Disrespectful Gymnast

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Jan 18, 2009
I currently teach a girl in a rec class who is unbelievably disrespectful and I am really at a loss as to what I should do with her next. The other coach is permanently upbeat and adamantly denies any behavioral problems even if I bring them to her attention, so that avenue is pretty pointless. I'm hoping some of the coaches and parents here can provide me with some insight.
The child is about 7 or 8 and in a slightly more advanced beginner class coming once a week for 90 minutes. The class is technically labeled "level 3", but this girl insists that she is a competitive level 4. I'm guessing another coach told her this at some point :rolleyes:, I'll believe it when she shows me she can do the skills. But that's not the main issue. That is the fact that this little girl is vicious. She is mean to me as well as to the other girls in her class. She has been physically aggressive, pushing another girl out of the way at the water fountain, and is always making mean remarks. She has made fun of my voice (I'm not from around here, so I do say some things differently) and today said something to me in gibberish which she then clarified as meaning "You're ugly". She has also bragged to the other girls that "before she moved she was the most popular girl at her school" and who knows what else that I haven't heard. Additionally, she just doesn't listen no matter how many times you remind her to pay attention. I'm at my wits end with this kid.
I know it's terrible, but I really cannot stand this child. I have dealt with children with behavioral problems before and managed, but the fact that this child is physically and verbally aggressive is pushing me over the edge. I feel bad about coaching her because it's just not a good situation for either of us. And I've tried giving her chance after chance and keeping a good attitude about her, but nothing works. Would it be appropriate to request another class? Or request another teacher to take my place? Or would it be better to speak to her parent and sort the whole issue out? I have never dealt with such a cruel child before and have no idea what I'm doing. I honestly feel terrible about having so many difficulties with this child and not being able to handle her and it's totally tearing me apart, so any advice would be greatly appreciated.
wow...i'd throw her out. you probably can't though, eh?
You need to be very direct with a child like this. Some kids you can say "that's not nice, please don't say that." Some kids, you need to say "You must not say that. I do not want to hear that again. If I have to speak to you about [insert behavior] you will sit out for five minutes/lose five minutes of pit time/whatever."

You should also try to offer alternatives where applicable. Some children just don't know how to behave.

If she pushes another child, she sits out. If it's less deliberate and more thoughtless, go to the end of the line. Three strikes and you're out for the day, come back and try again next time.

If she insults someone you make her apologize and tell her she must never say things like that in your class. If you have to speak to her about this two times she owes you a written apology before she can rejoin class.

Although I think you need to speak the parent if they have never been approached about this, and go from there.

Edit: you can also make a list of rules and expectations and go over it with all the kids at the next class. This way the expectations are clear for everyone before you have to apply consequences. If you have the support from the owner or director, then maybe they can email it out and ask the parents to review it. If you haven't spoken to whoever is in charge about this, maybe you should also try that and ask for a clarification of the behavior policy and suggest that it be reiterated.
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maybe you could offer her an award like if your a good girl this lesson i will buy you a chocolate ect. we have a girl in my class who is around 8 and isn't naughty just extremely hyper so i promise her that if she is good all lesson at the end i will spin her around (they hang onto my arms and i spin them) they think its really fun haha :p it worked wonders for her and she is now probs the best kid in the class :) sometimes thats all it takes!! this took alot of pressure off my coach as she is doing her exams right now and couldnt handle this girl's need for attention and complete hyperness haha dont think thats a word lol :)
At my daughters gym if they act inapproiately they are asked to call their parents to come get them. I think you have to let this child know that this behavior is inapproprate and will not be tolerated period.
I've worked at camps where we'd have kids not behave. Stickers are the greatest thing for prizes because little girls love them and they're cheap! If they behave, they get a sticker at the end of class. They love to collect them and see how many they can get! Also, I'd do timeout when nothing else was working. The amount of time=the child's age. At my gym I've seen coaches have girls sit against the wall of the gym or even in a separate room when they're not behaving and the coach will work for a little while just with the girls who are working hard and following the rules. Have you tried using positive reinforcement like, "I love how [insert name] is sitting quietly and listening to what I'm saying." Usually then all of the other girls will try and imitate the behavior of whoever you compliment.
You said the other coach insists there is no problem?? Can you talk to the owner? Does the gym have a policy about behavior that you can refer to? Have the other children complained to you about this child? I ask these questions because it seems if the other coach teaching this group does not see this bad behavior, you will be standing alone on this. I think you need to get support.

If you can't get support, is it possible to split the group and have this child work with the other coach so you can have distance?
Gymdog's post is great.

I have a student who is similar. She doesn't get physical with anyone but she is very rowdy and out of line and doesn't like to listen to me. I have to be very direct and firm with her, take her off to the side and say, "You cannot act like that (whatever the behavior is). If I have to talk to you about this again, you will sit out for the remainder of this station." I haven't had to contact the parents yet and I hope I never will, but if I have to talk to her about her behavior three times in one practice, I'll talk to the parents after class.
Thanks for all the advice, it is greatly appreciated! Dunno, there are certainly times I wish I could kick her out! But that's not going to happen.
Gymdog- Thanks of reiterating what I kind of already knew, that I need to take a tougher stance with her and her behavior. You provided a lot of really good suggestions and I definitely plan on using them with this child.
As far as the rewards, that type of system is already in place throughout the entire gym and it doesn't seem to be doing a bit of good for this particular kid. We offer a "bring a friend" certificate for the best behaved kid most weeks as an extra incentive to listen, try their best, treat coaches and classmates with respect, those kinds of things. This particular child constantly asks if she is going to get the award for the week even after it has been explained that it is for someone who behaves admirably in class.
Asking her to call her mom if the behavior persists is also a good idea. I'm really not sure if the mom is aware at all of the way her kid acts in the gym. She actually comes with a friend most weeks and the friends parent has asked that the girls be placed in separate groups if at all possible because her daughter is so much more productive without her.
My son's preteam group has had behavior problems ... let's face it, in a group of 5-8 year old boys ... I'd guess the most common discipline the coach uses is a set of push ups? Do you do the "extra work" technique? I have read that for general parenting, extra work consequence is a better deterent punishment than taking away privileges.
Talk to the owner and see what you are allowed to do. I don't tolerate physical attacks of any kind, those kids are send home right away and the parents are told why, if nothing else that is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

I don't subscribe to the bribing the kids to behave, they should behave at gym because they want to be there and if they cannot or willnot they are out.

I do understand some kids have real behavhioral problems but this kid just sounds like a snot from your decription, it sounds like she could control herself, and she is plenty old enough to know right from wrong. You should def. talk to the Mom but be warned she probably gets away with this at home as well so the Mom might not be much help.

Disrespect is a learned behavior she learned it someone. Respect is also learned and should be taught at home. Your job is to be a gymnastic coach, especially to all the others girls who want to be there and learn not to be a cop.

I know this sounds harsh and I am going to get a lot of slack for it, but I don't think being straight up disrespectful is okay in any way. Gymnastics is a privdlidge and I am sure there are a 100 other girls who would love to do it and work hard. I am tired of parents putting their kids in the sport hoping for them to learn respect, hard work yes but respect no that should be taught at home.
I have to say i agree with 10.0. If you catch flack, i'll catch it with you..lol
I dont have anything to add, she said everything I was thinking.
I totally agree with you 10.0! But I am scared to share those sentiments because of any backlash I may get. As I mentioned in the first post, the coach I work with refuses to acknowledge any behavioral problems and if I bring them to her attention she'll cover up for the kid by saying something like, "well, she's usually a really sweet kid" or "I don't have problems with her." There have been situations where every other coach in the gym has had issues with a particular athlete and this coach has continued to deny the problem when approached about it. She also lets the kids get away with a heck of a lot more than I would, so I am always viewed as the "mean" coach. It's funny because at the other gym I have worked at I was viewed as the easy and incredibly lenient coach. I guess it's all how you look at it!
Thanks again for all of the advice, it kind of confirms what I was already thinking but was afraid to act upon.
The thing that sticks out most to me in your post is that the other coach has no problems with this child. It tells me one of two things. A... the other coach isn't paying attention to this kid or B.... there is a personality conflict between you and this child.

If it was me, the first thing I would do, is watch the interaction between her and the other coach. If there really isn't a problem, then move her out of your class and don't feel bad. Not every kid gets a long with every coach. If there is a problem, and the other coach isn't seeing it, talk to the parents. If the child is having problems with both of you, it is also a problem they are having at school and home. There may already be a plan in place to help this kid at school and you can just continue the same plan at gym. I would, however, not spend a ton of extra time with this kid during class. As a parent of kids that don't cause problems, it irks me to see 1 problem child get 90% of the coaches time. We all pay the same tuition and I don't think it sends a good message to the rest of the kids. They then think.....hmmm if I am good I get no attention, but if I am bad I get extra attention. Reward the behavior you want.
We have the same problem with this girl in a rec class i help with! we eventually just have her sit out and just dont care, one day when her mother came in and she asked why she was sitting out and we told her the rules (my gym is huge on talking back and disrespect) so if your gym has the same rules you can use that to your advantage!! :)
I don't subscribe to the bribing the kids to behave, they should behave at gym because they want to be there and if they cannot or willnot they are out.

Disrespect is a learned behavior she learned it someone. Respect is also learned and should be taught at home. Your job is to be a gymnastic coach, especially to all the others girls who want to be there and learn not to be a cop.

These are the two statements that I FULLY agree with!!!!

I think we are raising a generation of kids with entitlement issues by rewarding them for every little thing. I don't reward my child everytime she doesn't walk up and punch someone in the face. I just EXPECT her not to hit others. Same thing with all other types of general good behavior. Expect your child (universal you, not anyone in particular here) to respect their elders. Teach it to them religiously.

Remember, we have to teach children how they are to treat adults. As her coach, you are an authority figure and you have an automatic expectation of respect. The fact that you carry the burden to protect other's children add to that expectation. What makes it hard is if you don't have the support of other staff (you mentioned another coach not seeing the problematic behavior).

It's a hard place to be for sure and I'm sorry that you're having to deal with it. But remember that you have a responsibility to EVERY girl on your team and not just Little Miss. Because you know if she hurts another gymnasts, parents are going to be up in arms about YOU and not necessarily Little Miss. Hugs to you.....
Well since the other coach is no help and not addressing the issue and you really don't have a voice in the class i would talk to the owner and voice your concens there. I wouldn't say I hated this kid but I would let the owner know it's very hard for you to be positive when you see this going on and also let him/her know that the other coach doesn't seem to notice this or is bothered by it. so your not sure if they even would acknowledge it. but you would like him to observe and see what can be done. If nothing is done I would ask that you take on another class or have this girl moves.

Just remember you won't like all the kids you teach and unfortunatly there are more like this one out there. Every time I see it you know they got that attitude from their parents (usually the mom). After teaching in a classroom setting for 20 years you can see the pattern a mile away.
lol! you didn't just say what you said...lol!!!!!!!!!!!:)

p.s. cher, i'm still cleaning the coffee off my computer screen.
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Can you have a meeting with the kid's parent(s) and the child herself and maybe someone else from the gym and explain that there are things happening that are absolutely inappropriate for the gym setting? As I recall that's not really your cup of tea, but as I recall you're also extremely understanding of kids who for some reason can't operate on the same wavelength as everyone else.

Disrespect and physical aggression are NEVER ok in a gym. If you can't meet with her and her parental unit, or it just wouldn't help, IMHO it's appropriate to move her to another class. It's not safe for the other kids for her to be there, if she has cast you in her mind as the enemy in a power struggle she isn't going to learn anything anyway, & a fresh start with another coach may straighten her out.
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