Misbehaving, or Misunderstood? Understanding Children’s Developmental Need
By Rachel Fraade, Lawrence Magdovitz ISJL Education Fellow As educators, creating a dynamic lesson is only half the struggle. Despite our best intentions and preparation, students sometimes act out. It is easy to become frustrated: we work so hard to teach them, and it sometimes feels that they try their hardest not to learn. Yet their conduct is not always what it seems. At times, it is simply acting out; but at other times, it is actually developmentally appropriate behavior. Our adult eyes may perceive it as misbehavior, but it is not rooted in disrespect or rudeness. It is key for us as educators to distinguish developmentally appropriate actions from true misbehavior. Below are ten tips from Psychology Today that can help you to tell them apart.
The areas of the brain that regulate self-control are immature until the end of adolescence. For this reason, children may struggle with impulse control. Whether they throw something, interrupt, or disobey instructions, we must temper our frustration and remember that their brains have not yet fully developed self-control.
When children are overstimulated or exhausted, it is natural for them to melt down or act out. In and out of the classroom, we must balance high movement and sensory activities with quieter time.
Children are especially sensitive to “core conditions” of being tired, hungry, thirsty, or sick. This can lead to increased moodiness in children, who may not always recognize the core conditions behind their mood. Remain sensitive to your students’ basic needs, and help them meet these needs.
As adults, we often know how to deal with overwhelming feelings. Children have not yet learned management tactics and may resort to expressions such as yelling, screaming, and crying. We must be careful not to shame students for their feelings, but rather help them process.
Students require physical movement throughout the day. For this reason, we include kinesthetic activities in each of our lessons. However, your students may need even more! Try introducing a fidget break, a dance party, or a stretch session to meet your students’ movement needs.
Toddlers often try to do things for themselves, and preschoolers attempt to make their own plans. Teenagers naturally pull away from adults and authority figures. This is a part of their development into self-sufficiency. It may be frustrating when your students refuse to take your advice, or insist on doing something the difficult way; however, it is a part of their growth process.
Just like adults, children’s strengths sometimes correlate with a weakness. Your free-spirited, fun-loving student may struggle with organization and discipline. Your cautious and safe student may be nervous about new experiences. If you recognize that many frustrating behaviors are just another side of students’ strengths, you can help them to grow past these behaviors.
At times, we perceive children as behaving poorly when they simply want us to play with them. If they are refusing to come inside from recess, running around the classroom, or scribbling on their papers, consider whether or not you have given them enough time to play.
Students pick up on our moods in just moments, often before we even realize that we are projecting a negative attitude. Your stress, anger, or frustration can easily pass on to your students. Make sure to enter your classroom calm whenever possible, and to have solutions ready to ease your mind when things do not go as planned.
Children respond poorly to inconsistent rules. If one week you allow 15 extra minutes of recess, students may protest when you bring them inside the following week. If you allow them to act out one week, they may expect the same leniency the next week. By remaining clear and consistent with our rules [try a classroom בְּרִית (b’rit, covenant)!] we can help our students to succeed.[i]
With these tools in mind, we can set our students up for success regardless of their developmental stage. Education does not take place in a vacuum: we must consider multiple factors and contexts in order to teach effectively. Understanding students’ developmental needs is key. If you want to learn more about developmentally appropriate programming, reach out to your Fellow – the ISJL has teacher trainings and resources that we would be delighted to share.
[i] Leyba, E. LCSW, Ph.D. (May 3, 2017). Not Naughty: 10 Ways Kids Appear to Be Acting Bad But Aren't. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/joyful-parenting/201705/not-naughty-10-ways-kids-appear-be-acting-bad-arent