Tag Archives: behaviour

Born Naughty? – Initial Reactions

(Photo taken from the Guardian)

The new Channel 4 documentary series Born Naughty? looked at the causes of inappropriate behaviours in children. Last night’s episode featured two children and their families. Six year-old Theo whose behavioural outbursts were apparently difficult to control is suspected by his mother to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. In the show, Theo’s mother seems to want Theo to be diagnosed to prove to herself (and others) that she was not a bad parent. The other child was nine year-old Honey who has been excluded from school due to her behaviour and has not been in formal education for months. Her parents, also wanting to prove that they are not bad parents, wanted to know whether she has an Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).

The good

1. Holistic(-ish) portrayal of the children

What I liked about the programme was their conscious effort to show that both children’s behaviours were not always bad. Theo was shown to behave really well at the psychologist’s office and around her grandma, while Honey behaved well when she was around animals.

2. It showed professionals in a positive light

The professionals in the show aimed to gain a holistic perspective of the children’s behaviours and the reasons for those behaviour with the intent of improving the situation. They all worked collaboratively and came up with solutions to each family’s concerns.

3. The effects of a diagnosis (and lack thereof)

Honey was diagnosed with ASC and Pathological Demand Avoidance (a term I absolutely loathe) to the delight of her parents. The diagnosis was welcomed by the parents as they were previously blamed for Honey’s behaviour. It helped them ‘see’ Honey’s behaviour in a different light. In addition (and perhaps most importantly), the diagnosis triggered appropriate support that she needed such as her access to an Art therapist who comes to their house regularly to work on her behaviours and anxiety. In addition, she also secured a place at a school wherein she could be around animals which she absolutely loved.

Theo on the other hand was not diagnosed with ADHD as her Mum was hoping for. Rather, her Mum was given a strict behaviour programme. The programme helped as Theo was shown to display appropriate behaviour at the end of the show. His sleeping pattern and relationship to his mother also improved.

These hghlight the fact that slapping a diagnosis at every child who misbehaves is not always the right solution. In addition, a professional assessment is meaningless unless the appropriate support and interventions are planned and strictly implemented.

The less good

1. The title

I almost did not watch this programme because of the title. No one is born ‘naughty’.

2. The children were labelled as naughty

I feel like these vulnerable children are portrayed in the worst way possible as they were labelled naughty. I guess this is a reflection of some people’s perceptions of young people who misbehave. As I have said above, I felt that the programme tried to show the children’s positive side as well as their not-so-positive one.

3. Children were not protected

I’m still concerned that although their families consented, they were not able to give their appropriate consent. How will they feel in a few years’ time? How will they react when they read the inappropriate and vile comments posted on social media sites?

4. Idealistic scenario

I’m sure there will be a lot of families in similar situations wondering why they have been refused an assessment. Similarly, some of those who have been assessed may be left wondering why they have not received the appropriate support post-diagnosis. I must stress that this is not a criticism of the show, but one directed to some professionals.


I hope that future episodes will further show the complexities of behaviour and explore different explanations of why some children behave inappropriately. Despite the shows shortcomings, I feel that it is a step forward in dispelling the unfortunate wide-spread belief that behaviour IS the problem. Instead, what I want is for people to understand that behaviour is a consequence of something else.


Are kids born naughty?

Are kids born naughty or are they just spoiled?

Why do kids misbehave?

Is it nature or nurture?

Dr. Dawn Harper and Dr. Ravi Jayaram will explore these questions in a new documentary series calledBorn Naughty?‘ on Channel 4 (UK only). The series will start tomorrow, 14 May 2015 at 8pm.

I really hope that this programme will give describe the complexity of the development of behaviours. I guess we shall see…

Worst Teaching Assistant in the world?!

43 year old Teaching Assistant Rachael Reagan has been found guilty of Child Cruelty after authorities have found that she has been abusing a seven year old girl in school.

It has been reported that Rachael taped the child to a chair, shut her in her storeroom and tied her shoes with her shoelaces. She also stuck Post-it notes to the child’s fingers to stop her from sucking them. She was also reported ti have kicked her student and called her names.

I wonder how this TA got away with doing these cruel things for ao long!

Click HERE for the full story

Top 10 Tips for Disciplining Children with Challenging Behaviour

When it comes to teaching and parenting, one of the most talked about topics is discipline and behaviour. Most of us expect children to behave in certain ways – with respect, listen and respond appropriately, have infrequent tantrums, etc. Getting children to behave in these ways is not always easy. Even though a lot of children respond to our unique ways of disciplining, a few of them may display more challenging behaviours that are persistent and could seem uncontrollable – from theirs and your point of view. Below is a list of strategies and tips that has worked for me in schools and different settings over the years.

(It may be usefult for you to read Understanding Children’s Behaviour as well)

10. Know what the triggers are – Every behaviour is triggered by something. Find out what it is.

Potential triggers:

  • Medical diagnosis  (Autism, ADHD, etc.)- Please note that I am not saying that having a diagnosis is an excuse or a ticket to behave badly. What I am saying is that a diagnosis provides a signpost on what interventions you could use.
  • Medication – some kids on Ritalin could become hyperactive as the medication wears off
  • Sensory Stimuli such as noise, certain smells, bright or dim lighting, temperature– Some children are very sensitive to sensory stimuli and tend to react in unconventional ways when they encounter an unbearable one. If they are not able to communicate this discomfort through words, they may act out.
  • Change in routine (substitute teacher/Teaching Assistant, cancelled or swapped classes)- This is not specific to children with Autism. I have encountered children with no diagnoses who were unsettled by changes in routine.
  • Home life- problems and/ or changes at home
  • Bullying– It is worth investigating whether your student in question is being bullied by others when you are not looking. Not all children will report bullying.
  • Relationship with classmates– Investigate their relationships with other children. Are they getting enough attention, and if so, what kind of attention are they getting? If they are not getting any attention, make sure that you find out why.

9. Find out what the student’s receptive and expressive language skills are.

A lot of our behaviours are forms of communication. If children are not able to verbally express what they are feeling (see above), there is an increased chance that they would ‘act it out’. This can also happen if they do not understand what the others are telling them. Some children struggle to read body language, understand people’s tone of voice and/ or metaphors. If this is the case, you can organise for them to have lessons wherein you or other professional(s) will explicitly teach them these things.

8. Give them chances to succeed.

Give small targets that are achievable by the students. Set them up to succeed. For example, instead of asking them to ‘be quiet inside the classroom at all times’, you could start by asking them to ‘try to be quiet during carpet times’ (Primary school) or ‘try to be quiet when the teacher is talking’.

7. Give praise that is specific, well-explained and well-earned.

Never give blanket praises such as ‘good job’, ‘excellent’, ‘well done’, unless they are followed by a brief explanation of why you said what you said. Let them know why and which part of their work is amazing. You could say for example: ‘well done for colouring within the lines’ instead of ‘good work’.

6. Approach them positively.

Try not to shout and try not to be negative. Humour definitely helps. If the children understand figures of speech and metaphors, sarcasm can be an excellent tool. I found that students of any age are more likely to listen and change their behaviour if I approach them positively.

5. Tell them what to do instead of what not to do.

There are a lot of research that suggests that if you tell someone to ‘not play on the stairs’, they would. This is because what registered in that person’s brain is ‘play on the stairs’. Even though some children will hear you loud and clear, chances are, they will not know what to do instead of the undesirable behaviour. Quite a lot of teachers always tell students ‘not to fight’, but a lot of these children may only know one way to behave. If this is the case, how can they behave appropriately if you are not telling them what tappropriate behaviour is?

4. Be consistent.

You should be firm and fair all the time. Punishments and rewards should be handed out consistently – not only when you feel like it.

3. Remember that behaviour can be changed.

The whole point of your efforts trying to make your students behave appropriately relies on your belief about behaviours and attitudes. If you believe that we were born with a set of attitudes that make us behave in a certain way which cannot be changed, you need to think again. Although genetics play a part in the development of our attitudes and behaviours, the people around us and our experiences also have big contributions. We should keep in mind that everyone is capable of changing, especially our students.

2. Communicate effectively with the children’s parents/ primary carers.

For any intervention to work, the children’s school and home should work in concert with each other. Although it may be a good start, it shouldn’t be enough that your students behave really well in school but throws tantrums and go wild at home (or vice versa). Having an effective professional relationship with your students’ parents/ carers is one of the most important factors in helping children behave appropriately. Regular communications through phone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings will help increase the likelihood that interventions will be carried out in both settings.

1. Set an example.

Kids will follow and copy your actions. If you practice what you preach, then you have won half the battle. Always remember that your students are far brighter than you think. They will start ignoring your advice and you will lose their respect if you do not walk your talk. Here are a few examples you can set:

  • Admit your mistakes publicly. You will make a mistake today- trust me. When you do, do not be ashamed to admit it.
  • Apologise to your students. When you make mistakes, say sorry. Explicitly let them know that even you can make mistakes, but your apology and subsequent actions are what matters most.
  • Respect your colleagues. Never say anything bad about your co-teachers, no matter what. Students notice how you treat other people and indirectly learn from your example.

Other bonus tips:

Get To Know Your Students Better

Positive Words and Phrases to Use in School

Autism Hangout: Challenging Behaviour

Last Sunday, Kevin Healey, Sean Flanagan and I discussed challenging behaviours that people with Autism may exhibit. This hangout was quite a short one due to technical difficulties and to the fact that there were only 3 panel members.


Should a child learn manners in school or at home?



It’s an age-old question which is often wielded around whenever there’s a case of kids gone amok, but who really is responsible for teaching kids to behave? Who is to blame when kids fight, swear, ignore or bully each other? Is it their parents (or primary care-givers) or their teachers? Or is it the children themselves?

The question is wrong

I was watching a lunchtime television programme wherein the presenters were arguing about this question. Some of them commenting that children should learn to behave ‘properly’ at home, as they spend their earliest years in it, whilst others argued that teachers should be the ones responsible since school-aged children spend most of their waking hours at school. Whilst hearing these people’s arguments, I can’t help but think that the question is phrased incorrectly. For me, the task of teaching, monitoring and changing children’s behaviour should not be assigned solely to one institution or the other. If you think about it, would you not stop your child from swearing because it’s his teachers’ job to do so? You may blame the school for not putting the effort to control such behaviours, especially if your child has learned such foul words in school, but if you do not intervene, you aggrevate the situation. Conversely, if you are a teacher and one of your students punches another child, one would expect you to stop him and give him the appropriate sanction(s).

Therefore the responsibility of teaching a child how to behave appropriately should be shared not only by the home and the school, but also by the community as a whole. In other words, the questions should be: What roles do parents (or primary caregivers) and teachers play in nurturing  children’s behaviour? 



If this model of thinking is accepted, you can take a step back and look at which of these interconnected systems is not functioning well. This way of thinking may help parents and professionals to reflect and evaluate what they are doing, and adjust their practices accordingly. In addition, it also helps stop an individual being labelled as ‘bad’.

A Healthy dose of Effective Communication

I have always believed that children’s development is influenced by the interactions between themselves, their peers, parents, schools and society. In extension, the people around the child should do their utmost to teach and model the appropriate behaviour at all times. However, there will be times when the beliefs of the home is incongruent with those of the school. Not all families agree to how a school (or society) define unacceptable behaviour. For instance, a child who is placed in detention for swearing repeatedly in the classroom may continue to do so if his parents swear in front of him.  This is when effective communication comes in handy. If schools, home and society communicate frequently and effectively, concerns may be resolved and advise can be put forward. It may take longer to resolve such a concern, but it can be done.

Positive Words and Phrases to use in school contexts

Below are words and phrases commonly used by teachers when speaking to students and parents. Immediately next to them are words that should be used instead to create a more positive atmosphere during parents’ evenings and/ or whilst disciplining children.


Taken from Smith et al., (2004) Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings.

A Simple Phrase to help with Behaviour Management


Students misbehave, some much worse than the others. This is a fact that parents and teachers are more than aware of. Inappropriate behaviours range from low-level disruptions such as whispering, up to shouting, swearing or physical aggression. These behaviours have destructive consequences to their academic and social well-being. Not only are they destructive to themselves when they misbehave, but they can also disrupt the harmony of the classroom and the school.

Behaviour management in schools usually involve verbal reprimands, time-out, parent-teacher meetings, and exclusions. Having worked with students of different age-groups, in different environments for almost a decade, I still find it a challenge to find a way to better improve students’ behaviour. Most of what is done in schools (mentioned above) only manages to stop the behaviour from occurring in the short term.

Recently however, it occurred to me that every behaviour is a form of communication. Each utterance and action is a result of something that is happening or have happened to a child. Once this occurred to me, I aimed to approach children differently. Instead of getting angry straight away, I ask the children why they are behaving the way they are. I always tell them:

I want to speak to you because I am worried about you. You’re not behaving the way you always have. What’s the matter?

Once children hear that I am concern about them, and that I want to hear their side, they became more likely to explain the reason of their behaviours. In addition, because I have explicitly told them that I know they can behave well, they are more likely to change their behaviours. Such a change, as one can imagine, takes time. But I have found that this positive approach brings about desirable results better than other approaches.

How Can You Let Him Behave Like That? Understanding Children’s Behaviours



Working with children who have Special Educational Needs (SEN), although extremely rewarding, is never easy, especially when the children in your care are misbehaving. Situations where we are dealing with children who are not behaving as society feels like they should is worsened by the untrained eyes of on-lookers who quickly assume that the child you are dealing with is naughty and that you are not doing your job right. Some would offer unsolicited advice and say “You know, you should not allow him to behave like that” or “Why are you letting him get away with saying/doing that? You should rule with an iron fist”.

While these unsolicited words are hurtful, it reflects much of society’s view on children’s behaviour. Those with no experience of dealing with children with complex needs believe that when children misbehave, they are being naughty. They know what they are doing and they know it is wrong. They believe that punishing children and shouting at them will stop them from behaving the way they do and in turn, start behaving ‘normally’.

As most parents and teachers of kids with SEN would agree, ruling with an iron fist, especially when rules and consequences are not thoroughly explained, do not always work. Individual children have different needs and emotional competencies. Not all of them understand the social rules and not all of them understand the consequences of their behaviours. More importantly, a lot of them do not possess the ability to recognise, regulate and control their emotions. As a result of this difference, they behave in a way that most of society deem inappropriate. A specific example is that of a child with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) who kicked his female classmate on her back just because she wore a different headband.

My experience with working with children with SEN has made me aware that every behaviour has a reason. Crucially, the young people that I have worked with made me realise that a lot of their ‘bad’ behaviours are results of uncontrollable reactions to unwanted stimuli. Aside from neurological differences, such as that of people with Autism, children may also be experiencing tensions at home that they are unable to deal with, which could result ro bad behaviour. Some of these children would act violently just to get your attention. They crave attention at school becaude they do not get it ahome, but do it in the wrong way. Most of the time, this will lead to them being labelled as ‘bad children’, which would lead to even more terrible behaviours.

It is extremely useful to keep in mind that there is always a reason for bad behaviour, and shouting and punishment are not always the answer. It upsets me when I see children receive inappropriate punishments given to them by people who should know better. Dealing with children this way is counterintuitive and will lead to unwanted consequences.

So what can be done?

Children who are misbehaving should always be reprimanded. They should be told that what they are doing is wrong, especially when they pose physical, emotional and psychological harm to themselves and others. However, disciplinary actions should not stop there. Children should be told why their actions are inappropriate, however simple the reason could be. As mentioned above, children, particularly those with SEN, are not always aware of the social rules and we need to teach them these rules explicitly, and keep reinforcing them until their knowledge and understanding is secure.

We should also give the children the chance to explain themselves. We need to ask them why they did/say what they did. Triggers are not always as obvious as we want them to be. Some children lash out because they were praised out loud, while some could say inappropriate and rude words because you did not say ‘well done’. People with mental conditions such as Autism may ‘misbehave’ because their routines are changed or the sensory stimuli around them is much more than they could deal with (such as in social areas like the park). We need to allow them to express these thoughts without fearing that we would shout at them.

Faulty or immature reasoning need to be corrected. We also need to teach them the appropriate way to recognise and deal with their emotions. Saying things like “I can see you are very angry with Paul because he took your train…” could help them label their emotions. Explicitly teaching them some calming strategies, such as counting to 10 or breathing slowly, could help them regulate their emotions better.

When individuals with ASD or ADHD experience meltdowns, we need to give them the chance to calm down, before speaking to them. Such meltdowns could consist of shouting, hitting or breaking furnitures. Individuals should be placed in a safe environment, away from other people (such as a quiet, sensory room). If this is not possible, other children and unsafe objects should be removed from the setting.

Parental involvement should also be sought. Home life can be difficult and communication between parents and teachers/ youth workers can help understand the child better. A more complete understanding of the child will most likely result in a better ways of improving his/ her behaviour.

The most important ingredient in all of this is an open mind. We should try to keep an objective view and not get ‘caught up’ in the moment and react in a way that is detrimental to the child. Dealing with ‘inappropriate’ behaviour also consists of learning on the job. Strategies that have worked in the previous 100 outbursts may not work with outburst number 101. We need to be flexible and adapt to the situation.

He flaps his hands and screams a lot, but he doesn’t mean to annoy you

shushMany people with Autism, both young and old, may flap their hands, rock their body and scream with no obvious reason. These behaviours are examples of ‘Self-Stimulatory Behaviours’, also known as STIMMING. These behaviours are very common with people who have Autism Spectrum Conditions/ Disorders (ASC/  ASD) and they happen in most social settings. It comes to no surprise (yet to me, unacceptable) that when non-autistic people witness these behaviours, they either laugh or get irritated, particularly if the social setting they are in requires silence such as in the classrooms.

It is important for us and others around those people with ASD to understand why these behaviours occur. One theory suggests that people with Autism ‘stim’ in order to manage anxiety-provoking situations, such as when they enter a new room/ building, encounter a new person for the first time or when they are about to take an exam. Another theory posits that ‘stimming’ is a way of dealing with overwhelming sensory inputs such as sudden changes in lighting for example, when a teacher turns off the lights before watching a film in the classroom or more commonly, when the fire alarm rings. Sometimes, people with Autism ‘stims’ when they are excited.

People who work with individuals with Autism, i.e. teachers, classroom assistants or carers should recognise the pattern of an individual’s stim. Through observation, they will (at least) have an idea of what may cause the person in their care to stim. Once they know what the trigger is, they would be able to manage the situation. For instance, if a child stims when he/ she meets a new person, let them know in advance if someone is coming to observe a lesson/ visit for tea/ teach a lesson, etc.

We also need to make others aware of these behaviours and tell them what they need to do. I believe that making others aware, particularly in classrooms and playgrounds, stimming and the individuals with Autism will be better understood. At the same time, there may be less chance that others will exhibit negative behaviours towards children with Autism who stims.

More on Autism:

Optimum Outcomes for people with Autism

Diagnosing Autism: What you need to know

Vote for Miss Montana 2012, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

DSM-V and Autism

The Autistic Me: BBC Documentary

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Practical tips to make your classroom Autism-Friendly

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?