One of my students did something yesterday that earned him a meeting with the principal. I try to handle most discipline problems in my classroom, but sometimes a pattern of behavior develops that requires more serious intervention. And it occurred to me that patterns of behavior develop very early and many parents don’t recognize them as serious.
School is a place where routines, procedures, and expectations have few variations over the course of twelve to twenty years. The kindergarten mantra of “Look, Listen, Learn” pretty much lays the foundation for a lifetime of education. So it should not come as a surprise that a child’s first reaction to those expectations can quickly become their life-long response to education. Sure, anyone can change. But those who get off to a bad start may require years of failure and intervention before they make positive changes in their behavior patterns.
These are the patterns that concern me most:
- Lying. Children experiment with lying. Most learn that it is better to be truthful, especially if you want others to trust you and like you. But it has been my experience that some children become dependent on lies. And those who do get better at it and use that skill more and more often to accomplish their goals.
- Following and blaming. I tell my student s that if I question them about their behavior, another child’s name had better not be the first thing out of their mouth! “Johnny told me…” or “Sally did it first…” is not an excuse for making a poor decision. It is also a red flag if the pattern continues for too long. I’m very concerned about children who constantly follow the direction of others, regardless of what the other child is doing. You know where that can lead in the teen years!
- Devious behavior. In my opinion, children who routinely hide their unfinished work, break things or hurt others when they are sure you aren’t watching, or wait for “opportunities” to misbehave are children with emotional or psychological problems that need to be addressed. Children will try almost anything once or twice, but if a pattern of such devious behavior persists, it should be closely examined.
- Hurting others. There are children who seem to find pleasure in hurting others. These children are constantly poking, hitting, kicking, or teasing. They purposely step on feet or loose shoelaces. They take things away from classmates. They “cut” in line. They may discover a word or phrase that upsets a classmate and use it as often as they can. They seem to enjoy the reaction of the other child and they lack guilt for their actions. It was “an accident” is usually their excuse even if you witnessed something totally intentional.
- Avoiding work. This is a complicated issue and one that deserves careful investigation. It has been my experience that most children want to learn. They are curious about the world and excited to be a part of it. They want to be “grown up” and know the things we know. They want to learn the “magic” of reading because adults do it. If a child constantly avoids work there may be several reasons for it, including immaturity or laziness. However, it may also be a child’s way of saying “Hey, I have a serious problem and I don’t know how to tell you about it.” Children may have vision, hearing, or processing problems that don’t become apparent until they are in the classroom. So it’s very important to determine whether their actions are just bad behavior or a symptom of a more serious problem.