Ask the expert: The teacher says my grandson (4) is the ‘worst’

Teacher says he is disruptive, can’t take direction, is calling her stupid and is shouting


Since my grandson started junior infants this year, I have been called by the teacher on numerous occasions saying that he is disruptive, can’t take direction, is calling her stupid and is shouting. Today she called me and stated he is the most disruptive four-year-old she has ever had in junior infants.

As an example, she says that when he is asked to say his morning prayer, he shouts and refuses. They work a traffic light system and she told me when he is put to orange for being bold, he loses the plot screaming and kicking chairs and telling her she is not going to do that.

She took him to the principal’s office today for 10 minutes to cool down. When I try to ask him why he does this he says he is angry and mad, which I find upsetting coming from four-year-old.


His parents have been stressed for a period and I know the home situation was not good for a while. Things on the home front seem to have progressed recently bringing a calmer situation for the child. Both parents have been requested to make an appointment to discuss the situation with the teacher. I dread going to the school each day because I don’t know what is going to greet me. I really don’t know how to manage this situation. I feel lost and upset.


Starting primary school is a big transition for young children and many find it hard to settle into the routine. For some children the expectations of primary school can be very difficult to meet, such as being in a class of more than 20 children, following the lead of a teacher, sitting for long periods, sharing with other children. This is especially the case for children who start school younger than the others (eg when they are just four rather than five years old). This is also the case for children who have not had the preparation of attending a preschool to get them ready for school.

In addition, if there is stress at home, then this can all contribute to your grandson being out of sorts and finding it hard to settle into school. And as his teacher has discovered, children in this position frequently “act up” and are disruptive in the classroom.

Dealing with school challenges

As a guardian it is very hard to hear reports of your children’s bad behaviour from their teacher. It is very disheartening and you can feel embarrassed, as if the behaviour reflects badly on you. You can also feel helpless because the behaviour is happening in the school and you are not there to manage it.

I think being a grandparent can be even harder – you can still feel the same embarrassment and helplessness yet you not in the family home to directly manage things. You also have the delicate task of thinking of how you discuss these problems with his parents without blaming them unhelpfully. You want to get the balance right of being supportive towards them while not being over involved or critical.

Working with your grandson’s teacher

While your grandson’s teacher is understandably stressed by his behaviour, it is unhelpful that she uses dramatic terms with you such as calling your son “the most disruptive child in junior school”. It would be better if she could focus on the specific behaviours that need to change and work with you and your grandson in a positive way to achieve this. While the family’s role is very important and you should all work together for your grandson, ultimately it is her responsibility to manage him in the classroom and to get support from the principal and other school services to achieve this.

Making a plan with his teacher

It is a good idea to meet with the teacher to come up with a plan on how to manage together. Given your role, perhaps you could attend the meeting along with your grandson’s parents. This will be a statement to the school that you are all interested in helping.

In the meeting, focus on the positive goal of helping your grandson settle and explore with the teacher what she and the school can do to help this.

In addition to the traffic light system, your grandson is likely to need a very positive system of reinforcement to help him behave.

He might need special reminders to behave, lots of praise when he does and changes to routines to help him. They may have some resources that can be temporarily assigned to the classroom to help (such as some resource teaching hours or SNA time, etc).

Try to agree a positive system of communication between you and the school. For example, for a time the teacher might give you a daily report in a note book. Once again this should be mainly positively oriented, highlighting all the good things he has done, so you and his parents can go over these at home.

What you can do at home

To help your grandson settle, the main thing you and his parents can do is work towards making home life very happy and settled for him. Establish good routines for going to bed, getting up in the morning and getting to school in a relaxed way. Also make sure to have a relaxed period of time after school, when he has time to unwind and debrief. Give him space to talk about the day and gently suss out how things went for him. This is a good time to go over the positive things in a daily school report if you are using this.

Be wary of over talking about or going over bad behaviour from school at home. Instead, simply focus on how you know he can be a polite boy in school and remind him of the target behaviours that are most important to his teacher – “When Mrs S ask for everyone to go to sit at their desks, then we all do it”.

Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus Programmes. See for details