Understanding Inappropriate Behavior

Framing Bad Behavior for Teachers

Student launching rubber band.
Even inappropriate behavior is a child's attempt at communication. Getty/Brand X Pictures/Rubberball/Nicole Hill

Teachers confront bad or inappropriate behavior from students all the time. This may range from calling out answers to teasing to physical aggressiveness. And some students seem to thrive on getting a rise out of teachers with challenges to authority. It's important for teachers to understand the roots of these kinds of behaviors so as not to perpetuate or exacerbate them. Here are some fundamental ways to frame everyday inappropriate behaviors.

The Importance of Interventions

With so many students in classrooms these days, it's tempting for a teacher to simply let poor behavioral choices go and spend as much time as possible teaching the lesson. But in the long term, this is not the wisest choice. While there are behaviors that, while poor, are age-appropriate (speaking out of turn, difficulties sharing materials, etc.), remember the message that accepting unacceptable behaviors sends to the student. Instead, use positive behavioral intervention strategies (PBIS) to positively influence and curb the behavior in the classroom.

Age-appropriate or no, inappropriate behaviors that disrupt the classroom will only get worse when we excuse them. It's important to take the time for interventions.

Where Does Inappropriate Behavior Come From?

It may be hard to understand where a student's poor choices come from. Remember that behavior is communication, and students are trying to send a message with every action taken in the classroom.

Four typical reasons for inappropriate behavior are:

  • Seeking attention. When a child can't get your attention, he'll often act out to get it.
  • Taking revenge. If for some reason a child doesn't feel loved and seeks revenge for attention, she will feel important when she hurts others or hurts the feelings of others.
  • Displaying power. These children need to be the boss. They only feel important when they are the boss. Power struggles may be daily occurrences with these students. 
  • Displaying feelings of inadequacy. These children usually have low confidence and self-esteem levels and give up quickly, thinking they can't do anything. They often lack a sense of doing something successfully.

Understand the origin of these behaviors and decoding their messages gives you an opportunity. Once you've determined the goal of the inappropriate behavior, you are much more equipped to turn it around.

Confronting Inappropriate Behaviors

The PBIS method of dealing with inappropriate behavior may not be as intuitive as the punitive model with which many of us were raised. But it makes its own logical sense when we consider, again, that behavior is communication. Can we really expect to show students that their behavioral choices are poor when we respond in the same manner? Of course not. Keep these key concepts in mind:

  • Always show respect. When you give respect, you'll get it—eventually!  Model the behavior you want to see at all times.
  • Encourage the child, boost their self-esteem, convey that you care about them. Reward them with attention when acting appropriately.
  • Never engage in power struggles. Don't get angry. Do not retaliate (even in passive-aggressive ways).
  • Recognize that ALL inappropriate behaviors are communication: your student wants your attention. Help her get it the right way.

Read more about specific interventions for a variety of behaviors.

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Your Citation
Watson, Sue. "Understanding Inappropriate Behavior." ThoughtCo, Mar. 5, 2016, thoughtco.com/understanding-inappropriate-behavior-3110688. Watson, Sue. (2016, March 5). Understanding Inappropriate Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/understanding-inappropriate-behavior-3110688 Watson, Sue. "Understanding Inappropriate Behavior." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/understanding-inappropriate-behavior-3110688 (accessed March 21, 2018).