s). Those problems need to be identified and resolved; simply treating the symptoms is a poor solution. If this behavior is new, you might look at recent changes in his life for ideas about what's happening with him. Alternatively, he may simply be lacking in some basic self-regulation skills (again, it doesn't sound like you've been modeling those well). In this vein, I suggest you read The Explosive Child and use the tools it gives you to work on his issues.
And if you still want to go the sticker chart route (which isn't incompatible with simultaneously working on the underlying problems!), please study up on how to do it right. It should be a positive thing that helps guide and encourage him.
You might be interested in reading The Explosive Child ; it describes an empirically-tested, non-punitive, problem-solving-based parenting approach that is similar to what you describe. (And it's not just good for "explosive" or troubled kids.)
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is great, like you said. The authors have also written a number of other books that are supposed to be good, though I've only read Siblings Without Rivalry (also great).
Playful Parenting is another favorite of mine. It particularly emphasizes connecting with your kid through play, and is full of great advice on how to use play to great effect.
The Explosive Child is good for parents of all kids (not just "explosive" ones). The author's method is essentially a beefed-up, well-structured and -thought-out version of one of the problem solving strategies covered in How to Talk (another variant also shows up in Playful Parenting and no doubt in plenty of other books). The great thing about it is it's been put to the test; actual experimental research has demonstrated this punishment-free method to be very effective. (Amazing that we should be surprised that problem solving turns out to be the best way to solve problems.)
Unconditional Parenting doesn't have a lot of practical advice; it mostly just delves into the theory and research behind eschewing punishment/reward-based methods. Read it if that sort of thing interests you.
Lots of people here seem to like Janet Lansbury; I bought her books but have yet to read them so I can't comment on those.
ahaparenting.com is also a great resource.
(edit: add links)