Disruptive Behaviour

General Information

When children with disruptive behaviour seem angry, it may be the result of unresolved circumstances. They are quick to blame others for mistakes. They generally have poor peer relationships and often display behaviours that alienate them from their peers. In addition, these children may have an unusual response to positive reinforcement or feedback: when given public praise, for example, they may respond by destroying or sabotaging the project for which they were given recognition.

Some children develop disruptive behaviours as a result of the stress and frustration resulting from experiences such as divorce, death, loss of family, or family disharmony. Disruptive behaviour may also be a way of dealing with depression or the result of inconsistent rules and expectations for behaviour.

General Characteristics To Look For

  • sudden, unprovoked anger
  • deliberately antagonizing others
  • resentment and anger
  • defiance
  • refuses to comply with adult requests or rules
  • argues with adults
  • “talks back” to adults
  • shows disrespect towards authority figures
  • is easily annoyed by others/deliberately annoys others
  • blames others for his/her own actions/behaviours

Impact On Student Success

  • When students with disruptive behaviours are not helped to resolve their difficulties, they are likely to fare poorly at school.
  • These students may feel isolated from others (both adults and peers) because they are unpredictable and hard to get along with.
  • They may miss a lot of class time, teacher instruction, and school work.
  • Students whose disruptive behaviours do not respond to typical behaviour management strategies are suffering from underlying problems. They are already at a disadvantage, and they are not always receptive. They may become less capable over time of meeting the demands of school work, feel estranged from others, and are at risk of leaving school early.
  • Help build consistent responses (praise and accountability) for children at home, at school, and in community activities.
  • Set up reasonable, age-appropriate limits, with consequences that can be enforced consistently.
  • Choose your battles wisely. Remember that students with disruptive behaviour tend to create power struggles. Try to avoid being drawn in.
  • Use a quiet, private, and calm approach. Allow students to state their position first, and let them know that their point of view is being heard and understood.
  • Give choices when decisions are needed. State them briefly and clearly.
  • Ensure that academic work is at the appropriate level. When work is too hard, students will become frustrated; when it is too easy, they will become bored. Both reactions lead to problems in the classroom.
  • Clear classroom rules are very important for students with disruptive behaviours. Be clear about what is non-negotiable.
  • Post the daily schedule so that students are clear about expectations.
  • Praise students (in subtle ways) when they respond positively.
  • Avoid making comments or bringing up situations that may be a source of argument .Provide consistency, structure, and clear consequences for the students’ behaviour.
  • Allow students to redo assignments to improve scores or final grades.
  • Meet with parents/caregivers to get their input into, and consent for, multidisciplinary evaluation and collaborate with them on the development of a positive behavioural intervention support plan.
  • Connect students to formal and informal supports to maintain a positive focus on the students and their needs over the long term.
  • Act as an advocate in times of adversity or crisis; maintain an ongoing positive relationship with the family.
  • Use community mental health partners to address emotional and/or behavioural issues that negatively affect social and academic functioning in the school.
  • Be prepared to notice and build on the positives; give children praise and positive reinforcement when they show flexibility or co-operation.
  • Take a “time out” if you are about to make the conflict with the child worse, not better; this is good modelling. Support the child if he/she decides to take a “time out” to prevent overreacting.
  • Pick your battles: prioritize goals and expectations for the child.
  • Don’t add time to “time outs” if the child continues to argue.
  • Try to work with and obtain support from other adults who are also involved with the child.
  • Consult with mental health professionals and explore treatment options.
  • Work closely with the school team and family to coordinate a response.
  • Assess whether emotional factors are contributing to the child’s behaviours.
  • Help parents decide on the need for medical and/or psychiatric consultation/evaluation.
  • Conduct sessions with the family to promote respect and cooperation.
  • Explore the child’s behaviour patterns to establish how he/she responds to rules and authority.
  • Support the child through referrals to alternative placement if needed—e.g., the ABLE program, social skills training, or out-of-home placement.