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Managing Challenging Behaviour in your Classroom

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

As teachers it is likely we have all experienced ‘challenging behaviour’ at one time or another – although this may look different from one person to the next. Behaviour that may be considered really challenging to one teacher may not at all to another, challenging means different things to different people.

For me, as a nurture teacher, the most important thing I try to remember is that a child displaying challenging behaviour is more than likely not trying to be defiant or misbehave but instead is just displaying the only behaviour that they are emotionally capable of in that moment. In nurture one of the key principles that we work by is that ‘All behaviour is communication', when a child is displaying challenging behaviour there is a reason behind it and they are likely trying to communicate to you an emotion that they cannot verbalise. None of this is trying to say that their negative behaviour is acceptable; consequences and boundaries are essential but just that it is important to remember that they likely also require your help and support.

So how can we help…?

First and foremost, begin the school year as you mean to go on, set clear boundaries right from the beginning and establish yourself as an authoritative and confident teacher through your actions, body language and tone of voice. As a class establish rules together and even discuss with children the types of consequences that they deem fair for different behaviours. This will show children that their opinion matters to you. Display these rules in a place where they can be easily seen and referred to.

Try to build positive relationships with children, establishing trust and engaging with them. Be ‘present’ and aware of what is going on in your own classroom; being constantly aware of your own classroom will help you to anticipate any misbehaviour. To help in doing this you may try to:

  • Always make eye contact when speaking with a child

  • Meet and greet pupils with a smile on your face in the mornings, let them know they are a welcome and wanted addition to your classroom.

  • Catch children doing the right thing and praise them – this doesn’t need to be anything big, just a simple thumbs up or high five. If children’s good behaviour is never noticed, then they may begin to feel ‘what is the point?” or even “I will get more attention if I’m bad”

  • Learn about your children. Take an interest in them as individuals and learn about their interests.

  • keep scanning the room and be aware if children are becoming bored or distracted or are finding an activity challenging. This will allow you to have quick responses to situations and hopefully stop negative behaviour before it begins

  • Approach and judge each child’s achievement based on their developmental level. Not every child in your class is going to be capable of the same things at the time.

If a child becomes disruptive or is doing the wrong thing, where possible try to use non-verbal cues which do not disrupt the lesson for everyone else.

You may find these behaviour prompts from our store useful for this.

If it becomes necessary to speak to them here are some important tips to remember:

  • Keep calm. You should be trying to calm them down not joining them in their chaos. If you begin shouting then all you do is show that 1) they have got to you and 2) you have lost control.

  • Always make it clear that it is only their behaviour that you are not happy with and not them as a person. Don’t compound children’s likely already negative feelings about themselves.

  • When possible be private about it, speak to the child without the rest of the class as an audience. Humiliating a child will not help you to build a relationship with them.

  • Judge the mood. If a child is not ready to speak because their emotions are too heightened, then give them a time out and allow them to calm down before trying to speak.

  • Choose your words carefully; try not to be interrogative, judgemental or aggressive.

  • When possible, show the child empathy for their situation – even when you believe they are being unreasonable. For example “I can see that you are feeling frustrated because ….” or “I know you are feeling angry right now because…”. This has nothing to do with excusing their behaviour it just shows that you have some understanding of what was behind it.

Being proactive is always better than reactive…

Sometimes negative behaviour is an inevitability and for these situations you should have a clear and acknowledged system of consequences that all the class is aware of. In many situations a simple time out to calm down may be effective (click here to see out time out cards) but if the behaviour has escalated something more serious may be needed.

However having systems in place to avoid negative behaviour before it happens is always going to be easier in the long run. The most effective approach that I have always found to work in my classroom has been a Target and Reward Chart.

For this you choose 3 personal targets that apply to the child relating to your biggest concerns about their behaviour. For example:

Target 1: To do good listening

Target 2: To be kind to others

Target 3: To stay in my seat during work time

At the beginning of the lesson the child chooses a reward from a range of choices and then at the end of the lesson you discuss with them whether they achieved their targets and therefore whether they have earned their reward.

For less able, younger or special needs children something more simple than this is sufficient where they simply earn stars for good behaviour to earn a reward. (Check out these examples)

Have children assess their own behaviour and reflect on what they may change or improve. This time should be very much led by the child and how they saw their own behaviour.

I hope this helps you a little. I know that challenging behaviour from just one child can change the dynamics of a whole classroom and give a negative atmosphere and can also have really negative affects on your mood and mental health as a teacher. Just remember you’re doing a great job!!

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