A new study has found one in five primary school-aged boys exhibit emotional and behavioural problems.
Signs of emotional and behavioural problems
- Sadness and anxiety
- Not wanting to go to school
- Hyperactivity, restless, overactive, easily distracted
- Temper tantrums, acting out, fighting
Researchers say troubled boys are now three times more likely to be rated by their teachers as having poor English or mathematical skills, compared to peers without these problems.
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Childhood to Adolescents Transition Study (CATS) looked at 1,000 Australian school children aged eight to nine years old.
Participants were asked to fill out a strengths-and-difficulties questionnaire, which asked parents to report on the wellbeing of their kids.
Lisa Mundy, who led the research, said there was an alarming number of primary-school-aged children struggling with serious emotional or behavioural problems.
“So emotional problems — we tend to think of as children who have many worries, fears, they’re easily scared, they might seem unhappy or sad,” she said.
“Behaviour problems tend to be things like acting out, temper tantrums, those sort of things, fighting with others.
“And it can also tap into that kind of hyperactivity, restless, overactive, easily distracted — those types of behaviours.”
Researchers then looked at the NAPLAN results of those boys with emotional or behavioural problems and found they were falling 12 months behind their class mates academically.
“That is a fairly substantial delay at that point in time,” Ms Mundy said.
Dr Mundy said there was a link between the early onset of puberty — for some boys as young as 7 or 8 — and behavioural problems in the classroom.
“We found that boys in particular who have higher levels of that hormone tend to have more emotional behavioural problems,” she said.
Dr Mundy said it was unlikely increasing academic pressure was causing emotional and behavioural problems — a scenario she said was more common in secondary school.
She said it was vital for parents to spot the warning signs of their child’s distress, which could include sadness, anxiety and not wanting to go to school, and then managing their child’s feelings, encouraging them to express themselves.
“If going through that you’re still concerned, then at that point it’s worth seeking help and just checking it’s not anything more significant,” she said.
Dr Mundy says it is vital for parents to spot the warning signs of their child’s distress. (Unsplash: Andrew Branch)
‘He’s going through puberty much earlier than I did’
Carl Lee has two boys at Maroubra Junction Primary School, and said his eldest, an 11-year-old, just started going through puberty.
“Having to wear deodorant and going through those things that boys start to go through when they hit puberty — he’s doing that much younger than I did and my peers did at the time,” he said.
Mr Lee’s youngest son is eight, and while he has not shown any signs of puberty, Mr Lee said he was very sensitive.
“He worries about what the teacher thinks and wants to be a good student in class,” he said.
“So if there’s something that happens in class that he’s been involved in and the teachers made a comment about it, it certainly does affect him.”
Mr Lee said compared to some of his sons’ classmates, his boys were doing OK.
He said he was aware some of their classmates were struggling far more with the same problems and that it affected their school work.
“Dads who’ve said to me, ‘Johnny’s having trouble at school’, it seems — just with my sons reporting back to me — that sometimes those particular kids are also the kids that might be disruptive in the class,” he said.
Mr Lee has his own parental tips for bringing boys through those important school years.
“We can’t force things out of them, but we can say to them that we’re always here to talk to them and we hope that we can be here for them for the long haul,” he said.