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Strategies for Teaching Students With Behavioral Problems

By The Room 241 Team February 8, 2013

This post has been updated for accuracy and relevance as of December 2017.

The average classroom is likely to contain one or more students who demand more attention because of behavioral difficulties. In some cases, hormones, challenges with peers, and home-life problems can make even a “good kid” troublesome. And while some teachers are specially trained to handle special needs children who demand more time, some aren’t. That can hurt both the student and the teacher.

So how do we support these kids while also preserving our own energy, stamina, and patience? Let’s break it down.

First, who needs to learn these strategies?

All teachers need to learn how to teach students with behavior problems. No matter if the child is one student in a classroom with a concern or if the classroom is designed for children with these complex behavioral issues, the methods to teaching and avoiding complications or outbursts are sometimes the same. When teachers learn how to avoid situations that can push the button on these children, it is possible to ensure the classroom’s lesson plan is fully explored and all students get equal attention.

Prior to an occurrence

One of the best strategies for teaching in an environment like this is to learn methods that help to prevent the occurrence of behavioral issues. While every student’s needs are different, there are some simple steps teachers can take to help prevent problems as a group.

  • Increase the amount of supervision present during high-risk periods. When misbehavior is likely to occur, such as during group work sessions or at specific times of the day, adding additional supervision can be a helpful step in preventing problems.
  • Make tasks manageable. To avoid driving stress factors that can cause a child to begin to misbehave, ensure that all the tasks you assign can provide the student with small bits of information at one time. By dividing a lesson in chunks, you’re less likely to overwhelm the student.
  • Offer choices whenever possible. Rather than creating a strict classroom routine, provide the students with choices. For example, let students choose which project they work on rather than having to focus on a specific project.
  • Ensure children reach out for help. In some cases, behavior issues occur because the child does not know how he or she can receive help or does not, for some reason, feel that help is available. Reassure children that they can reach out for the help they need. If they feel comfortable coming to you when they’re lost, upset or overwhelmed, they’re not as likely to have an outburst.

Prevention is always the best step, but of course it’s not always possible to stop every occurrence of poor behavior.

Handling in-the-moment concerns

When behavioral problems begin to occur, it’s important for teachers to react in the right way. Here are some strategies:

  • Apologies. Apologies help to repair the social conflicts between two individuals. Ensure that apologies are encouraged by all offending parties.
  • Ignore. In some cases, the teacher ignores the behavior, meaning he or she does not react to it or reinforce or reward it.
  • Reduce privilege access. After defining the privileges that students have, the teacher sets in place a rule system for taking those away. For example, things like having free time or being able to talk with friends are removed when rules are broken.
  • Praise. Praising positive behavior (not just expected behavior) is also a way of managing negative outcomes. When teachers praise students more readily than scold them, the student learns that to get attention he or she must act positively.

Dealing with conflict in the classroom is never easy. But by getting parents involved, putting time aside to understand the cause of the problem, and by engaging children in positive rewards, it may be possible to reduce some of the risk that behavior problems will get in the way of learning—for you and for your students.

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