If you work with children, I can promise you that you will come across at least one student that has these difficult behaviors. Not only are they really stressful for the teacher but they impact the student’s life in so many ways. We do not know everything that a student deals with or has dealt with in their life, which can often bring about these behaviors. It is important to remember as difficult it is for you, it is much more difficult for them. They are screaming for help, sometimes at the top of their lungs with these behaviors, and it’s our job to listen and be patient (I know this is easier said than done). I am going to keep it real with you, there have been students that have pushed me to my limits with these exact behaviors. It took trying multiple different interventions and accommodations, working closely with other educators and coworkers, and most importantly building a relationship with the student and parent, before I saw positive results. Sometimes this would mean I would not see the fruit of my labor until the end of the school year or maybe not even until they are in a different grade level. With very difficult behavior, it takes time but everything you are doing is showing the student that you care and that you will not give up on them, and that sticks with them for life. Here are some of the most difficult classroom behaviors and how to handle them:
Defiance in the classroom
This is the hardest behavior for me personally. Defiant students intentionally push your buttons and they are really good at figuring out how to do it. They push the limits and see how far they can go before you give up on them. They expect you to give up on them, this is what life has taught them so far. They push people away to protect themselves from being rejected by others first. These kids need love and care but will act like that’s the last thing they want. When you are trying everything you can for this kid it can be disheartening to see them lash out at you, but this is their only way of protecting themselves from hurt. It will take a long time for them to see you consistently caring for them to eventually believe that you are a person they can trust. Here is how to handle one of the most difficult classroom behaviors, defiance:
- Try this: When giving directions for a task or assignment, be in close proximity to the student. Use “do” more than “don’t” when wording your directions. Saying “don’t do this” or “stop doing that” invites defiance, instead say what you want them to do.
- Try this: Read the students mood, if they came in the room with a bad attitude or something set them off, then any directive from you is likely to be denied. Instead, give the student time to cool off and then attempt to ask if they need a break or want to talk.
- Try this: This student needs to gain personal power but in more productive ways. Assign the student some classroom responsibilities where he/she can be a leader, such as being a mentor to a younger student, or an office helper where he/she gets a lot of adult attention. Create group activities that he/she can have positive experiences with peers.
Disrupting in the classroom
This child can not only be disruptive but can also be aggressive. This is because of a dangerous combination of anger, attention-seeking/need to be loved, and frustration. The now all too common “room clear” is often about this child. He/she will disrupt your entire learning environment and often make it feel unsafe to others. Looking for help to improve self-control in your classroom? Check out this blog post on teaching self-control in the classroom and this one on children’s books about self-control. Here is how to handle one of the most difficult classroom behaviors, disrupting:
- Try this: Speak with this student on a daily basis, be clear and detailed about what behavior is disturbing the classroom. Discuss your classroom rules and which ones the student has a problem with. Explain that it is okay to disagree with a rule but you can not disobey the rule. In society, you may not agree with certain rules but you have to follow them or you get in trouble. Ask the student what they think would happen if there were no rules or laws, would people feel safe? Instead of coming across to this student as authoritarian, try to be open to ideas the student has for change so they feel included in this rule creation. The student will then be more likely to follow the rules.
- Try this: This student will thrive with being given choices, even if it is for insignificant things. For example, choose between two different assignments.
- Try this: When speaking to this student it is often difficult to get them to open up, try to word it as if you are getting their advice and they might open up more to you. For example, say “What would you do in this situation?”, “What do you think about that?”
Disrespect in the Classroom
You work really hard, and when someone disrespects you it can feel like you need to lash out. How dare they disrespect you? That’s always my first thought. The truth is, the only way you are going to get respect with this kid is to earn it, they will not give it automatically (like they should.) The first thing you have to do (it is so hard) is to decide that you are going to respect the student even though they are not respecting you. For more ideas check out this blog post on teaching respect in the classroom. Here is how to handle one of the most difficult classroom behaviors, disrespect:
- Try this: When the student says or does something disrespectful, stay calm and say “Is everything okay, did I do something to offend you? If I did, I’m sorry for it.” This will diffuse the situation because it takes his/her defenses down. Also, when the teacher responds to disrespect with respect, other students will see this and often support the teacher.
- Try this: Attempt to relieve the tension with humor, for example “I will pretend I did not hear that”or “I couldn’t agree more”. Joke about yourself, for example if the student is talking during a lecture say “Guys you know I’m old and its hard for me to raise my voice over yours so help me out and save that for after class okay?”
- Try this: The disrespect is out of hostility, give him/her nothing to be hostile toward and they will likely cooperate. Say “John, I don’t think I deserve that, tell me what’s going on.”
Lying in the Classroom
Teaching students that being true to their word is priceless and that even one lie can damage your character. The person lied to will always question whether you are telling the truth or not. That is why this behavior is so difficult because you as an educator do not know whether this student is telling the truth or not. For more ideas on improving honesty in your classroom, check out these children’s books on honesty. Here is how to handle one of the most difficult classroom behaviors, lying:
- Try this: Establish a trusting relationship with the student, give them a responsibility in the classroom and tell them that you trust them to do this. Talk to the student about lying and how it takes a lot of work, making sure you remember the lie and who you told each different lie to. Also, other people are more likely to not tell you the truth if they feel you are not being honest. Use the story about the boy who cried wolf to explain how trust is an easy thing to lose and a difficult thing to gain back. It takes time to trust a person again once trust is broken.
- Try this: Explain to the student that the consequence will be less severe if they are honest about what happened., because everyone is allowed to make mistakes but we need to be honest about what we did and own up to it.
- Try this: If you are unsure the student is lying, respond neutrally, say “That is interesting, I will look into that.” The same goes for someone who is lying for attention. Also, ask them to repeat what they just said and give them a questioning/suspecting look. Liars are hesitant to repeat their lie. When you know for sure the student is lying, tell the student you know that is not true and how you know. Say “I know the statement you told me is not true about turning in your assignment, because I see it in your book. Tell me the truth about the assignment.” If he/she tries to argue, immediately cut them off and say “I am not going to allow further untruths, you have until lunch time to turn in the assignment, please come to me if you need help completing it
Attention-seeking in the Classroom
This student will take up a lot of your time. You choose how and when by intervening appropriately. But they will get their attention one way or another, so it is either during your lesson or at set times you put aside to give them that one on one attention they desperately crave. Here is how to handle one of the most difficult classroom behaviors, attention seeking:
- Try this: Give the student random positive attention such as make eye contact and smile at the student, check in with the student about how he or she is progressing with an assignment, call on the student in class, pass the student a note with a cheerful comment, give brief specific praise about the student’s work or behavior (example-“I really like how carefully you are coloring that picture!”) Invite the student to summarize for the group the main points of a classroom discussion.
- Try this: Speak to the student privately, state that you need their help (this student wants to feel needed) and come up with ways they can help out more in the classroom. These roles should be visible to others so they are getting the much wanted attention they seek. Perhaps they could lead indoor recess activities or help lead the class during Morning meetings.
- Try this: When the student asks a question that is on task and appropriate, reinforce that with positive praise.
These most difficult classroom behaviors along with 45 other behaviors (50 in total!) are included in this Behavior Toolbox bundle:
I hope this helps you with addressing the most difficult classroom behaviors, hang in there friend!