Teacher's pest: how to deal with disruptive classmates

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am


A boy in my daughter's Year One class annoys her constantly. He sits next to her at story time and bothers her. He chases her at playtime and tries to pull her hair and spoil her games. She says he is always naughty in class and never listens to the teacher. How can I help her deal with this situation?

Annoying or bad behaviour in children can occur for a variety of reasons. It is often linked to attention seeking, most commonly in children who do not get enough time and attention at home because their parents are too busy or distracted with other activities. These children can lack a good role model at home. Children who have difficulty concentrating for periods of time, including sitting on the carpet to listen to a story, could also have some sort of hyperactivity, either innate or food-related. With young boys, in particular, such behaviour can be merely down to a lack of maturity.

Whatever the reason for this boy's conduct, do not be shy about having a word with the teacher, especially if the situation is affecting your daughter's happiness at school. Ask the teacher to try to make sure that your daughter sits away from him on the carpet so she has an uninterrupted chance to listen to stories, discussions and instructions. In the classroom she is bound to have interaction with him, but sitting at a different table would reduce distractions. If things do not improve, discuss the possibility of talking to the boy's parents.

Your daughter's teacher will be aware of this boy's general behaviour in the classroom. However, the teacher may not have noticed this in relation to your daughter, as children can be very clever at disguising things. The teacher also may not have picked up on this boy's playtime antics. It is harder for teachers to keep track of playground behaviour, as they are not always on duty and children are not scrutinised quite so closely. Once made aware, the teacher will be able to observe the situation in the playground and let other members of staff know.

Of course, children do need to learn to become independent and sort out their own social problems. Schools usually try to teach socially acceptable behaviour. The good ones give children strategies for dealing with their peers when they are unfriendly or annoying and sometimes do role plays to practise these. However, in Year One most children have not yet learned how to defend themselves or cope with this type of behaviour. Those with older siblings have more experience and often cope better.

At home you could begin by giving your daughter some strategies to deal with this boy: one of the most effective is to walk away from the situation whenever possible. Encourage her to be assertive but not to retaliate physically, as this is likely to escalate the situation and get her into trouble. Help her practise phrases such as, 'Please leave me alone' or 'I don't like that. Don't do it again.' Also encourage her to tell a teacher if the boy continues to bother her.

Also, steer your daughter away from using the word 'naughty'. It is important not to label children at a young age, as it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We all have to learn to get on with, or at least tolerate, all kinds of people. However, as this situation is obviously not just a one-off and has been going on for some time, you should take positive action. The last thing you want is for this boy's immaturity to affect your daughter's learning or enjoyment of school.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong