When we hear the word child, we picture a positive image in our mind–a happy kid, a naughty cute little baby, a fun-loving young charmer, or a talkative energy pack. But imagine a child who doesn’t enjoy being around her peers, doesn’t want to be bothered, fails to strike up a conversation, and lacks overall enthusiasm to attend school. What if the child is different from other children in the same age-group, unable to show her real self and stuck in a dark unknown spot?
Each adult who interacts with that child will have a different perception and understanding of her behaviour. Each one will draw conclusions based on their personal experiences. But once they realise that her behaviour is of concern, they will look for solutions to make the child feel better. Each adult, be it the teacher at school or parents at home, seeks possible answers in their own way. In some cases of course, teachers and parents of a child may have two contradictory opinions regarding her behaviour.
Go the extra mile
As an educator you can always try to identify children who show signs of ‘something going wrong’ and find out the reason behind their behaviour. By following the steps below you can help students who need your support.
Follow your instincts: A child might demonstrate behaviour that is alarming for a teacher. One may not be sure if it demands attention or not, but if your instincts tell you to take lead and learn more, then one must! It helps in early detection and provision of social-emotional support to the child.
Keep a record: Keeping a record of the child’s behaviour in different subject periods and activity periods can be useful. Her behaviour can vary across subject periods; she might be unusual, quiet, and disinterested in one of the periods but might be actively participating in another subject period. Tracking her behaviour helps one draw a comparison between different behaviours over time, and helps develop an understanding of the child’s personality and the root cause for the behaviour.
Be patient: Don’t jump to conclusions. Avoid making the child sense that something is odd. Observe the child for some time. Let her take time to settle down at her own pace. Wait for the child to feel comfortable in the class setup.
Be available, but do not overdo it: Let the child know that she can connect with you whenever needed. Your body language and communication must reveal a positive outlook. The warmth, the non-biased and non-judgmental attitude of a teacher supports the child. Children tend to open up more to teachers who are approachable.
Connect with the parents: To communicate your thoughts about the student’s behaviour with her parents or guardians is also a great idea. It is important to gather information about her environment and relationships at home, and to understand if there is a specific reason for her to behave in a particular way. At the same time, do not forget to share reports of her behaviour with her parents. It helps them to identify the changes in her behaviour and validates your observations about the child. Any issue that seems important should be noted down and carefully observed for a week or more. The teacher and parents must get in touch after a few weeks to discuss the child’s progress and the steps required.
Observe the social circle: Do not forget to observe the social relationships of the child; the social circle of a child has lots to explain and offer. The child’s behaviour can be understood by studying her social interactions. Observe her communication with peers, and note the difference, if any.
Rope in the school counsellor: Counsellors are professionals with skills that help them understand changes in human behaviour. Get in touch with one and share all your observations till date. As a class teacher or subject teacher, consider taking your student to the school counsellor to discuss appropriate interventions. In case the school counsellor is unavailable, recommend that parents seek help from private counsellors. Parents are often reluctant to take the child to a therapist as they are unable to see the benefits of seeking help. Try to convince them. At the end, the child may not require any therapy, but there is never any harm in getting a professional opinion in such situations.
Help create bonds: There could be a possibility that the child showing unusual behaviour lacks friends. Help her to become a part of a group and support her participation in group activities. In addition, encourage the child to showcase her hidden talents in front of the class. The appreciation of her fellow peers will help boost her confidence.
Engage students in co-curricular activities: While the academic performance of a child is a priority, it is equally important for children to blossom in co-curricular activities. Participating in different forms of art, dance, and music helps one to step out of the monotonous academic routine and explore one’s innate talent. In fact, sports and outdoor activities are a great way of developing self-esteem and confidence.
Educate and read about student welfare: Take some time out of your busy schedule to read books on the needs and behaviour patterns of young children. This helps to achieve more clarity on behaviour patterns and discover theories and research findings. There is always the possibility that the child is fine but is taking some time to settle down in the classroom. However any conclusions you draw should be supported with sufficient reasons and evidence. As a teacher, it your responsibility to observe, identify, and support children in need.
Mitashi Pawar works as a school counsellor with The Shri Ram School, Gurgaon