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Helping Behaviorally Challenged Students

By Nancy Jang on November 4, 2010
  • Grades: 1–2

Lying, stealing, fighting, running away, using profanity, physically hurting other people (on purpose), and kicking, screaming tantrums. Have you ever felt battle weary after a long day with a child who is considered "behaviorally challenged"? I've been there. Here are some tips to help you and that child make this school year a productive one.

Image courtesy of ZetaBoards.



Lying, stealing, fighting, running away, using profanity, physically hurting other people (on purpose), and kicking, screaming tantrums. Have you ever felt battle weary after a long day with a child who is considered "behaviorally challenged"? I've been there. Here are some tips to help you and that child make this school year a productive one.

Image courtesy of ZetaBoards.





Every year, it seems as through there are more and more kids in school with serious behavioral issues, and teachers are on the front lines with them all day. These are the kids that when you hear about them in the teacher's lounge, you begin praying that they get counseling before winding up on your roster. These are the kids who make you think about tearing your hair out, crying, and quitting your job. BUT, these are also the kids who, after a long, hard year, when you have helped them with their problems and loved them, make you cherish your job and remember why you went into teaching.

Image at right courtesy of It's a Loveless World.

Scholastic 004 Here are some things to keep in mind. In your classroom, you probably have some sort of classroom behavior management system in place. One that reinforces good behavior and tracks rule-breaking behavior. In my class, I use a traffic light made from paper plates. Children's names are written on clothespins and clipped to green. They move their pins to yellow after breaking a rule, which means they owe me ten minutes of recess time. If they move to red, they owe me a 20 minute time out and get a note home.

Generally speaking, this kind of system works for about 80% of a class. About 10% of kids are perfectly angelic all the time and would be fine even if you didn't have any system in place. Then there are about 10% for whom this system is not comprehensive enough to moderate their behaviors, or their behaviors are so severe that they need more immediate, specific consequences and rewards. Let's talk about those kids, the ones in the most challenging ten percent.

Here are TEN things that you can do to help these students correct their behaviors.

1. Check the child's cumulative record. Sometimes there may be confidential files with notes from previous teachers, records of their behaviors, and other clues about what is causing the behaviors.

2. Talk to the child's previous teachers. They might have some insight into the family situation, helpful hints on what worked well with the child, and a sympathetic ear!

3. Document the behaviors: who was involved and the date. This will give you a concrete document tracking the behavioral pattern and allow you to see what kind of behaviors are consistently appearing.

4. Talk to your principal about the situation. Let your principal know what is happening in your class and give him or her a heads up that you may need some support. My principal did everything from teaching my class and removing a student for a time out to giving me supportive notes and generous rewards.

5. Meet with the parents. Sometimes they are your greatest ally in correcting these behaviors, and sometimes they are the source of the problem. More often than not, parents want to help their children and YOU! Their support and participation are the most powerful tools in helping their child control him or herself. Communication is key!

6. Be extremely consistent about reinforcements, consequences, and rewards. Usually these kids are really skilled at testing boundaries. Be a wall.

7. Be prepared to call in help from your school's principal, counselors, teachers, aides, and child services. There are some things that are beyond your ability to handle alone.                                                                             

Starsmiling8. Create a behavior contract/star chart. During the meeting with the parents, I propose a behavior contract. Basically this paper, which travels home and to school every day, documents positive and negative behaviors and proposes rewards or consequences for them. I also include a communication log that allows the parents to let me know if they started out with a bad morning or if something unusual happened. It also tells me about rewards and consequences that occurred as a result of the school day. For my part, I use the log to write praise and to document positive and negative behaviors. Parents sign it each day after they discuss the child's behavior with them. Email works as well, but I want to build in the idea that the child is making choices related to the contract and is responsible for it.

Star image courtesy of Scholastic Printables.

9. Involve the child when discussing rewards and consequences. Make sure that the child  understands that they are the ones making the choices that lead to the consequences and the rewards. They need to choose the reward that matters to them. Then they are more likely to work for it. On the flip side, the same is true for consequences. For many kids, a time out at home is no big deal, but going without the TV/computer/video game is torture. Find out what the child values the most.

10. Tackle the big behaviors first and ignore the smaller behaviors. This was tough. I had one student who was working on keeping hands, feet, and objects to himself. He fought with other students almost daily and had hit and kicked a teacher. I had to ignore blurting, clowning, and other attention-getting behaviors. At first, I celebrated with him the days when he kept his hands, feet, and objects to himself. As he became more consistent with that, we added making appropriate responses.  By the end of the year, even though I had been very strict with him about his contract, he gave me a big hug. He said that I was the best teacher ever and thanked me for my patience and for helping him learn self-control!

Relax3All important bonus #11. Find a way to relieve stress, to vent, and to relax. Teaching is both wonderful and stressful. When you have a behaviorally challenged child in your class, it's even more so. There was a year that I offered to teach P.E. and art for other teachers if they'd sub in my class for 30 minutes. Other years, I went to an exercise class or art class for personal growth. Sometimes my stress relief was losing myself in a movie or immersing myself in a book. This gave me a way to decompress from the day. Then I was able to go back the next day refocused and refreshed. Find what relaxes you and make it your "go to" activity when you have had a hard day.  

 Happy teaching,



Image courtesy of Utah State University.


Comments (13)

Nancy, I feel very defeated with a behavior issue that I have in my classroom of 20 Pre-k children. When people say it takes a village well they certainly meant it with this child. He is very smart and can be so sweet however he lacks internal control and when me or another teacher tries to bring him back to making good choices (talking to him in a very positve fashion)and being part of the group, he goes wild. He will start running around the classroom, knocking things off the tables, throwing things and hurting his friends. He has caused injury to me and has broken personal tems of mine. We have considered a personality issue however he has exibited the same problems with my co-teacher. He is intimidated by a teacher in another room and responds to her when she comes in and is harsh with him. My concern is that this child starts public school next year and he does not have the tools to control himself. I have given the mother outside resources to contact. Do you have any suggestions for me in the meantime? I feel that the other 19 children are not getting the best of me.

Thank you in advance, Cyndi

Jacklyn Martinez
will try my best to follow your good tips

Thank you for the letter, I have to send that out immediately. I have a behavior sheet on the wall so the child can see her progress! its amazing what a piece of paper with butterflies can do!

Neiki, If you send me your email address, I will email you a copy of what my star chart looks like and a copy of the contract with the daily communication log. I hope it helps you! Thank you for reading my post.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Do you have a copy of the star chart layout that I could use. I think a written record/communication from school to home for my behaviorally challenged student would be a very good way to monitor his behavior and keep his parents informed.

Eva, I'm glad that you found something you will use. Thanks for reading.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Be a wall! I love it. My new mantra:)

Hi Sarah, I'm glad you found some good tips to use. Thanks for reading and good luck.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Hi! Thanks so much for this! I'm an English teacher from a rural school in Malaysia. And behaviorally challenged students is a common problem in my school. A few of the classes I teach has at least 3-5 students who are behaviorally challenged. I would definitely try and resolve some issues based on these tips! Thanks again!

Stephanie, I hope some of these ideas help you. Thanks for your comment.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Lori, Thanks for reading and commenting! I hope that this post helps other teachers out there as well as parents.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

Some great tips! As a parent of a challenging child the most important thing a teacher can remember is we can't "fix" them but we can help by being consistent and provide a loving well structured environment. That should cover about 7 % of the 10 % the other 3% require help beyond our talent.

good tips and reminders! i think i will use a few of these tomorrow! thanks for sharing!

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