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When behaviour management is a challenge...what do you do?

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

There is always that one child in a class who needs extra attention when it comes to behaviour. And in special circumstances, there are more than one or even many. The most important thing with behaviour management is consistency and follow-through. There needs to be a consistent approach between home and school, as well as follow-through with procedures and processes. Often behaviour strategies stop working when a child’s need is not being met, something changes in their routine and life or there is a lack in consistency and follow-through. I’m a firm believer in building intrinsic motivation to behave appropriately, which is challenging in our current world where children are less motivated by “doing the right thing” and more motivated by gaining tangible rewards or receiving choice time.

Calling Out

Calling out can be a very annoying behaviour that many teachers struggle with. For younger students, using visuals or physical items to remind them to put their hand up and take turns talking can be useful. Try a talking stick or talking toy. However, for the child that needs a little extra, try giving them a collection of objects such as blocks, counters, popsticks, pom poms or something that interests them. Everytime they call out they lose one of their objects. If they have all their objects at the end of the lesson or day they may receive some free choice activity. While this free choice task is something the student chooses, teachers can limit the choices and provide experiences that are educational and fun, for example; practising problem-solving skills with a jigsaw puzzle, practising fine motor skills with play dough or lego, or practising gross motor skills with an outdoor obstacle course. For older students, ignoring the negative behaviour and responding to those showing positive behaviour can often be enough to stop children from calling out.


Children get distracted. This is nothing new. However, when it is ongoing it can become challenging. There are a few different ways I like to tackle this challenging behaviour. Children like competition, so turning the task into a race can often keep them on task. Using a timer sometimes works and for those that continue to be off task, completing incomplete tasks in play time or for homework can often be enough to prevent the behaviour from reoccurring, especially if it’s happened more than once. For younger ones that sometimes need visuals or tangibles, using tokens is a great way to keep them on task. To begin with, they may need a reward for receiving their 3 or 5 tokens when they complete their work which can be something like showing their good work off to another class, teacher or even the Principal.

Physical behaviour or Hands On

Children in the early years are learning the difference between right and wrong. They like to touch everything, including each other. While this behaviour is challenging at school, it is often parent responsibility to ensure that this behaviour is not acceptable and to teach this to their child from a very young age. Often they are still learning how to regulate their emotions and react appropriately in challenging social situations when they get to school. Their first instinct can often be to hit others, or hurt others that may do something wrong to them. Using social stories and role play scenarios to teach children about how to deal with challenging social situations is important in dealing with hands on behaviour. Having access to a sensory path, engine room or calm space can help children manage their emotions with adult support. Ultimately, supervision is very important and implementation of proactive strategies is crucial so that students do not become violent with each other. For example; when emotions are escalating, children should be separated and redirected to more calming activities. When supervising children, consider the ratio of adults to students and children that are likely to become physical are monitored. Often children misbehave or make poor choices when they are bored, so ensure structured play and activities are offered and engaging for students. When students have ownership over their learning or activities, they are more likely to be engaged.


Young children often lie out of fear of getting in trouble or because they think they have something to gain out of lying. It can be very tricky to prove and manage lying, especially with older children. With younger students, reassuring them that they will not be in trouble if they are honest often does the trick. For more challenging situations, following up and checking up on what they are lying about often holds them accountable. For example; a student that arrives at school with a large sum of money saying their parents gave it to them, can often be caught out in their lie by calling their parents with the teacher present. A student that says they didn’t take a toy from their peer, could be caught out when they arrive home with parents being previously contacted by the teacher and asked to check their bag. Students who lie about hurting others is often the most common form of lying that teachers see and can often be clarified with witnesses and unless there are repeat instances involving the same student, often giving the benefit of the doubt in these cases can be the only solution.

Disrespect and Defiance

Battling it out with a student is never the answer. Disrespect and defiance can be my trigger and the behaviour I find the most challenging. It’s important to remain calm and maintain a neutral and calming tone of voice when students are disrespectful or defiant. Providing a clear choice or compromise is the best tool. I often use the language “you are choosing to not follow instructions, so you are choosing to miss out on play time/choice time”, “I will help you and I’ll know you are ready to do your work or talk to me calmly when you sit on the red stool” and “I can see that you are angry, would you like to take a break (use something they are interested in here) and then come back when you are ready”. I then walk away and leave the student for a short while or if they need a break I allow this to happen. If they are still choosing to be disrespectful or defiant then follow-through is crucial. Situations involving deliberate disrespect and defiance can escalate quickly and often be eased when another adult steps in. The change in adult can often de-escalate situations, like a circuit-breaker, so ask a nearby adult or leadership staff member to take over for you or support you.

Ongoing Behaviour

When these behaviours are ongoing and frequent it is important to track and monitor the behaviour to find patterns and trends. Record all the strategies you’ve tried, how long you tried the strategy for and how effective the strategies were. Using a tally system with colour coding for effectiveness (green=worked well, red=didn’t work) against each strategy each day is a good way to track and monitor. Using a communication book to communicate behaviour needs and concerns to parents, as well as to track behaviour is helpful and can be completed with the child each day. A whole school approach is important when managing and tracking behaviour. There needs to be a system in place to enter data for each student and then a clear process for when the student has repeated or ongoing behaviour, for example; when there have been 3 minor behaviours recorded, it escalates to a major behaviour. After 3 major behaviour records a personalised behaviour plan is implemented in conjunction with the Principal, learning support staff, parents, teacher and the student.

What are some of your behaviour challenges and strategies?

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