In this blogpost I’d like to explore and challenge commonly held views about behaviour management in primary schools (and possibly secondary schools). In particular, I’d like to counter the accepted view that we should differentiate our behaviour management based on the child’s ‘needs’, circumstances or abilities and put forward the case for old fashioned rules and regulations as well as high expectations for all. If you’d like to know a bit more about differentiation of behaviour management, I have found a video here which sums up the concept, but to me it just looks like lowered expectations for children from certain backgrounds. My own argument is based on my observations of bringing up children and from conversations over the years with fellow parent friends who have also brought up 2 or more children.
“My children have exactly the same personalities and like exactly the same things!” said no parent ever. What all parents know, and teachers fail to grasp, is that despite pretty much the same DNA, lifestyle, nutrition, upbringing, culture and family can still turn out siblings that are completely different, yet parents still seek to do their job of guiding and bringing up all their children to be decent, kind, hard-working and successful (we want to be proud) regardless of how different they are as people. One of the key differences that arises between siblings is in their behaviour and many parents will happily trot out some horror stories about the one child who was a pain in the arse during their toddler years (and at various other points during childhood). Primary educators would typically say that the child displaying behaviour at the naughtier, more defiant end of the behaviour spectrum is clearly not having his ‘needs’ met, is possibly struggling with some aspect of his homelife (maybe the middle class mum is too ‘pushy’ or ‘cold’, maybe the working class mum hasn’t taken him to enough museums or craft fairs) or maybe has mild ADHD. The accepted course of action deployed would be:
- More praise
- More rewards
- Easier or different work (or less work)
- Lowered expectations
- Reduced punishments
- Suspension/alteration of the usual rules and regulations applied to the rest of the class
- Acceptance of poor behaviour as somehow inherent to that child’s situation or personality
- Viewing the child as a passive victim, unable to control his own actions or emotions
Here’s a picture of how a typical primary teacher would look when confronted with a flying chair from a child:
Let us compare this to how a typical parent will deal with the one child in their home who is more defiant and inclined to poor behaviour:
- Less praise
- Fewer rewards
- The same amount of chores
- No change in expectations
- Increased punishments
- No change in rules and regulations
- Refusal to accept poor behaviour as part and parcel of their son or daughter’s personality
- Viewing the child as a competent human being, able to control his own actions, emotions and make good choices
Basically, a parent of a difficult child won’t differentiate behaviour management for two reasons:
- They don’t want to merely accept that one of their children is naturally naughtier than their brothers or sisters; they want to ensure that all of their children are loved, appreciated and respected in the future.
- They know that to ‘differentiate’ the behaviour management (the way an educator might) would lead to deep resentment from siblings and (justified) accusations of favouritism. The brothers and sisters who work hard to be good, hard-working, kind and helpful might wonder whether if there is any point in behaving and they might also feel rejected by the parent who, instead of praising them for doing good things, is busy praising the brother or sister for not smashing up the toys.
What this approach entails is a re-doubling of effort for the parent, even if the parent is at their wit’s end, utterly exhausted and privately contemplating relaxing the rules or turning a blind eye to the constant barrage of slight misdemeanors. I’ve been been in that situation and it ain’t pretty. The child might have felt that they had it a bit tough, that I should’ve relaxed a bit, but I’m ok with that; I’d rather the child resented me a little bit for being so relentless with my expectations and for dishing out those punishments without fail than for that child to have grown up thinking that poor behaviour is OK.
There is another aspect to the ‘Instinctive Parenting’ approach to behaviour management and it’s rather difficult for many educators to stomach. Basically, behaviour management can be influenced by the parents’ emotions and sometimes these emotions include anger, hurt and frustration. We’re only human after all. I’ll be the first to admit that I have got it slightly wrong on some occasions because I have been angry and annoyed. However, to some extent this is ok because I do believe that children need to know that their behaviour has an effect on others. How else would they develop empathy? Out of anger I confess I have given my offspring a rollicking that left them in no doubt that they had done something bad. Many would recoil in horror at my admission because of course the ideal is for us parents (and teachers) to remain super calm, maintaining our Mona Lisa smiles, at all times. The thing is, this is not how society or civilisation works. I believe that the parents’ approach to behaviour management better prepares a child for success (measured by happiness and wealth) in our society because the people that they will eventually mingle with will also get pissed off with bad behaviour and there are also rules and regulations (aka The Law) that are applied to everyone regardless. Be assured though I am not advocating we lose our cool completely in the classroom, because we are paid professionals after all, but that it is OK to be angry and frustrated and for children to see a bit of that. In fact, for some children who come from homes where domestic violence is the norm, it’s educational for them to see how adults can be angry and not let that anger get out of hand. I don’t think it is normal or healthy for children to think that adults remain placid and almost happy to be on the receiving end of poor behaviour.
You know what’s great about this approach? It works. I feel pride when strangers and family tell me that my (now much older) children are well behaved, although the job of parenting continues as ever! If I told said strangers about the behaviour of one of the children when they were much younger, they would not believe it, such is the turn around. Many parents would verify that the kindest, most decent people they know used to act like complete shits when they were little children.
Instead of differentiation of behaviour management, let’s be sticklers for rules and have high expectations of all children.
Who’s with me?