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Teacher's verbal abuse can lead to problem behavior

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, May 3 (Reuters) Verbal abuse by a kindergarten teacher triggered by a child's inattention or disruptive behavior can produce a ''vicious cycle'' that boosts the risk of delinquency and learning problems later on, a new study suggests.

The findings are not intended to put the blame on teachers, given that a child's behavior is also a factor, but instead underscore the need for better support of classroom teachers in dealing with problem kids, Dr. Mara Brendgen of the University of Quebec in Montreal told Reuters Health.

''These are behaviors that cause disorder that make it very difficult for the teachers to manage the classroom,'' she said.

Brendgen and her colleagues followed 399 children for 7 years, starting in kindergarten. Each child was given a booklet listing his or her classmates, and asked to circle at least three children ''who always get picked on by the teacher.'' Usually, the researchers found, a single child was circled and frequently it was the same child year after year -- but in many classes no child was chosen.

The majority of children (85%) had almost no risk of being verbally abused by a teacher during the course of the study.

But the remaining 15% were at risk, and this risk increased with time.

The researchers found that boys, as well as children who showed antisocial behavior and inattention problems in kindergarten, were the most frequent targets of teacher abuse, they report in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

To determine whether the verbal abuse had long-lasting effects, the researchers used statistical techniques to control for the effects of other factors. ''Even in controlling for all these things, we found that being the target of verb abuse contributes to the risk of being delinquent during early adolescence, but also worsens children's academic performance,'' Brendgen told Reuters Health.

Any effort to cope with the problem must address the teachers and the children, because this is a ''bidirectional problem,'' Brendgen said. However, she added, better training is needed to help teachers cope with disruptive children without becoming abusive.

''It seems to be rather a taboo subject, but it's something that it needs to be talked about -- it may be just another indication of how stressful classroom management can be for teachers,'' she said.

Reuters CH DB0956

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