Children with Behavioral Issues Need Help, Not Labels

I feel strongly that, in the classroom of the young child, there is no such thing as a behavior problem. I do agree that there may be such a thing as a child who demonstrates negative behaviors.

Children at this age are experimenting with all kinds of behavior, some of the behaviors will be positive and some of them will be negative. Our job as educators is to teach children which behaviors are productive and which are not. I worry that as we smother our students with behavior charts, stickers, and contracts, we are taking away their chance to internally process what these behaviors mean. Worse yet, when children see their behavior chart constantly on "red", notice that they never receive stickers, or realize they never get a prize from the prize box, they will begin to feel that the behaviors that they have been demonstrating are a part of them, rather than an external activity that is fluid and can be changed. The child (and the teacher) will begin to believe that he/she is a "behavior problem" rather than a child who has a problem with behavior.

I feel the way we talk to young children about bullies is especially damaging. Instead of teaching children about bully behavior, we teach them that some children are bullies. Children will experiment with behaviors that exert some kind of power over other children. Unfortunately, if we have taught that children who act this way are bullies, instead of empowering them with the knowledge that the behavior is a bully behavior, we have taken away their chance to modify their actions. We have taken away their ability to change behavior and have attached a damaging label to the child himself.

This year I stumbled upon Wonder Grove Kids, a company that offers some great character building videos and supplementary materials. The Wonder Grove Learn Education Initiative covers eight critical areas of early learning that impact a child’s ability to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. The following is one of their videos:

Notice that the child in the video who is not keeping her hands to herself does not realize that the behavior is negatively impacting her friendship. This is something she has to learn. As educators, we need to spend less time dictating the consequences of behaviors to our students, and more time helping them internalize the negative impact that poor behavior has on their relationships. And we need to be especially careful never to label them, or allow them to label themselves as a "behavior problem". If we do, we have written their future for them.