WHO ARE 'PROBLEM CHILDREN'? How can we help them?

 “Problem children are those children whose behaviour or personality in some way is seriously abnormal.”  --- Valentine
As we approach a new academic year the schools and teachers are faced with a problem that is common to all over the world. In every school a small percentage of children come under the title, ‘Problem Children’.   In fact, every child has problematic behaviour. No child can be 100% normal.       Still there are some children who are so much deviated from the average and they are put in the category of problem children.
There are backward children in terms of IQ and they too have certain traits of the problem children. However every backward child is not a problem child. The external signs of problem behavior are: Tendency to steal, excessive rebellion against discipline, temper out bursts, bullying, excessive timidity, nervous habits, etc. As we see backward children are also problem children but we cannot call each backward child a problem child because out of these many are not abnormal from the personality or the behaviour point of view.   A problem child can be a backward child but each and every problem child may not be a backward child because many problem children have been found to be quite good at studies.  
It is very difficult to point out which behaviour is problematic and which behaviour is normal. Among children, much of their behaviour may be branded as problematic but as they grow this begins to take the shape of normal behaviour.The behaviour which is judged to be problematic is dependent on the standards set by the investigator himself and on the opinion of the teachers. Teachers consider such behaviour as problematic which is most annoying to them.  There are a number of authentic studies done on Problem children. Among them ‘Investigation on Problem Children’ by Jean D. Cummings with 239 children from Nursery and infant schools between the age of 2-7. His findings are very helpful to us teachers and parents. They include;
    Excessive restlessness, timidity, poor concentration, lack of bladder control, nervous habits, cruelty etc. were very common among 2-7 age group. Lack of concentration, stealing and lying were found to increase with age. In boys there was more of aggressiveness and obstinacy than in girls.
His study reveals that;
    Most of the behaviour defects among the children were gradually remedied within a period of 18 months.
    In 78 children there were improvements but in 36 children there was no improvement.
    87% children who were below the age of 5years there was immense improvement while in only 57% of those children who were above 5 years there were improvement.
    There was no single child who was not having one or the other type of behavioural disorder.
Most serious symptoms in Problem children found were: Unhappiness, fearfulness, unsocial withdrawing, cruelty, bullying, enuresis, shyness, suspiciousness, suggestible, temper , tantrums, domineering, heterosexual, stealing, truancy, destroying materials, masturbation, untruthfulness, cheating, obscene notes, talk, impertinence, cruelty, bullying.
Least Serious symptoms found in Problem children were: Whispering, imaginative lying, inquisitiveness, restlessness, silliness, talking, thoughtfulness, dreaminess, shyness, stubbornness, profanity, smoking, interrupting, tardiness, carelessness, inquisitiveness, thoughtlessness. 
Some symptoms are modified by the children after some time. 
For example, smoking, whispering, sex experimentations are such types of behaviours which a normal child adopts at one or the other time of his growth but after understanding that the society does not approve of them, he leaves them and modifies his reactions in accordance with the socially approved laws. 


According to Burt there are two types of problem children. The first category of children can be;
1.    Aggressive and excitable: Children who have the problem of bullying or who are against discipline come under this category.
2.    Repressed or nervous: Those children who have the problem of fear and who are very submissive come under this group.
It is important to note that what type of behaviour the problem children will adopt, depends to a large extent on their environment.

Today many of us who work in the schools and institutions are aware of problem children. It is important to diagnosis the trait in them to remedy them by helping them. It is seen that the problem children raise various problems in the schools and at their homes.
The problems of these types of children persist till their youth and many of them become mentally ill. They are easily tended towards anti-social activities. Many problem children become the members of dacoit or pick-pocket gangs. They remain unhappy and are responsible for insecurity in the society. If the child is not properly looked after or if he is given excessive affection and love the child can be pampered and manifest the trait of a problem child. If the parents quarrel and if mean behaviour is depicted their children can be easily drawn towards problem behaviour. If a family has either step mother or there are ill feelings between parents, again, there can be serious negative effect on children. In a Cambridge Clinic it was found that out of 112 problem children who were referred to the clinic, in the homes of 77% there was improper discipline coming from broken families. Either they lived with single parent or their parents were drunkards.
    To find out problem children concentrate more on the children rather than on the symptoms because the symptoms have no separate existence from the children. Symptoms are visible in different forms in different children with different personalities and those children who are living in different environment. In any problem child, more than one symptom can be found existing simultaneously. For example a child who is aggressive may also suffer from insecurity.
    For one problem there may be many symptoms or many problems may have the same symptom. For example, reason for stammering may be due to guilt feeling, nervousness or fright. It is not easy to diagnose problem children; it is very difficult to know the reasons for their behaviour. Often reasons are complex.
Two strong powers which always affect an individual- heredity and environment. Every child has some definite innate tendencies. His/her many characteristics are dependent on the combination of the genes of his parents. He is born with his own individualistic mental and physical structure which is different from other children. But there is the influence of the environment upon his innate behaviour and he brings modifications in his behaviour according to his environment.  The following reasons too affect the children adversely.  
1.    Physical, sensory or nervous disorderliness in the child. Eg. Defective speech, undernourishment, undersize, oversize, weakened heart, accident, illness etc.
2.    Temperament and the emotional state of the child. In some children there are innate will organised emotional tones. In others it is not there. These causes are often traceable to the hereditary trend or weakness.  
3.    The social and environmental forces acting upon the child also has serious repercussions on children. When the home or school environment is defective then children show problematic behaviour.
Home has the most important cause and effect on a child. If the child is not properly looked after or if he is given excessive affection and love, the child can be negative and turn out to be a problem child. At home if the parents always quarrel and if mean behaviour is depicted the children grow with such negativity. Families where there is either step mother or there are ill feelings between parents their children can be problem children.
The only two areas where we can help a child to grow with positive experiences are; Home and school, especially the primary school where a child learn to socialise with other children and teachers. At home discipline should not be out of pressure or fear. Parents’ behaviour towards these children should be loving and understanding. Remember only through love we can change a person.  There must be co-operation between home and school. Never allow the child to feel that he is not loved or unwanted. Parents need to give good company to their children at home and outside. 
At school teachers are their role models. They stand in place of the parents. So it is expected that every teacher must try to present high ideals to students. They must follow interesting methods of education. There should be balanced curriculum and arrangement of co-scholastic programmes in the school. Teachers must help children to have a healthy recreation to children. Teachers must be self disciplined to cultivate self-discipline among their wards. They must keep in mind and always work as a synthesis between family and school. Every teacher must be a barefoot counsellor to his/ her students by giving them proper guidance. In fact every teacher must act as a link between the child and his/her parents.

Sunny Jacob SJ
JEA Secretary