SOCIAL WORK CORNER

By: Amber Friend, LSW

February 2016

Topic: Managing Challenging Behaviors

Challenging behaviors in the classroom often disrupt and impede the learning process. Behaviors like disrespect, defiance, and aggression interrupt even the best planned lesson. It is critical to have a toolbox of behavioral strategies to help meet the needs of all students.

Remember, It Starts with YOU

  • You set the tone for student interactions. Be an example of positive behavior to all students.
  • Students are always watching, listening, and learning from your behaviors. They will model what they see. It is important to model the behaviors you expect from your students. For example, if you expect your students to be respectful, organized, and on time, make sure you are as well.
  • Self-awareness is key! Look at your own responses, language, and attitude. Be aware of your own triggers to anger, frustration, impatience, etc. Students often feed off negative emotions. Take a deep breath and try to remain calm.

Additional Tips for Managing Challenging Behaviors

Define behavior expectations and classroom rules clearly.

  • Post expectations in your classroom and review them frequently. This ensures students know the rules and expectations. There are no surprises. Having clear expectations helps to avoid confusion and power struggles.


Be consistent.

  • A lack of consistency enforcing rules will lead to frustration from students and increased behavior incidents.
  • Example: Yesterday, Joe was late to class and you ignored it. Today, Sally is late and you wrote her up. Now, Sally is refusing to do any work for you and says you’re “not fair”.


Establish trust and rapport with difficult students.

  • Research shows a positive student/teacher relationship greatly impacts negative student behaviors. If you have a positive relationship with a student, they will be more likely to listen to you. Here are some tips on increasing trust and rapport with students:
  • Treat each student with respect and kindness.
  • Be careful not to favor certain students.
  • Remain calm when faced with anger and hostility as this will help students to trust you.
  • Be an attentive listener. Encourage students to come to you with questions or concerns. Show you understand and care by reflecting back their feelings, comments, and/or concerns.


Avoid labeling students as “good” or “bad”/ Focus correction on the behavior.

  • Focus on specific behaviors and use words like positive, acceptable, disruptive, and unacceptable to describe behaviors.
  • It is important students understand it is the behavior you dislike, not the student them-self.
  • Example: “Your tardiness is unacceptable”.


Avoid always/never statements with students.

  • Examples: You NEVER do your homework or you’re ALWAYS late to class.
  • These statements put the student on the defensive and lead to arguments and power struggles.
  • Instead, focus on the facts and show concern. For example, “You have not done your homework the last 5 days, what’s going on? “


Avoid power struggles at all costs.

  • Nobody wins in a power struggle.


Give choices when appropriate.

  • Choices help students to feel a sense of power and control.
  • However, be careful not to confuse choices with consequences. Students should have consequences for negative behaviors.


Give students a chance to respond positively to correction by not only highlighting the problem or behavior, but also explaining HOW the student can correct it.

  • We cannot assume students always know what to do next. Many students lack skills related to problem solving and conflict resolution.
  • This is especially true for students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Students on the Autism Spectrum respond well to clear and concrete instruction rather than vague and open ended questions. It is helpful to clearly state the problem behavior and what they need to do to fix it.


Use redirection, proximity, and planned ignoring to manage minor behavior problems without disrupting the class.

  • Sometimes, it is best to redirect or ignore a behavior. Some students act out to seek attention. Often with planned ignoring, behaviors will escalate before improving.


If you need to speak to a student about his or her behavior, try to do so privately.

  • Public reprimands often lead students to try and save-face in front of peers and increase behavior problems.


Focus on recognizing and rewarding positive behaviors rather than focusing on negative behaviors.

  • Positive praise is more effective in managing behaviors and building relationships.
  • Students need to hear more positive than negatives throughout their day.