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Does “naughty” last forever

Submitted by on Tuesday, 22 September 2009 No Comment

There are two types of behavior that put a kid at risk for being labeled “naughty” – a label, by the way, that can stick through a child’s school years and a reputation that can be earned as young as 4.

The first is physical aggression – biting, kicking, punching. The second is persistently breaking classroom rules, such as requests to be quiet.

It’s a study by the British Economic and Social Research Council, but there’s no reason to believe the findings don’t hold on this side of the pond.

There’s reason to be concerned, though, if you happen to be the parent of a talkative child. One like, say, Big Guy.

Talking his way into trouble is nothing new for Big Guy. It was a recurring problem last year that it took his teacher and me until spring to solve.

Solve, apparently, but not cure, because Chatty Charlie is at it again. I can sense the teacher’s growing frustration through the changing tone of the notes coming home.

So Big Guy and I, ironically, talk about it. And talk about it. And talk some more.

He knows what good behavior looks like – “D’s clip is always up on red,” the top level. “I want to be like him. I want to get up there, too.” He says every morning he’s going to have his brain tell his mouth to keep quiet – but apparently the mouth isn’t listening.

He’s also starting to get down on himself. “I’m the worst kid in school,” he said tonight. “And everybody knows it.”

Bingo! Everybody knows it. According to the British study, it won’t be long before older brothers and sisters know it, parents know it and teachers throughout the system know it. Eventually, the “bad” kid is judged to be bad before he even arrives in a new teacher’s classroom.

The frustrating part of the study is that it didn’t propose many solutions – it did suggest, though, that the “bad” kids might be a valuable part of classroom discipline because they provide teachers with a “don’t be like that” example for everyone else. Gee, we’re happy we can help.

Researchers also think that the public nature of classroom discipline – last year it was names on a board, this year it’s clips that move up and down a color scale – works against some kids by encouraging others to judge them instead of helping the “bad kid” improve.

Big Guy’s problem – interrupting and throwing out answers before the teacher calls on him – is a difficult one for children to work out, the study said. Why is teacher happy when someone else knows the answer but not when I blurt it out?

To an adult, the answer is obvious: It’s because you blurted. Again. I’m not sure a 6-year-old completely gets that.

I hope Big Guy does before he’s written off as a future juvenile hall ward.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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