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Why Are They so Naughty?


Disciplines > Teaching > Classroom management > Why Are They so Naughty?

Basic needs | Growing pains | Social forces | Other impacts | See also


Why are children in class so naughty? When you meet them by themselves outside the class they are often normal and polite, particularly if they are outside the school environment, yet in class they can be endlessly naughty, seeming to delight in making your life a living hell.

Basic needs

We have many needs and so do children. Two in particular account for a lot of what goes on in the classroom.


We all have a need for a sense of control, yet in school and lessons children are regimented and expected to do as they are told. In reaction to this, they may well fight back in both overt and subtle ways. The classroom may thus descend into a battle of wills as the teacher and the class fight for control.

Paradoxically, this fight-back is often a testing of boundaries and the children will be comfortable when those boundaries are fixed and certain. For the teacher, this means setting rigid standards and not flexing. If you give an inch, they may well try to take a mile. This does not mean they should be silent and upright all the time. It does mean that you need to decide on the fixed rules and principles that will work both for and can be made to work with your classes.


We also have a need for a sense of identity, which is something that is of profound concern for children as they grow and discover 'who they are'. In early years, they are finding themselves as a separate entity. In later years, they are pushing away as they strive for adulthood.

Children get a lot of their sense of identity from their peers and being 'one of the gang' can be very important.

For teachers, a good rule is first to always acknowledge the person and their identity, although how they behave may not be acceptable. You do not have bad children - you just have bad behavior.

Growing pains

Control and identity needs continue to be important as children grow and develop. There are a number of stage theories that explain how children go through steps in developing rather than smoothly 'growing up'.

For teachers, understanding these stages can be very helpful as the children will act and respond differently according to their current stage. If you can recognize the stage, you can decide on the most appropriate intervention to get the response you need.

Social forces

When children are young, they learn many values from their parents and carers. When they enter their teenage years (and sometimes earlier), their parent's values seem to slip away as they are influenced more by their peers. This is partly driven by the immediate need to  belong to a peer group more than to belong to a family. It is also affected by the natural pressure to leave the family unit and go and set up life elsewhere (and so spread the family gene pool far and wide).

These forces can lead children into crime, drugs, early sex and more. In the classroom it can push the class (or a subset) into a gang with the teacher as the natural enemy. Playground jostling for social position can also continue into the class where children play to their natural peer audience rather than pay attention to the teacher.

This can be a tricky force for teachers to handle. One way is with humor, although this must be used very carefully lest they think you are the joke or class is a place for entertainment and fun only. Gentle teasing can be effective, as can sharp sarcasm. Both can also fail if not used appropriately.

A divide and conquer approach can be very effective, splitting up the social groups so they are sitting next to people with whom they seldom talk.

As necessary, you can also wield the forces that naturally act on the children, for example by punishing or rewarding the whole class based on how an individual child behaves (always remember, however, that reward is always the more powerful motivator, but only as long as they are linked to good behavior).

Other issues

There are many other issues that can affect children's behavior and teachers should always be aware and research these. A good school will carefully share information about such situations.


Being bullied at school can be a terrifying experience, and can lead to a range of behaviors, from timid introversion to strange compliance or reaction to bullies within the class. Bullied children may also become bullies in a dysfunctional hierarchy.

A good school will have a strong and careful policy and action around bullying. Within the classroom, you should never allow bullying to happen.

Bullying can also happen between teachers and pupils, and in both directions. If you enjoy putting kids in their place, look inside. If you are terrified of certain children, get help.

Home problems

Not all children come from nice, well-balanced homes. The home can be a very dysfunctional place where the child can pick up bad language and bad behavior that seem almost normal to them. The home can also be terrifying and a terrified child is not a calm pupil.

Medical conditions

There is a wide range of medical and, particularly, mental problems that can affect children, from dyspraxia to autism. These can make the children seem naughty whilst they struggle to fit into a world in which their affliction makes it difficult to understand and be understood.

It is a good idea to get a grounding in common medical conditions that affect children and how to cope with these. Armed with this knowledge and with the support of the school, you can learn to handle even the bizarre behavior that may arise.

See also


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