DEAR POLLY, Chris is a warm, affectionate 5-year-old, but he is always starting trouble. Among other things, he interrupts at group time and pokes the child in front of him when we're lining up to go outside. What makes him do this, and what can I do about it?
"Starring trouble" is an interesting phrase. We don't all define it in the same way! How you help Chris depends on what he's doing.
Does Chris start trouble by being disruptive and bothering you or other children? It may be that Chris wants attention but has not yet learned appropriate ways to ask for it. Perhaps he's not used to being in a big group. Did he join your class after being cared for at home, or by a childcare provider with just a few other children? A child in these situations may not realize that, when he's ready to tell you about something, you can't always give him instant attention. He may not have practice making friends, so he irritates the children he'd like to play with by barging into their games.
If this sounds like Chris, think hard about how you can give him individual attention. Set aside ten minutes each morning to play or read just with him, or make a standing date with him. Look for a child who shares Chris's interests and pair them off a few times to see if the friendship clicks.
Does Chris start trouble by failing to follow along with the class routine? If, for instance, this child asks for lunch throughout story time, it could be that he's not used to being one of many. If he's been cared for in a small group, he may be used to a schedule built around his needs. You can't make Chris the center of your class, but you can reevaluate how your routine works for even-one.
Does Chris bother others because he has poor impulse control? The ability to control impulses comes partly from training and partly from physical maturity. While there are many exceptions, it's often true that boys develop impulse control later than girls. Chris may just need another six months-and another 60 gentle reminders!
Does Chris start trouble by hurting others or by having severe tantrums? Children often act out their feelings. Chris may be troublesome because he feels troubled, disturbing because he feels disturbed. Could it be that he is adjusting from a move, the birth of a sibling, or the loss of someone he loved? If the causes of Chris's behavior are outside the classroom, concentrate on helping him feel attended to in the classroom.
Whatever you think is causing Chris's troublemaking, it's important to keep reminding him of your expectations for his behavior. Understanding the causes of children's behavior makes us better teachers, and so does sticking to reasonable but firm standards.