‘Hid­den cri­sis’ of un­ruly kids, prin­ci­pal warns

The Southland Times - - Front Page - Evan Hard­ing evan.hard­ing@stuff.co.nz

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

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