Misbehaviour in the classroom: how to cope


According to Cape Town educational psychologist Catherine Radloff it’s normal for a child to display the odd bout of disobedience. But when this misbehaviour becomes ongoing and starts to affect the child’s general wellbeing it could signal an emotional problem or even be a cry for help.

“In most cases that are referred to me misbehaviour is caused by an underlying emotional or learning problem that has not been addressed,” Radloff says.

“Young children often don’t have the ability to express what they’re experiencing in a mature way. When their emotional needs are being neglected they express their feelings in various ways.”

Teachers often have to address disruptive behaviour in the classroom, especially when it affects the teaching environment and other learners. Radloff has this advice for educators who have to deal with difficult children in their classrooms:

Primary school children:

  • Star charts are a good way to monitor and reward good behaviour. The teacher and learners can visually track each child’s behaviour.
  • Give the disruptive child a valid reason to leave the classroom, such as sending him or her on an errand to another teacher.
  • Create a safe environment in the classroom where problem children can sit and think about their behaviour. Provide soft cushions, toys and books for this “safe corner”.
  • The teacher and learner can develop a subtle sign, such as lightly tapping him or her on the shoulder or desk as a reminder to pay attention or calm down.
  • Teach children the traffic light principle: Stop, think and do. Red indicates the child must stop whatever he or she is doing, orange reminds them to think about what how they should behave and green is a sign they acted correctly. Put the “traffic light” poster up in the classroom so you can simply point to it when necessary.

High school children:

  • Never embarrass or belittle learners in front of their peers. A quiet discussion outside the classroom goes a long way to resolving the problem in a calm way.
  • Older children copy your behaviour so it’s important to never lose your temper. If you stay cool, calm and collected it’s easier for them to act the same way.
  • Teens who are disobedient because they’re looking for attention react well to praise and encouragement. As soon as they realise their good behaviour can provide them with the attention they crave their misbehaviour trails off.

-Shané Barnard

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