Get A Handle on Behavior

Self management is important for success. Getty/Banksphotos

editors note:  This article written in 2006 by my predecessor was not meant to explicate best practices, but to offer suggestions for dealing with difficult behavior from her practice as a special educator.


The first step to deal effectively with inappropriate behavior is to show patience. This often means you'll need to take a cooling period before you say or do something you just might regret.

This may involve having the child/student sitting in a time out or alone until you're ready to deal effectively with the inappropriate behavior.

Be Democratic:

Children need choice. When you're ready to give a consequence, allow for some choice. The choice could have to do with the actual consequence, the time when the consequence will occur or input as to what follow up should and will occur. When you allow for choice, the outcomes are usually favorable - the child becomes more responsible.

Understand The Purpose/Function:

Why is the child/student misbehaving? There is always a purpose (function.) Do you know what the purpose is? Getting attention? Power? Revenge? Feelings of failure? It's important to understand the purpose to readily support it. For instance, knowing a child is frustrated and feeling like a failure will require a change of programming to ensure that he/she is set up to experience success.

Those seeking attention need to receive attention - catch them doing something good! Recognize it!

Avoid Power Struggles:

In a power struggle, nobody wins. Even if you do feel like you've won, you haven't because the chance of reoccurrance is great. Avoiding power struggles really comes down to exhibiting patience.

When you show patience, you're modeling good behavior.  You ALWAYS want to model good behavior even when you are dealing with inappropriate student behaviors. Do you do this? A child's behavior is most often influence by your behavior, remember this. If you are hostel or mad when dealing - they too will be.

Do the Opposite of What They Expect:

When a child/student misbehaves, they often anticipate your response. Do the unexpected. For instance, when you see children playing with matches or playing in an area that is outside of the boundaries, they expect you to say "Stop", or "Get back inside the boundaries now!" However, try saying something like "You kids look too smart to be playing there" (or playing with matches). You'll quite surprise them. This is a little trick that works well most of the time. Say something positive first.

Find Something Positive:

For students or children who regularly misbehave, it can be very difficult to find something positive to say. Work at this because the more positive attention students receive the less apt they are to look for attention in a negative way. Go out of your way to find something positive to say to your chronic misbehaving students. Remember, these children often lack belief in their own ability.

You need to help them see that they are capable.

Don't Be Bossy - This Too is Bad Modeling:

Bossiness usually ends up with students seeking revenge. Ask yourself, do you like being bossed around? Chances are that you don't. Neither do children. After all if you employ the strategies suggested here, you'll find that you won't need to be bossy. Always express a strong desire and strong interest to have a good relationship with the student/child.

Support a Sense of Belonging:

When students or children don't feel that they belong, they often will act out inappropriately to justify their feeling of being outside "the circle." Make sure the student has a strong sense of belonging. Praise the child's efforts to get along or work with others. Praise attempts to follow rules and adhere to routines.  And use "we" when describing the behavior you want, such as "We always try to be kind to our friends." 

Pursue an Interaction that Goes Up, Down Then Up Again:

My favorite tip of all. When you're about to reprimand or punish a child. Bring them up first "Lately you've done so well, I've been so impressed with your behavior'. "Why today did you need to be involved with a 'hands on'". (Deal with the issue). Then end on "I know it won't happen again because you've been so good up until this moment. I have great faith in you." You may use different approaches but always remember: Bring them up, take them down, bring them up!

In Summary:

Strive to create a positive learning environment. Research shows that the most important factor in student behavior and performance is the teacher/student relationship.

Students want teachers that:

  • Respect them
  • Care about them
  • Listen to them
  • Don't yell or shout
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Are in a good moods
  • Let students give their opinions and their side/opinion

Bottom line: Good communication and respect between teacher and students works.

I've always said "A friendly caring voice will go a long way in winning all students over and set a positive tone for everyone".

Revised 7/11/2016 by Jerry Webster