There are different fields of psychology each assuming a study of different aspect of human behaviour as it relates to social, mental, emotional and developmental issues. Whilst clinical psychology looks at diagnosing and treating disorders of the brain, emotional disturbances and behaviour problems, child psychology looks at the mental and emotional development of the child and is also a part of developmental psychology which takes into consideration the study of change in behaviour that occurs throughout the lifespan of the child.
Cognitive psychology looks at how the human mind receives and interprets impressions and ideas while social psychology examines how the actions of others influences the behaviour of an individual (Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary).
Consequently there are several schools of thought on the subject and countless tests, assessments and research have been carried out in these different branches of psychology, each addressing issues and causes as they relate to human behaviour. The branch of psychology relating to the child however has seen a great deal of interest over the years. Understanding the mystery that is the child has been the subject of endless studies and debate. Out of this has emerged a great spotlight on the family hence greater recognition is placed on the impact of various family related factors on the overall development and social interaction of the child. Some of these factors include the roles of parents or guardians, spousal separation. Children are seen as vulnerable beings who are therefore easily affected by changes to their ‘familiar’. Since these impacts so greatly on the child, quite a lot of children enter the school system each year plagued with varying behavioural issues. These issues as we will come to see later on can have dire consequences for the child as well as those having responsibility for the child.
The idea that children are extremely complex individuals is brought out in the emphasis that psychologists place on childhood studies.On the one hand are those children who are anxious and afraid while on the other are the ones with aggression and deceit. However there are also those who do not fall into either of these groupings. From some of the highlighted studies carried out in different parts of Britain, it was found that the percentages of school age children who are considered as having behaviour problems is quite high with some studies showing as high as 33% in combined levels of behaviour difficulties. These problems are as varying in types and levels as they are in root causes among which are gender and class. Some of these problems are seen from quite an early age and while some children will grow out of it others will continue to display difficult traits for quite some time. This may to a great extent depend on the cause of the problem. It becomes obvious that the role of the teacher can offer a situation that in itself can be quite a complex and daunting task especially for an individual who has no understanding of psychology as it relates to the child.
Having the knowledge of how and why children react the way they do to certain situations,and understanding how and why they are influenced by the people and situation created by their environment, will undoubtedly assist the classroom practitioner in assessment of and planning to meet the needs of these children. An understanding of how the classroom situation may offer challenges particularly to younger children is crucial to helping children adjust to and consequently enjoy their school life.
It is however in understanding the behaviour and more importantly the root cause of it that any individual can begin to address it in the appropriate context. Barnes proposes two contrasting perspective on behaviour as it relates to children with difficulty.The first from a medical point of view where the child’s behavior is inherent while on the other hand the problems are borne out of the social situation of which the child is a part. Whether or not either of these models is in fact correct is not very relevant but presents the idea that difficulty in children can be borne out of various contributing factors. Also, he highlights the idea that a “difficult” child can be something of a perception on what difficulty is. For one individual a child may be problematic while for another who is able to identify certain traits and characteristics, the child is perfectly normal and manageable.
The term difficult is quite relative. Difficulty in children will therefore manifest itself in different ways /forms and to different individuals. In this respect one might question whether this is indeed a difficult child or is it rather that the child is relating to different situations and individuals in a different way, testing the boundaries perhaps? An individual who is firm and set certain boundaries for the child may find it far easier to deal with that child than one who is more relaxed and does not set clear boundaries. Then again there are those children who because of some of the factors mentioned before, will display difficult behaviour.This behaviour will manifest itself in different ways. While some troubled children are withdrawn and shy others will act out their insecurities in a totally different way often being boisterous and angry, refusing to conform to requirements. Some of the common factors that often manifest itself in school age children are tantrums, withdrawal, and refusal to conform among others.
It is in understanding the groupings children’s behavior is generally classified into that the teacher will be able to cope in the classroom.
One of the key roles of the teacher apart from the ability to teach is the ability to maintain class control which involves managing behaviour in the classroom. As mentioned before, classroom behaviour will manifest itself in different ways. This involves children who refuse to do as asked, including completing tasks, children who are constantly out of their seats disturbing others, consistent talking and even bullying. Ultimately the teacher has to be able to deal with and understand difficult children. This task can prove quite challenging. Pupils come to school from all types of backgrounds and situations and consequently with all types of issues.
With the focus of the Education system today so result driven, teachers are placed under extreme pressure to ensure that students achieve often unrealistic targets. Schools are often also guilty of placing expectations on pupils based on school type, region and age rather than focus on the individual child and his/her circumstances. Therefore they are seen as problematic when their behaviour falls outside the acceptable range of tolerance and age appropriateness.
In order for all students to achieve their maximum potential the classroom atmosphere must be free of any and all situations which may be stressful to both the pupils and the teacher, for there to be a consistent approach to learning and teaching in the classroom it is important that the teacher be armed with a lot more than an excellently drafted lesson plan. This awareness begins with the process of the entire school understanding key issues in child development and child psychology. While most schools today have a behaviour policy and generally they do try to enforce this, it is more important for schools to focus on child development issues in order to understand and deal effectively with behavior in children. What teachers need most therefore are not so much insets on enforcing the behaviour policy but looking more closely at understanding the causes of the behaviour.
Some schools of thought believe that schools should develop a ‘consistent’ Behaviour Management Plan that incorporates different techniques. These techniques together should enable the schools to deal with the most common classroom behaviours. This involves the teacher’s ability to develop and apply different strategies that will address behaviour in the classroom. This encourages the use of a fixed set of rules.The problem with this however is that as we have mentioned before no two children are alike and similarly no child’s problems are the same. Assuming however that the teacher has got grounding in psychology as it relates to children, this model can in effect be quite instrumental and effective. It is however important that key issues are addressed. Some of these will include consideration given to the stage and development of the children in question, ensuring that the child is treated with respect and fairness, considering whether it will enable the child to meet targets and achieve goals and whether it allow for continuity outside of the classroom. However to conform to this school of thought without taking into consideration the above issues associated with that child could possibly lead to further problems for the teacher and ultimately the child.
A teacher who is armed with the psychological facts is undoubtedly in a good position to be able to understand and therefore cope effectively with children displaying difficult behaviour. Being aware of the fact that a child with temper tantrums may only be craving attention, other children behaving out of sort or acting up in class may simply be rebelling against the inability to express themselves at home. Expressions of fears and mistrust in others may stem from deeper more disturbing causes either imminent or suffered at an earlier stage in their development. Problems at home, in their society, within their peer groups, childhood development and socialization, parental bonding or lack of it, sibling rivalry, peer pressure, molestation are only a few of the issues that children come to school with. The teacher is not just a facilitator but a confidant and often has to deal with issues that students will confide in them. It is also important therefore that the teacher be aware of certain protocols governing student’s confidentiality issues and how to proceed in identifying the right channel through which to direct the child. Since the child spends a much greater part of the day in the care of the teacher, the teacher is in a good position to spot inconsistencies and changes in a child’s behaviour patterns. This is where being able to identify and put a name to symptoms might prove crucial to helping a child going through a difficult situation.
The ability to differentiate between behaviour that is relevant to a child’s developmental stage as against behaviour that is distinctly caused by psychological disturbance, will be crucial to the early years teacher. But an understanding of when this behaviour is a normal attribute for a child of that age and when it is not, is key to pinpointing the emergence of a problem. Clinginess, bed wetting and tantrums are named as key traits among these young children. While these will be acceptable in very young children it becomes a concern if these traits continue into later stages of development. Certainly, an awareness of how children relate to environmental changes and routines will sometimes impact negatively on their behaviour.Some children may display different patterns of behaviour at home than at school. Then again acceptable behaviour will be relative to the expectations of those making the judgment and also to each individual child.
Since one must first underpin the cause of the problem in order to be able to attempt to find a solution, the teacher who has no understanding of psychology will try to apply various conventional methods of discipline to remedy a child’s behaviour and in doing so may only worsen the situation. Some simple remedies can sometimes alter a child’s behaviour in a radical way. So a child who acts up because he/she lacks attention,given small ‘jobs’ or tasks of responsibility in the classroom can change so much of that child’s behaviour because the child now begins to feel self-worth and see him/herself as being as good as or even better than other children. All that the child needed was a confidence boost.