‘Hidden crisis’ of unruly kids, principal warns
A Southland school principal has warned of a ‘‘hidden crisis’’ facing New Zealand in the form of ill disciplined children.
Edendale Primary School principal David McKenzie said an emerging group of children were entering the school system, or were already in it, who had never understood the word no.
They had little ability to manage difficult situations without resorting to tantrums or violence which disrupted others in the classroom.
Classrooms were based on the foundations of respect for each other and co-operation with each other. ‘‘If we don’t have those two things in play by the age of five, teachers can’t do their job.
‘‘This is the hidden crisis our nation is facing,’’ he said.
Some of the settings around how children were raised had changed, he said. ‘‘The anti smacking law has been interpreted as the anti discipline law.’’
There was a real concern at the challenging behaviours shown by children; it was getting worse and there was no quick fix, he said.
He suggested another model may need to be found for children who struggled to cope in the classroom environment.
Children were entering school who weren’t socially ready for the rigours of the classroom and were unable to form positive relationships with their classmates and teachers. ‘‘If they aren’t ready, the classroom won’t work because the child is being counter-productive.’’
Parents should have dealt with their childrens tantrums by the time they entered school, he said.
They needed to ensure their children were responsible, respectful and socially robust by the age of five so they could cope with the rigours of the classroom.
McKenzie said three quarters of brain development was in the first three years of a person’s life.
‘‘If we don’t get that right we are undermining our children’s futures for their entire lives.’’
Southland Primary Principals Association president Wendy Ryan confirmed more and more children were entering the school system with behavioural issues.
Behaviours included children hitting other children, spitting at people and throwing furniture, she said. She was not saying such behaviours never happened before, but it was now happening more often.
A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said the rates of stand-down, suspension and exclusion for 5 and 6 year olds went up in 2017.
Another ministry spokeswoman said it recognised schools could face real challenges in supporting children with challenging behaviour.
However, evidence showed that positive behaviour was learned, she said.
The ministry offered a range of services and supports to help schools develop positive learning environments, she said.
It was expanding its behaviour services to reach an extra 1000 children aged 0 to 8 years per year.
‘‘By intervening earlier, we are aiming to support more children onto a more pro-social pathway.’’
University of Otago associate dean in teacher education, Dr Alex Gunn, who is an early childhood teacher by profession, said young children had to learn to adapt to the cultural context of schools, and it took time.
Teachers had to moderate their expectations and work with individuals as needed, she said.
Teachers were generally skilled at doing this, while carefully designed transition to school programmes helped immensely.
When teachers worked with children and families to make the expectations and standards in the classroom visible, children learned to adjust, including those with health, social and development challenges, she said.
‘‘The anti smacking law has been interpreted as the anti discipline law.’’ David McKenzie, left, Edendale Primary School principal