Dear Polly, One little boy in my class consistently plays too rough. He crashes into people with a smile on his face and, when we're outdoors, rides his tricycle around children playing threatening to bump into them. How can I get John to calm down?

The first thing you have to ask yourself is how you define "rough." Does John shout during outside play, race around, and get the other kids caught up in his wild games? Excited shouting and vigorous play are normal behavior. As teachers, we can help children channel their energy, but we wouldn't want to stop them from shouting and running when it may be appropriate, such as during outdoor play.

On the other hand, does John hurt himself or others, or break things? If so, he has a problem that needs to be addressed.

What causes rough behavior? There are a number of possible reasons for rough behavior. Some children (often, but not always, boys) simply have a lot of aggressive energy. Activities that others experience as pleasurable play, such as quietly building a block tower, can feel confining to a child whose urges compel him to RUN and SHOUT, and some children are slower to develop impulse control. Maybe John is still at the stage where wanting turns into grabbing without thinking.

John could be using roughness to get attention. Maybe he isn't sure how to start a game with other children, so he runs into the middle of their play without realizing it will disturb them. Maybe John most often gets attention from adults when he is being rough. Or could John be anxious or upset due to stress at home?

How can you help? Of course, no matter what the reason is for John's rough behavior, you can't let him hurt people or destroy their belongings. What to do?

  • Change music time to music-and-movement time, so children can become physically involved by moving to songs.
  • If possible, have an assistant teacher take John out for extra outdoor-play time.
  • Give John "sensitivity training." He may be oblivious to how his actions affect the other children. Explain how his roughness is hurting others.
  • Demonstrate the concept of pretend as you say: "When you play cars with Jane, you can pretend to crash into her, but don't really crash."
  • Help him engage other children in socially acceptable ways. Say: "Would you like to play blocks with Brad? Let's go ask him!"
  • Set limits. Gently but firmly remove John when his behavior becomes destructive.

John's energy might be wearing now, but it could be a great asset for him later.

Just think ... you could be teaching a future football player, stuntman, or racecar driver!

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