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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

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

behaviour

 

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.