Misbehavior at School? Don’t Pull Recess and Sports

by Robert Althoff, MD PhD

Rob Althoff, MD PhD

For many child and adolescent psychiatric diagnoses, problem behaviors occur in more than one setting – often home and also at school. Problem behavior, particularly externalizing or disruptive behavior, is a common reason for children to be sent to the principal’s office or the “opportunity room”.  Sometimes these “opportunities” are coupled with a punishment that includes limitation of the enjoyable activities of the day such as lunch with friends or recess.

So, where is the evidence that keeping a child in the classroom or benching him at recess results in better behavior? There aren’t any. In fact, the data are in the opposite direction. In the largest study to date on the issue Barros, Silver, and Stein (2009) looked at data from about 10,000 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Teacher ratings of classroom behavior were better for those who had daily recess for at least 15 minutes than for those with no or minimal break. In children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, the current literature suggests that moderate physical activity reduces ADHD symptoms both acutely and chronically (Gapin, Labban, & Etnier, 2011)

Perhaps worse than keeping kids in at recess, are school policies that remove children from sports participation for being disruptive in the classroom. Sports participation is protective for behavior problems in children and adolescents. Removing protective factors from the most vulnerable children is a recipe for disaster.

At the VCCYF, we support school policies that keep kids on teams and allow all children access to daily exercise regardless of behavior. Disruptive behavior should have consequences, but don’t take away recess and sports from our kids. You may be making the situation worse.  

Barros RM, Silver EJ, Stein EK. (2009). School recess and group classroom behavior. Pediatrics. 123 (2):431-436.

Gappin JI, Labban JD, Etnier JL. (2011). The effects of physical activity on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms: The evidence. Preventive Medicine. 52: S70-S74.

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