What’s the best way to handle behavior problems in kindergarten?

The Minneapolis Public Schools have stopped suspending the youngest students for all but the most serious disciplinary reasons. The moratorium, ordered by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, covers students in the first grade and below.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, Minneapolis Public Schools. (MPR photo/Tom Weber)

The school district had come under criticism for a record of suspensions that disproportionately affected children of color and children with mental-health difficulties.

According to figures reported by the Star Tribune, suspensions of children kindergarten through the fourth grade had jumped in the last year, in contrast with declining suspensions among older students.

“For some of our youngest scholars, this is their first time in a structured learning environment,” Johnson said. “Understanding and navigating the new rules and environment simply takes longer for some students than for others.”

Today’s question: What’s the best way to handle behavior problems in kindergarten?

  • PaulJ

    Time with adults

  • Pearly

    Hmmmm. I don’t know. I just yesterday sent my older of two girls off for her first day of kindergarten. And I do not recall any talk of discipline at the orientation. I think I will look in to it.

  • Susan WB

    Every study I’ve ever seen says that suspensions do more harm than good, particularly for young children. Positive behavioral interventions are much more effective at improving behavior. Suspension is about punishment; intervention is about teaching them what to do instead of the negative behavior. If the child is actively a danger to others, remove him from the classroom, sure. But generally, a suspension leads to a downward cycle of yet more suspensions, negative attitudes towards school, poorer grades, and so on. It’s not the cycle you want to set your youngest students into. We all want our kids to be safe and secure at school, in a positive learning environment where they can focus. The best way to achieve that is not by reacting with a suspension when kids misbehave, focus on preventing the disruptive behavior to start with.

  • Catie

    More classroom support.

    My son attended a Minneapolis Public School in South Minneapolis as a Kindergartener last year. Despite his IEP (Anxiety / ADHD), the school had little to no ability to support him.

    The school had 1.5 Special Ed teachers and one Para. When our son’s behavior in the classroom escalated, he was bounced around the school building to different adults who had time to watch him. They would let him play with toys and the computer. He was sent home early / suspended a number of times. Three times, the situation escalated so much that by the time support was available, they had to restrain him.

    As a parent, I feel that the answer is NOT crisis pullout as we experienced last year. I believe the answer is a full, committed team of special ed staff and paras who are able to support children in the classroom and resolve issues before things escalate to the point of suspension and / or restraints.

    The Minneapolis Public Schools team we worked with last year did everything they could and gave our son everything they had. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even close. Our son left Kindergarten hating school and disliking himself.

    After being told that the Minneapolis school would have even LESS special ed and Para support this year, we have moved to Richfield schools. The Richfield elementary school we attend now has 9 special ed teachers, 16 paras, and the same number of kids in need as the Minneapolis school we attended. There is full time in-class para support, and a special ed teacher dedicated solely to the first grade classrooms. When those supports are not enough, there is a pull out classroom.

    The Richfield school’s well designed, well funded, and well executed commitment to supporting all students in the classroom is exactly what our son needs. We are grateful that we now have a school and a team with the staff and structure needed to get our son back to loving school and liking himself.

  • Jim G

    Kids need to feel loved and accepted. However, sometimes they don’t get that feeling in school. Kids from poor families that haven’t had the opportunity to go a good pre-school are experiencing the stress of separation from their parents and siblings probably for the first time. Suspensions for Kindergartners and First Graders were unheard of during my career. I do remember Time-out rooms where the kid was sent to cool down. But, instead of a “time-out” room, I suggest a “time-with” room. “Time-with” a trained counselor or psychologist and perhaps some milk and cookies to help them through the rough patches of their day. Of course, that will cost money because Minnesota is at the very bottom nationally in providing funding for school counselors and psychologists. But if we’re serious about solving the suspension gap and the corresponding achievement gap, we will need to spend real money to finance these interventions. Have you checked the prices for milk and cookies lately?

  • Anna

    Like Jim, suspending kindergarten students was unheard of when I was in school and with my substitute teaching experience and I’ve have taught in several states.

    My current school district has a resource room in every school that teachers can send students to if they are having difficulty concentrating and causing a distraction or if they are anxious and need some one-on-one time with a trained paraprofessional or special ed counselor/teacher. When the student has calmed down or finished the classroom assignment, they are sent back to their regular classroom.

    Children at this age absorb negative moods like a sponge. By having a safety valve, problem behavior in school can be “nipped in the bud” before it escalates to dangerous or violent levels.

    When I was growing up (many moons ago) we were outside playing with the neighborhood kids in the summer and after we finished our homework during the school year. We came in when it was time for supper. Kids today are glued to computers as early as one year old and while it might give them a slight advantage when they start school, a computer cannot teach social skills and respect for authority which seems to be the issue in schools across the country today.

    During my childhood, it was “Yes, ma’am/sir” and adults were never addressed by their first name. You’d better put a handle on it or you would wish you had. Respect and proper social decorum were instilled from the time the child could talk properly. You would be heard but only if you were properly respectful.

    I never attended kindergarten but I don’t recall my classmates in elementary school having difficulty following general classroom rules such as raising your hand for a question. I think ADHD was there in some of my classmates but the teacher usually pulled them out of the classroom and into the hall for a good “talking to” and a phone call was made to the parents if it continued. Classroom sizes were smaller and the teacher would make adjustments to accommodate the student.

    My son is very gregarious and social and still is today at 27. I told his teachers they could do whatever they felt was reasonable to keep him on task and to let me know when he was not complying. He rarely had a problem following rules because his father and I expected it.

    I think we are demanding too much when we expect teachers to be surrogate parents. It is not their job to be a parent to their students and “socialize” them. It is not the teacher’s fault if the student begins school and can’t play well with others. If there are no rules at home, the student will certainly not be able to follow them at school.

  • Mark in Ohio

    I would suggest that you actually have two different problems, and need two different answers. The answers will be different depending on whether you are addressing transient, short term overloads, or continuous, long-term problem behavior. The transient response would seem to be some sort of cool-down rooms to send kids who occasionally get overwhelmed, as detailed by other respondents below. For long-term, continuous problems, the students are probably in need of being segregated into some sort of smaller, behavior control instruction settings and to remove them from the normal classroom. I know that this will be expensive, and that it flies in the face of the “integrate everyone in the same room” philosophy currently in vogue, but we need to acknowledge that the bottom of the barrel is dragging down the rest of the class. Splitting the classroom could help both groups excel.

  • JQP

    pre-K socialization -whether in classes or structured day-care or family engagement like ECFE for stay at home parents.

    social skills for community life learned ages 1-5 are one of the best predictors for long term behavior in society in general.

    Unruly, uncontrollable , a-responsive children in group settings with peers at age 2-5 typically remain so in adulthood.

    skip the “boys must be wild” rhetoric…. all kids can be wild at that age-period. we simply oppress girls more and earlier to get it out of them. what any/all of them need to learn is how to have their natural tendencies in a group without breaking/disrupting the group.
    that will include some adaptation for the more :
    physically active ( need to move) ,
    verbose ( need to voice/shout)
    and their opposites.

    Start earlier…
    which means paying for it… and because the long term benefit to kids who understand how society operates and how they should operate… become adults who generally do the same… we save massively on the vastly more costly police state and prison industrial complex.

  • Jim Nicholie

    most behavior issues begin to show up at about 16-18 months. This is the time when intensive work with children can have a real effect. We provide very little help and support to parents and caregivers at this age.

  • Scott44

    Could it be parents that step up to the plate and do a majoritity of the raising of thier child?

  • Mary

    The teacher needs to make it very clear to the child that their behavior is unacceptable and remove the child from the classroom for a short period. When I was in school we had to sit in the hall if we did something wrong. It was mortifying but the behavior stopped. The teacher also needs to follow up with the parents and find out the reason for the behavior and work with the parents so the behavior doesn’t become acceptable.

    • Scott44

      Unacceptable is not the correct term. It is either right or wrong behavior.
      Is it unacceptable to drive drunk or go down the road at 100 mph? NO IT IS JUST PAIN WRONG.