By Frankie Wallace
In a 2019 report, based on a survey from 1,900 elementary school teachers, 25% of the teachers reported that they witness children in their classrooms throwing tantrums or having other behavioral issues a few times each week.
Behavioral issues in the classroom are nothing new. Some kids have always struggled with their behavior more than others, and that comes across in a school setting.
What has changed, though, is how we can learn more about the root of these behavioral issues, and what can be done about them. Things like talking back to a teacher, throwing a tantrum, or showing disrespect obviously shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom setting. Depending on the severity of the incident, it’s normal for a teacher to exert some kind of punishment, whether it’s staying after school, or bringing that student’s parents in to discuss further options.
But instead of going straight to punishment, it’s important to understand what might be causing such behavior in the classroom. When a teacher and parents can get to the core of the problem, that’s when real, lasting changes can be made.
So what are some potential roots of classroom behavioral problems?
Listening to Learn
As a teacher, your job is about more than just educating your students. It’s about listening to them. For starters, every student learns differently. Listening to their needs and the way they respond to things can help you to become an even better educator.
But just like the counselors in your school, practicing listening skills like empathy, acceptance, and making an effort to really understand what your students are saying can help you to recognize if there are any underlying issues going on.
For example, a child with ADHD might have behavioral issues in class, but really, they just want someone to understand them and know what they’re going through. Most kids with this disorder know they’re different and they want to be accepted. Listening to those needs and wants can make it easier for you to find a better way of teaching them.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you never know what might be going on at home. Children witness 68-80% of domestic assaults at home between parents or other adults, and that can lead to lasting emotional and psychological issues that could cause behavioral problems. A child who has seen something like that, or experiences it on a regular basis, can suffer from anxiety or other mental health issues.
The bottom line? It’s important to listen to get the full picture before finding the appropriate consequences for poor behaviors.
Physical Factors Impacting Behavior
In some cases, behavioral issues impacting kids could have very simple causes. Children who aren’t feeling well or have some other kind of physical ailment might not know how to fully express it, so they act out in less-than-satisfactory ways.
For example, 2-3 out of every 1,000 children born in the United States struggle with some kind of hearing loss. If they’re shouting in class, they may not be able to hear you well. Or, they might have to yell at home in order to be heard.
Vision problems can also cause children to become frustrated and potentially disruptive. If they can’t see the board or the instructions you’re providing on a lesson, they might start to act out. Children who are squinting, tilting their heads to see, or who seem to have short attention spans may be struggling with vision issues. It’s a problem that should be addressed with parents so they can get the proper eye care.
How to Help Children Overcome Behavioral Issues
The most important thing you can do to address behavioral issues in a child is to get to the root of the problem. Many times, it goes deeper than you may think. The good news about that? When you get to the problem, you can start to come up with more productive, proactive ways to find the solution.
Punishment isn’t always the best solution, especially when something more is going on under the surface of poor behavior. So, while you might want to talk to that child’s parents, keep an open mind as you do. Discuss your concerns, and work with parents to find out the root of the issues so you can solve them together. From there, you can find more productive ways to encourage positive behavior in your students.
Additionally, work with the child, instead of telling them they’re “in trouble” right away. Children often struggle with self-confidence issues, and they may have a hard time fully processing and expressing their emotions. Think about how frustrating that would be. Think about how you would react if you couldn’t adequately tell someone what was going on with you. Helping that child to overcome those emotional barriers can be a big step in coming to a positive solution. If you don’t feel you can do that on your own or with the help of a child’s parents, a school guidance counselor may be more equipped to do so.
Again, classroom behavioral issues are nothing new. And, yes, there are times when some kind of disciplinary action is the best way to go. But, punishing students blindly without getting to the root of the issue can lead to even bigger problems in the future. Don’t be afraid to pause and consider why the issues are happening, in the first place. When you do that, you can develop a better relationship with your students, and help them to overcome their struggles.
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!