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Common Behavior Problems in Elementary School

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As teachers, behavior problems can be really confusing and difficult to navigate. It helps to know what is typical in the age group we teach. This lesson reviews some common behavior problems in the elementary grades.

Knowing Common Behavior Problems

Emily is a new first-grade teacher at Lockwood Elementary School. When she was getting her teaching degree, she learned a lot about curriculum, and she feels excited to teach her students reading, writing and math.

As the school year begins, though, Emily realizes she still has a lot to learn, particularly about classroom management and behavior. It seems like her six-year-old students are acting out all the time! Emily understands that in order to identify which behavior problems are cause for serious concern, she first has to learn which ones are most common in the elementary years.

Talking, Talking, Talking

First of all, Emily notices that many of her students just love to talk! One of the biggest behavior problems in her class is calling out, or talking out of turn. It is really hard for many elementary students to learn to wait their turn or wait to be called on in order to speak. Many elementary school students are naturally very social and are in the process of learning that it simply is not appropriate to talk to their friends whenever they want to over the course of the day. Talking out of turn can be very disruptive, and behavior charts and consistent routines can help deal with this common behavior problem.

Impulsivity and Aggression

Emily also sees other examples of impulsivity among her young students. For instance, sometimes they just get up and start walking around; they make odd noises, and they might even act aggressive toward one another. Impulsivity is a common and often natural behavior problem in the elementary years, though when it is carried to an extreme or seems to indicate issues with anger or sadness, it can be cause for concern. Emily remembers that her students' frontal lobes, the part of the brain most clearly associated with impulse control and self-regulation, are still underdeveloped. This means that a certain amount of impulsivity and even minor aggression can be expected from elementary students.

Aggression can be a really tricky issue among elementary school students. Because of their impulsivity, many elementary school students are still learning that it is not appropriate to hit or push others. At the same time, though this behavior can be quite common, it also has serious impacts on victims of aggression, and it must be handled thoughtfully. It helps to teach students that it is always okay to feel angry or aggressive, but that they need to learn ways of handling these feelings that do not involve hurting other people.

Social Difficulties

Again and again, Emily finds herself mediating social challenges over the course of the day! Some of the behavior problems that affect her students' social worlds include the following:

  • Students leave each other out or choose one friend over another, hurting the other one's feelings.
  • Students taunt each other, stick out their tongues, or engage in minor lighthearted teasing that can really impact the victim's emotions.
  • Students are very competitive with each other in sports and games.

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