It is rare that a child misbehaves for no reason. Children have needs that must be met. In their emotional and social immaturity, they seek to meet their own needs in ways that adults find inappropriate. Discipline is the process of helping children learn to meet their needs in appropriate ways or to deny their desires until they can be met at an acceptable time.
The more teachers (and parents) understand the needs of children at various ages, the more we can anticipate a child’s behavior. Parents naturally understand that a baby needs food, sleep, and changing frequently throughout each day. As adults, we make allowances for the baby as he cries in order to get fed (something we would find socially incorrect in our adult friends). We also plan our daily schedules to allow for these frequent interruptions.
As children grow through various developmental stages, their needs and desires change, too. At each stage we need to be proactive in heading off discipline problems by adapting to meet the needs of children in whatever ways we can. When we understand the children we are teaching, we can better anticipate their problem behaviors, develop realistic expectations, and setup classroom systems to meet needs and head off problems before they occur.
All children behave better if their emotional needs are met in appropriate ways. Teachers must take into consideration the emotional health of the families represented by the students in their classes. Whenever possible, teachers should adapt expectations in order to be more understanding of the child whose emotional needs are going unmet. Knowing that a child is having difficulty at school or that her parents are going through marital stress should alert a teacher to the likelihood that this child is emotionally needy. Instead of being frustrated with the child, seek to meet her emotional needs and the problem behaviors may well clear up on their own.
One unavoidable characteristic of all children is limited attention span. The attention span of a concrete-thinking child (ages birth to early adolescence) is no more than one minute per year of age. Although a child can focus on a television show or a video for 30 minutes, the attention span is actually re-focusing after every few minutes. Sesame Street was developed upon this understanding. An hour-long lesson on a letter, a number and a principle is acceptable to the youngest viewer’s attention span, because the characters, techniques, sets and illustrations all change every few minutes.
As teachers, we must not attempt to fight the way God has made the child. To avoid unnecessary discipline problems, we want to set realistic expectations of what a child can or cannot do, what interests or excites the child, and what kinds of problems will arise if needs go unmet.
No matter what the age level, kids will be kids. And when kids are bored, angry, or frustrated, they act up. Whatever the age of your students, your goal must be to reduce those elements that cause children to behave inappropriately and to show them unconditional love... no matter how they act!
The best way to prevent discipline problems, is to make the learning that takes place in your classroom relevant and compelling. When children find meaning and purpose in the educational process, they will behave better. In future issues of Entre Ninos we will examine specific age-level characteristics.
You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 26