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.
- 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: