As someone who grew up in the 90s, I was one of the very last generations that was able to spend time playing outdoors with other neighbourhood kids, as opposed to playing Super Mario on a video game console or Candy Crush on a smartphone. The only friends I knew were ones made of flesh, not Instagram profiles of people I had never met in real life.
My only worry back then was that of kicking a worn-out, half-inflated football on the consumed asphalt of my street, or riding my bicycle in the nearby countryside, which was abundant back then, or treasure-hunting with my puppy on a leash. I would fervently knock on my neighbours’ doors to entice other children to come outside and play with me. Unfortunately, such tangible physical and emotional connections, have over time been replaced by solitary indoor activities, like texting, gaming and surfing the internet.
During this bygone era, I also got to experience first-hand primary and secondary education in Malta. I have always attended government schools and they were well-equipped with nothing short of highly professional teachers. I remember clear instances, when the teacher would enter the class and complete silence would ensue. When the teacher would give us instructions, the students did as they were told.
There wasn’t a time when I went to school without having done my homework. Disobeying the teacher? Unthinkable! Teachers were well-respected figures in the community, by students and parents alike. During Parents’ Day when the teacher provided feedback about my behaviour in class, my parents would reward or reprimand me accordingly. They worked hand-in-hand to help me with my education.
Nowadays, it’s a different story entirely. The social constructs have changed – the norm nowadays seems to be that of entitled parents and children alike. In April 2022, a number of online news portals in Malta reported the shocking news that a teacher’s water bottle was spiked with a chemical.
During my professional career, this was not the first incident I had encountered where children or adolescents displayed anti-social behaviour towards educators and other students alike. I have witnessed cases in Court where the uncontrollable behaviours of deviant minors led them to commit highly illegal acts.
I have had cases at the clinic of children and adolescents that were referred to me because of school-related issues. Sometimes the misbehaviour turned out to be a displacement of family problems. Displacement is a psychological defence mechanism where a person redirects a negative emotion from its original source (for example, a parent), to a less threatening recipient (for example, a teacher or classmate).
During the sessions, it might emerge that the child or adolescent is playing out their part in a domestic conflict between the parents or a sibling rivalry situation, and thus this pattern will continue repeating itself at school. Most commonly, the parent-child-teacher triangle is the result of a displacement of a parent-child conflict onto the teacher-child relationship.
Problems at home may result from ultra-permissive parenting or ultra-strict parenting. An enmeshed parenting style can also be a problem, where family relationships lack boundaries, and the roles and expectations are confused. The disregarding of emotions, neglect, abuse, disconnection from their families, violence at home, disagreements between parents and so forth can also be problematic for the kid.
Acting out at school may be the result of strictness at home, or contrarily, permissiveness at home. Emotional, biological, or characterological difficulties in the child might also be determining factors. Another issue is when the parents have conflicts with the teachers, perhaps because of a personality clash, a disagreement about educational methods or else because of personality-related problems.
How can you best support your child if they display behavioural problems at school?
- Provide a space where your child can talk about their concerns and express their feelings
- Validate your child’s feelings
- Provide a safe place at home
- Avoid conflict at home
- Keep the conversations ongoing
- When teachers discuss concerns about your child, listen to them and work hand-in-hand with the school, to avoid giving a contradictory message to the child
- If problems persist consult with a family psychotherapist, psychologist, or school counsellor