The Misbehaving Student…and How to Help Them

It is the most difficult children who often need us the most.  We hear from people working in schools that consequences and suspensions do not seem to change their behavior.  Core curriculum, testing and other requirements are putting an incredible burden on teachers. These challenging students are often the tipping point for a class.

What these misbehaving children are really looking for is to feel like they belong in the class, and that they are cared about.

Many of the misbehaving children have had things happen in their young lives that cause them to distrust others.  They may not have been fed or had their physical needs taken care of as babies, so they do not understand “if-then” thinking – if I cry, I get fed.  If I act out in class, then there are consequences. Some may be dealing with abuse or neglect of them or a parent, drugs or alcohol in the home, or violence.  They may feel they always have to be “on guard”, to protect themselves. 

All it takes is one adult to make a difference a child’s life.

So what can be done to help?  Here are some ways to build relationships with these most difficult children:

  • Get to where you can speak face to face with them.   Speak calmly and slowly. If you remain calm, it will help them to calm down.
  • Express an understanding of how they are feeling, saying “It seems like you are really angry.  Tell me more.” And then listen.
  • Ask them what you can do to help them.  They may need a break from being in the class, so asking if they would like to bring something to the office or another class may help.
  • Focus on building the relationship.  As trust is built, they may question it, as they may not have had a trusting relationship with an adult before. 

It is important to have patience and give it time.  These children likely have had years of bad relationships with adults.  As the relationship builds, the whole class benefits. There will be less disruptions, and more teachable time.  You can be that “one adult” for this child!

Written by: Carol Dores

Carol is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer. She has worked with educators and staff of preschoolers through high school, as well as hundreds of parents of all aged children (prenatal to adult). She co-founded Positive Discipline of Connecticut, and served as Co-Chair of the international Board of Directors of the Positive Discipline Association. Carol has worked with schools in bringing Positive Discipline to whole school settings. She has two adult sons and a husband of over 35 years. Their relationships continue to grow and benefit from Positive Discipline.