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Behaving Badly

I have been working, quite a bit, with children who can behave badly at the drop of a hat. Perhaps, at first glance, one might think they were in need of discipline, or perhaps they tend to be spoiled brats having tantrums. Yes, I’ll admit… for some, the first impression might be accurate, but upon further interaction, you may see some of these children are hurt and/or angry… if you take the time to really see them.

I watched one child go into mischief mode, which eventually turned into flipping chairs and tables. Once the child was calm (which took a bit of time and effort), I asked if we knew what had set them off. The answer? Another student needed to see the paper they were copying from and the teacher turned it about an inch diagonally. That was it. Strange, because I had witnessed this student willingly share numerous time. It was not really the paper slant that set them off.

The paper slant was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. This child had a rough morning at home and was barely keeping their emotions under wraps. The paper incident was one more frustration that put them over the top. The hitting, kicking, and curse words were not even really directed at the people who happened to be on the receiving end. The child was venting all of their frustration at whoever was in the immediate area. Once they calmed down, they set about apologizing to people and cleaning up the mess that had been made.

Another child was having the same sort of rage incident at the end of the day, for a string of days. After they were calmed down, they went into the fetal position and had to be carried out to the bus. We later learned that there were some major struggles happening at home and this child didn’t want to go home to an environment that was totally out of their control.

Okay, yes, these children are behaving badly, but with good reason. They don’t know how to express their frustration/hurt/anger in a socially acceptable manner (some don’t have verbal skills as yet). Before you judge a teacher, parent, or child based on their bad behavior, try to consider what might actually be going on with the child. It may help to remember that we all have good days and bad days and that no one is perfect.

*Pam Horton has been working with special education students for more than 15 years.

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