Growing to Understand Children’s Behaviour


Growing to Understand Children's Behaviour

Bad behaviour is never just 'bad behaviour'. Have you ever wondered what your pupils may be trying to share with you by the way that they act and react in class? Does their play 'not sit right?' Here, Melonie Syrett, explores some of the reasons behind the behaviours that so often cause large scale disruption in our lessons and gives a glint of hope to stressed out teachers everywhere!

I MAGINE THE SCENE. Your class of 30 pupils bustle in from break, some sit at their tables and look at your lovingly prepared daily timetable to see what they will be up to next. Some stand around chatting and some come straight up to you. Standing in your personal space to tell you that ‘so and so’ has done ‘this’ at playtime and that they need you to sort it out.

You usher them away saying ‘Did you ask someone for help at playtime? …No? Then it couldn’t have been that bad could it?’ and the child skulks off to their desk. You herd the chatterers to their tables too and begin your lovingly prepared opening to your next lesson.

As you start to ask questions about long division (enter your subject choice here!), there is commotion.

Moaning, whinging, poking.

Ripples of it make their way around the class, and the more you try to get the pupils' attention the more they seem to be engrossed in what is going on.

Then suddenly it explodes.

One pupil is full on shouting at another about what happened in the playground.

You do all you can to regain their attention. You feel yourself bubbling up with frustration and annoyance. You finally snap.

'Okay, so what happened at playtime?!’

You ask this in exasperation. All the pupils start talking at once. You hear nothing but snippets of ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ and ‘last week’ and ‘yesterday’.

‘RIGHT!’ You have to raise your voice now to get their attention. ‘Let’s have a circle time to sort this out’.

And so it continues. Some take what seem to be front row seats, eager to watch the ensuing carnage. Others sit looking bored because it had nothing to do with them. Some throw insults and look like pro boxing champions, words coming out and hitting hard. Then, after a few minutes, you realise that even this isn’t working.

So what happens – you need to take individuals out of the room to talk to them, to find out what happened.

You need to give up your break time interviewing those that say somehow they are involved. Often, you end up none the wiser from the tales that the pupils have spun.

Your day is consumed and you feel that nothing has been achieved today in the form of the learning you had planned.

As you wave your pupils goodbye at the end of the day you breathe a sigh of relief.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It is a scene I used to face myself and one I have witnessed so many times in my career.

And who knows what that initial problem was – but often we find ourselves embroiled in some story that began last week and got to this point.

And do we ever find out the true catalyst to the drama? Rarely.

Do we often ask them to apologise to each other and carry on? Often.


Where does this bad behaviour come from?

Have you ever wondered or maybe you have even seen it down the line that the issue was coming from something that was happening to the child at home? That they were being sexually abused, beaten, used as a pawn in a situation, being groomed for a gang or neglected?

You should - it happens all too often.

Maslow and his hierarchy of need shares that ‘all the pieces of the pyramid need to be in place to realise self-actualisation – to move towards our highest selves’. For our pupils, this means to be able to focus on learning and achieving.

So no wonder, when the child's safety is threatened they are unable to focus on learning.


And no wonder when their self –esteem is being rocked or totally broken –your science lesson is the last thing they want to be in.

And no wonder that as they don't feel that they belong at home, they walk around the nursery smashing up toys.

And no wonder, if they are the victim of Child Sexual Exploitation that they withdraw into themselves and blurt out nasty things to keep people away. These can end up in a playground scuffle that then ruins the lesson you had so lovingly prepared.


It happens far more often than we would like to think. Around 50 children in every state-funded school are being or will be the victim of Child Sexual Exploitation and only 10% report it at the time it takes place. (Tackling Child Exploitation –a Progress Report Feb 2017)

And we know that every member of staff in a school wants to keep pupils safe. We know that as soon as something is alluded to or disclosed that we want to help that child. We know that.

But can you say that there is space in every class in your school for your pupils to feel safe. To know someone is listening. To feel confident enough and protected to share when something unspeakable is happening to them or someone that they know?

50 children in every state-funded school are being or will be the victim of Child Sexual Exploitation... only 10% report it at the time it takes place.

Can you say that even in their Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) lessons, where discussions are held; that the pupils have the space held so expertly for them that disclosure is something that they CAN be brave enough to do?

I would hazard a guess that the answer is no. I would also guess that you know of staff who really could do with help here too.

It isn’t a pipe dream you know. We can create that space. We can expertly hold that space. But it takes skills, and how many of us had training in PSHE? How many of us know how to create a space where you pupils feel comfortable enough to disclose the truth behind their changes in behaviour?

Even now, our new teachers have little or no PSHE training or Child protection training.

That is something we aim to change.


Noticing and responding to sexually harmful behaviours in children

Learn how to identify sexually harmful behaviours in children and then how to handle these situations.