Poor vocabulary and behaviour are closely linked

Behaviour support

The outcome of children presenting behavioural problems at the start of primary school on the rest of their school career is clearly demonstrated by a recent research paper published in the British Education Research Journal.

The findings of the study are wide-ranging but there are two notable outcomes:

  • Children with reported behavioural problems at age five performed more poorly on a vocabulary test at the age of 15
  • Teenagers in a Millennium cohort study performed more poorly on the vocabulary test in comparison to a 1970s cohort.

The data demonstrates that those children with emotional and behavioural problems at age five went on to have a relatively limited vocabulary as teenagers, and children with serious conduct and hyperactivity problems actually scored 12 per cent lower.

It also suggests a decline in vocabulary in the millennium cohort- one possible explanation could be the amount of time spent reading books compared to other activities, mainly online activities.

Intervention required from Schools


Emotional and behavioural problems (such as irritability, disobedience and restlessness) have an ongoing impact on learning throughout the school years and prove a major challenge for teachers because they affect the whole class, not just the disruptive child. It is important that schools play an active part in early detection and intervention, maintaining close communication with the parents, who will often play a crucial part in these early observations.

What is often the most difficult thing to ascertain is whether the child’s behaviour and inability to self-regulate is hampering their ability to learn in the classroom, or if their limited vocabulary is causing the child to act out and misbehave.

The study data will confirm to teachers and school leaders that paying close attention to vocabulary development is likely to pay academic dividends and offer vital behavioural, social and emotional gains for children, too.

Primary schools must also understand the significance of teaching social and emotional skills, and the language of emotions at an early stage. Teachers must also establish those crucial daily routines that foster consistency and effective classroom communication.

If you are a teacher or teaching support staff who has experience of providing behaviour interventions to students either on a one to one or small group basis, or have worked within a pupil referral unit and are looking for either short term or long term opportunities, please register your details and a consultant from a local branch will be in touch.