THE way children are parented in their early years has a huge impact on their behaviour, and ultimately the way they perceive and interact with the world as adults.
In fact, 90% of brain development happens by the age of five – before most children even start school.
This means that by the time they reach the classroom, neural pathways have been established and repeated behaviour has become ingrained.
Primary school teacher Amanda Burns* says: “I read something recently that was really well explained – if you imagine brains like cement and, in those first five years, you can just mix it around.
“But when those experiences happen, they’re like rocks in there and then the cement hardens and it becomes part of who they are and you can’t really get rid of it then.”
With 30+ new students every year, teachers have first-hand experience of how different types of parenting affect children’s behaviour – and Amanda confirms there’s a strong connection between the two.
If you imagine brains like cement and, in those first five years, you can just mix it around
Primary school teacher
Here, she reveals which parenting styles lead to attention-seeking, defiant, entitled or withdrawn kids in class.
Description: Helicopter parents pay extremely close attention to their child’s experiences and problems, often as a way to protect them. Like helicopters, they “hover overhead”, constantly overseeing every aspect of their child’s life.
As one of the most hotly-debated styles of modern parenting, it may come as a surprise to discover that – in certain circumstances – helicopter parenting can be incredibly positive when it comes to school life.
Amanda says: “It really depends on the parent’s relationship with the child and the parent’s relationship with the teacher. If they all marry up, then it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
“If you [the teacher] have a positive relationship with the parent, you can do lots of things to make a real impact to that child and they’re happy as well.
“I have definitely experienced that really positively.”
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However, if either of those relationships are broken, things quickly take a turn for the worse.
Amanda explains: “Their parent might be very over-protective, but if they don’t have a good relationship with the teacher, then that’s a problem.
“The child can see that and then they might not have any respect for that teacher and you’ll see that behaviour in school, that kind of entitled behaviour.
“Equally, if the parent doesn’t have a good relationship with the child, they might come across as pushing towards lots of academics rather than wellbeing and really understanding the child.
“They [the child] would be drawn more towards the teacher and it would become more of a wellbeing issue.”
Description: Authoritarian parents are strict and stern. Their focus is on unquestioning obedience, discipline and control enforced through rules and punishment.
If you thought strict parenting resulted in angelic little children, think again.
“If parents are too snappy, too strict then what happens is it triggers children’s fight, flight or freeze response,” says Amanda.
She explains that, due to the huge brain development that’s happening up until the age of five, it can be really damaging if children don’t understand why they’re being shouted at or told off, even if it comes from a good place.
“If they’re being told, ‘No, don’t do that’ and that’s it, then actually all they’re getting is that nervous response that then means in the classroom they’re on eggshells a bit.
“It means they go into fight, flight or freeze quite quickly which then has lots of behavioural impact and it comes from needs not being met earlier on and it comes from this kind of threat response that has grown from experience.”
If parents are too snappy, too strict then what happens is it triggers children’s fight, flight or freeze response
Primary school teacher
This can result in defiance (fight) which, at its extreme, can lead to children doing things like knocking over tables in the classroom.
A child in flight will walk away from the situation, or even out of class altogether.
Amanda says: “It’s not uncommon to be chasing children around schools.
“There’s always that one child everyone’s trying to hunt down because they’ve gone into their flight because they can’t emotively manage the situation so they have to remove themselves from it.”
The most easily overlooked is the freeze response, which Amanda warns can look like compliance.
She explains: “If a child gets a consequence or they’ve been told off and then they’re quiet, it can look like they’re reflecting or they’ve understood, but actually, their nervous system has gone into freeze mode and they’ve shut down.”
Description: Permissive parents rarely give or enforce rules and overindulge their child to avoid conflict.
When children have no structure at home, things can go one of two ways at school.
Amanda explains that they will either thrive, because at school they have the structure and boundaries they’ve been missing, or they will defy the teachers.
She says: “You do see that with children – you just think, ‘Why are they not doing what I’m saying?’
“You can see they’re purposefully just not doing it and it’s coming from that place of really having experienced that when you’re saying a limit, it’s completely untrue, so I don’t have to adhere to it.
“And it’s also about pushing that to try and figure out where the truth is.”
Having clear expectations helps children to feel safe and Amanda explains that things start to get “dishevelled” if there is no consistency in parenting.
She says: “If they [parents] say you can watch one more show and then bed time, and it’s 30 minutes later and the show was five minutes long, it’s confusing. So there’s no trust there.
When the boundaries go, it makes you feel unsettled
Primary school teacher
“When the boundaries go, it makes you feel unsettled.
“That’s where it comes in at school – the teacher says something but you don’t know if that’s what they really mean.
“So I might say, ‘Finish that last sentence,’ but [they’re thinking], ‘Do they actually mean that?’
“Because their experience has shown them that that’s not necessarily true.”
Description: Also known as neglectful parenting, this style is characterised by a lack of responsiveness to a child’s needs beyond the basics of food, clothing and shelter. Uninvolved parents offer little guidance or nurturance, and will leave kids to make decisions — big and small — on their own.
Children with distant or emotionally-uninvolved parents often start out with attention-seeking behaviour when they’re young, but are likely to become more withdrawn as they grow up.
Amanda explains that typical attention-seeking behaviour at school, like calling out in class, is often actually more about ‘connecting-seeking’.
She says: “They’re trying to find that connection somewhere and that’s just how it’s manifested into their behaviour.
“If you see a child in year five or year six or upwards, and that’s the kind of environment they’re been in, they’re likely to be withdrawn because they’ve been supporting themselves for that period of time.
“They’ve probably gone through that connection-seeking phase, not received it or it hasn’t been received well (which is common because it’s not an understood behaviour), and therefore they might be withdrawn, untrusting of adults and quite quiet.
“They’ll be one of those children where you just think, ‘Oh, I can’t really break them or get a relationship with them’.”
Description: Pushy parents try to live vicariously through their children and push their own attitudes and ambitions onto their children.
Pushy parenting has a similar impact to helicopter parenting when the relationship between the parent and child is fractured.
In both cases, they’re pushing for something and not taking in the child’s preferences and opinion.
Amanda says this can lead to withdrawn children.
She says: “You find they will be a bit more clingy to the teacher I would say, but quiet.
“They’ve been made quiet because they don’t feel like they’ve been heard.”
In other parenting news, we told you about a mum’s trick for encouraging fussy kids to eat.
We also revealed how another mum was slammed for the lunchbox she packed her “hungry” five-year-old.
And a third mum asked another parent to uninvite her son’s bully from a birthday party.