Disruptive KidsA new program helps teachers and parents support young children in school by working with their individual personalities. The study, conducted by researchers at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, found that the INSIGHTS program was able to reduce problem behaviors for some of the students most at-risk for low levels of academic achievement. The findings suggest that early interventions tailored to children’s temperaments can have a big impact on learning outcomes.

The study evaluated how the INSIGHTS program, an intervention designed by senior study author Sandee McClowry, could support children in urban, low-income schools. INSIGHTS categorizes children into one of four temperaments—shy, social and eager to please, industrious, or high maintenance—and offers a framework for teachers and parents to work with children’s individual personalities. The study especially focused on the ‘high maintenance’ temperament, which is characterized by high physical activity, low persistence when faced with a task, and disproportionate negative reactions.

The researchers evaluated 435 kindergarten and first grade students, and the students’ parents, from 22 elementary schools. Half of the schools were randomly selected to participate in INSIGHTS for 10 weeks. The other schools served as a control, offering a supplemental after-school reading program. The teachers and parents in the INSIGHTS program learned ways to support the children’s individual temperaments. At school, the INSIGHT classrooms incorporated activities with puppets, flashcards, videos, and workbooks that taught the children how to solve daily dilemmas and helped them gain perspective about the different ways individuals approach various situations.

The results indicated moderate improvements in children with high maintenance temperaments who participated in INSIGHTS. After the program, the children with high maintenance temperaments exhibited reduced disruptive behavior and increased behavioral engagement. The researchers also discovered that the program’s effects were partially mediated by the teacher-student relationship.

The findings are an indication that programs that look at children as individuals with distinct personalities can offer better support to young children, especially those struggling with disruptive behaviors.

“By reducing the disruptive behaviors of children with high maintenance temperaments, teachers can create classrooms more conducive to learning—which benefits both students and teachers,” concluded lead study author Meghan McCormick, a doctoral student in NYU Steinhardt’s psychology and social intervention program.

This research is published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

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