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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


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.

Developing an Excellent Parent-Teacher Relationship


We usually think of schools as places for young people to learn through lessons taught by their teachers and through their interactions with peers. We often forget one of the most important factors in children’s learning: the relationship between parents and teachers. Having an effective relationship between these two groups of people can help learners achieve more. However, this is not often the case in the real world. Tension can often rise between home and school especially when parents feel that their kids are failing, not improving, being bullied or being ignored. Teachers sometimes feel that parents are not doing enough to help with their students academically, or that they just simply are not on the same page.

How can these issues be solved?

Setting the same goals

It is important for both sides to make each other realise that they have the children’s welfare and success in mind. There may be times when they disagree on certain issues such as disciplinary sanctions or grades/ marks, but it is important to keep in mind that they are both trying to reach the same goal.

Parents should be made aware of the school’s behaviour policies and academic expectations of the schools. In the case of students with Special Educational Needs, parents should be included in planning, implementing and monitoring of any interventions that would affect their children.


Schools should have an Open-Door Policy, wherein parents are allowed to contact the school if they have any querries or concerns regarding their children’s social and/ or academic welfare. Both teachers and parents should be open to suggestions and criticism
. Having effective and frequent communication can help bridge the gap between home and school, as learning occurs and should continue in both settings.

Communication can also help schools understand the background of the students. Factors such as family, socioeconomic status, cultural expectations and peers can all impact on students’ learning, and having a better knowledge of these can help put things into a different perspective. Let me elaborate. Students who are misbehaving or underachieving are often labelled as naughty, lazy or just plain bad. Knowing students’ circumstances (e.g. if their parents have recently been separated or they have recently experienced bereavement, etc.), could change their teachers’ perspectives of them, which could eventually result in a better plan for helping them.

On the other hand, parents would be able to know how their kids behave (good or bad) in school if they are in contact with the teachers regularly. They would be able to monitor progress or decline in both behaviour and academics, and would be able to offer (and receive) help and advise to the school.

Have an Open Mind

Communication and goal setting would only work if both parties set their egos aside and develop an open mind. I know this is easier said that done, but unless you are prepared to see the students suffer, try and accept the other person’s points of view.


Both parties must trust each other’s judgements and opinions. Teachers are trained professionals whilst parents are the experts with regards to their kids. They will disagree with one another but respect should be exercises throughout. When you’re getting wound up, bite your toungue!

Interventions and teaching styles will not always work perfectly, therefore both parties should be open to changing their ways.

Why do Alzheimer’s disease sufferers remember songs from distant past?

Alzheimer’s disease, the 6th leading cause of death in America, is a form of dementia, commonly associated with memory loss in later life. It affects different areas of people’s lives such as planning, organisation and co-ordination. Despite being widely known as a condition of the elderly, it is not uncommon for people in their 40s or 50s to develop Alzheimer’s. At the time of writing, the causes of this disease is unknown, and hence, there is very little known about its treatment and prevention.



Brain imaging studies have shown that little by little, the brains of people with Alzheimer’s are getting thinner and are losing their connections to each other. Such degeneration of the brain causes significant memory loss, particularly of newly presented items. Symptoms also include a decline in organisation skills, planning and co-ordination, as well as having (unfounded) suspicions over significant others.  These symptoms will gradually worsen over time- the progression varies from one person to another.



There has been some cases where Alzheimer’s sufferers who were non-responsive and were unable to communicate suddenly awakens when they hear a piece of music which they liked in the past (before they had Alzheimer’s). A case in point is that of Henry, which as you will see in the video, was unresponsive to other therapies and interventions. But after being given an ipod which played music from his era, he began to respond to simple questions. Here’s the video:



One of the reasons why people such as Henry is able to respond to music is because our medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC) is one of the last parts that are affected by Alzheimer’s. A recent fMRI study conducted by Dr. Janata of the University of California-Davis has shown that the mPFC is the part of our brains which processes music and interlinks it with memory and emotions. As long as the mPFC is still intact and relatively undamaged by Alzheimer’s disease, significant pieces of music will still be able to evoke emotions and memories.


For an abstract of Dr. Janata’s research, click HERE