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On the Rise....Elementary School Students Acting Out

Recently, while watching two second graders playing an educational game at school, I witnessed one of them throw a full-fledged temper tantrum after losing the game. Yes - temper tantrum! The student’s response was not only unnecessary but completely inappropriate for a seven-year-old. Along with middle and high school teachers, elementary school teachers report spending an increasing amount of time addressing student misbehavior.


An Education Advisory Board survey of nearly 1,900 elementary school teachers, administrators, and staff from 41 public school districts revealed that the majority of educators are observing an alarming increase in behavioral disruptions in elementary school classrooms. Catrin Wigfall, a Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment reported that “Tantrums, defiance, and emotional disconnect were the most frequent classroom disruptions, with about half of teachers saying they experience these behaviors at least several times a week and even several times a day.”


Teaching proper behavior to children is a fundamental parental responsibility that begins at home. However, in order for parents to be successful in their efforts, the following must be solidly in place: 1) Their children must trust that they are loved unconditionally and 2) Their children must view them (parents) as the definitive leaders of the family; leaders who are to be listened to and whose directives are to be followed. Once these two factors are firmly established, instilling behaviors such as listening, following directions, using proper manners, picking up after oneself and exhibiting age-appropriate self-control can all be accomplished prior to a child entering kindergarten, more specifically by age 3.


Because increasing numbers of elementary school children today struggle with the behaviors outlined above, it is not surprising that parents have come to falsely believe that such behaviors cannot be instilled by age 3. Previous generations accomplished the task with little fanfare simply by ensuring that all family members, age 3 and up, were actively involved in family life by participating in daily chores and recreational activities, Children not only learned important lessons gleaned through trial and error but also experienced personal growth associated with teamwork.


In today’s society it is not uncommon to see parents bribe their children and/or succumb to their children’s begging in order to coerce proper behavior. There is a sense that parents fear that if they do not give into their children’s whims, their children will not like them. Increasing numbers of children at the elementary school level are acting out and expecting the same response from teachers. Teachers are exhaustively trying to undo poor training thereby losing valuable instruction time in the process.


Though there are times when children demonstrate foolish behavior for no apparent reason, such episodes should not be the norm. When such incidences occur, simply recognize the intermittent display for what it is, administer appropriate disciplinary measures and move on. Misbehaviors that occur regularly, however, should serve as a sign to parents that serious self-reflection is in order.


Barring any legitimate, diagnoseable medical condition, the increase in misbehaviors seen at the elementary school level is a child-rearing issue. If the current trend continues, the result will likely be a generation of children who fail to become respectful, responsible, resilient adults. For countless numbers of parents, now is the time to change course and reclaim their position as the leaders of the family, starting with the understanding that, more often than not, in order to succeed in getting children to change their behavior, parents must first change their own behavior towards their children.

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, October 2022