Behavioral Signs That a Student Is Having Problems at Home

Drastic changes in a child's behavior should tell teachers that something might be wrong in the home.

Problems at home can include parental neglect or abuse and emotional turmoil stemming from a family separation or divorce. Educators are in a prime position to notice behavioral changes in children, say child safety advocates at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' affiliate, Child Welfare Information Gateway. Teachers can help students get counseling support or report potential neglect or abuse to child protective services. In the case of child neglect and abuse, educators are required in all 50 states to report any reasonable suspicions to child welfare authorities, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Fatigue and Exhaustion

One indicator of possible problems in the home is if a student is consistently lethargic or falling asleep in class. Consistent fatigue suggests several scenarios, such as a parent failing to provide a child with a reasonable bedtime, not being at home to ensure that a child is in bed at an appropriate time or leaves, a child with inappropriate or inexperienced caretakers. Children who repeatedly show signs of being deprived of their basic physical needs of food, clothing, shelter, adequate rest and proper medical care might be victims of parental neglect. In 2010, the Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that nearly 3.3 million cases of child abuse and neglect were reported, 16 percent of which were made by education workers.

Drastic Behavior Change

Students experiencing emotional upsets because of changes in their family or having reactions to child abuse or neglect might display a drastic change in behavior in the classroom. On her website Growing Up Great, licensed clinical psychologist Lori Rappaport notes that children who've experienced divorce might demonstrate behavioral changes within a year or two of the family restructuring, and then move on. During this time, behavioral changes can include sadness and depressive symptoms in early elementary school-age kids, aggression toward others and social withdrawal in older elementary school students, and aggression and substance abuse in teenagers. Abused and neglected children might go from being outgoing to fearful of others, quiet and withdrawn. Academically, children experiencing problems at home might go from performing well in class to showing no interest in their education.

Violence and Aggression

Students with problems in the home might use violence and aggression as a way to cope with anger, frustration, fear and other difficult emotions, according to clinical psychologist Laura Markham, creator of Aha! Parenting. Students might not be able to to handle family problems in a healthful manner and might resort to using instinctive reactions to stress, also known as the fight or flight response. When educators notice these behaviors, they might call the student's parents or refer the student to the school counselor to address potential causes of violence and aggression. If an educator has reason to suspect abuse or neglect as a possible cause of a student's aggression -- based on additional factors -- child safety advocates with the Child Welfare Information Gateway recommend that educators contact their school social worker -- or follow their school's protocol -- for mandatory reporting.

Poor Hygiene

Students who repeatedly arrive to school in soiled, smelly clothing, with unkempt hair and dressed inappropriately for the weather -- wearing shorts and no coat during a cold winter -- might signal problems in the home. Poor hygiene threatens a student's healthy social interactions and negatively affects the way a student feels about himself, suggests on an article on the Child and Youth Health website, a child health and development resource in Australia. Students demonstrate poor hygiene behavior as a result of having inadequate care or a lack of supervision at home. Educators and other school officials can determine whether it's best to contact the family about a student's hygiene or if circumstances are dire enough to reach out to child protective workers.