What is abnormal behavior in the classroom?

In education, people often complain about the many children with behavioral problems. One disorder after another comes along and a large proportion of students have something. If things are not going well at school, there will soon be an investigation. This leads to a lot of labels being placed on students. But the question is whether there is always really a disorder. Because when is behavior abnormal?

Abnormal behavior

There is no fixed definition for abnormal behavior. Whether a child stands out because of his behavior does not only have to do with the actual behavior. There are many more aspects that influence this. Just think about the age of the child, the culture, the gender, the situation in which the behavior applies, the environment and the society in which the child grows up. These different aspects are further explained below.


Firstly, the age of the child is taken into account. A student who has writing problems in group 3 is not so noticeable. But what if this student still cannot write according to the standard in 8th grade? If preschool children do not know how to behave calmly in class, then this is not such a big problem. If these students in group 5 are still unable to sit quietly in their seats, there may be more going on. Age is a clear and easy-to-use standard for assessing a student’s behavior.


Behavioral problems are culture-bound. After all, every culture has its own ideas about normal behavior. In Western culture it is very rude when someone does not look at you. When a teacher speaks to a student, the student is expected to look at the teacher. However, in Moroccan culture it is not polite to look someone above you straight in the eye. If a Moroccan student does not look at the teacher in class, this does not mean that he has a behavioral problem.


Behavioral problems differ in boys and girls. Boys show more externalizing behavior problems, girls more internalizing behavior problems. In general, boys are more active than girls. If boys run a lot and act busy, this is therefore less noticeable than when a girl acts very busy in class. Girls are expected to behave differently than boys.


The situation also determines the assessment of behavior. For example, it is not a problem when children are running around in the schoolyard, but running in the library is considered abnormal behavior. Different behavior is expected in every situation.


The student’s environment plays an important role when it comes to behavior. If a student is in a busy chaotic classroom, his behavior may go unnoticed. When the same student is in a small, quiet class, his behavior will be noticeable and more likely to be considered abnormal.


Finally, society also influences the way we think about behavior. In recent years, a lot of attention has been paid to eating problems. Girls tried to conform to the extremely thin ideal and as a result developed an eating disorder. Years ago, this was not an issue and no attention was paid to the eating habits of thin girls.


Abnormal behavior is therefore clearly not an absolute given. You will therefore encounter different disorders in different countries. Not because people there actually have different disorders than here in the Netherlands, but simply because people think differently about normal behavior. Every culture has its own norms and values and measures people’s behavior based on them. It is therefore important not to immediately stick a label on someone, but to delve deeper into the person’s background and environment. Problem behavior can often be (partly) explained this way.