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Dealing with Oppositional Children in the Classroom

One of the scariest issues for educators is dealing with oppositional children in the classroom. While confrontations do not occur every day in every classroom, most if not all secondary school educators will have to deal with a child who is acting belligerent and speaking in out in their classroom. Following are some ideas and tips to help diffuse the situation instead of allowing it to escalate even further.

Call the Office if You Require Help or an Office Escort—

While it is always best to try and diffuse the situation yourself, you should call the office and request additional adult assistance if things are escalating out of hand. If a child is cussing uncontrollably at you and/or other children, throwing things, hitting others, or threatening violence, you need to get assistance from the office.

Contact the Child's Mom and/or Dad—

Try to get the parent involved as soon as possible. Let them know what happened in class and what you would like them to do to help with the situation. Realize, however, that some moms and dads will not be as receptive as others in your efforts. Nonetheless, parental involvement can make a huge difference in many cases.

Create a Behavior Management Plan for Ongoing Issues—

If you have a child who is often oppositional, you need to call together a parent-teacher conference to deal with the situation. Include administration and guidance if you feel it is necessary. Together, you can create a plan for dealing with the child and possibly helping them with any possible anger management issues.

Do Not Get Other Children Involved—

It is counterproductive to get other children involved in the confrontation. For example, if the child is making an accusation about something you did or did not say, do not turn to the rest of the class to ask them what you said right at that moment. The oppositional child might feel backed into a corner and lash out even further. A better response would be that you will be happy to speak with them about the situation once they calm down.

Do Not Provoke a Child—

While this might seem obvious, it is a sad fact that some educators enjoy provoking their children. Do not be one of those educators. Spend your time focusing on what's best for each child and move beyond any petty feelings you might have about past classroom confrontations and situations. While you might privately dislike a child, you should never allow this to show in any way.

Do Not Lose Your Temper—

This can be harder than it sounds. However, it is imperative that you remain calm. You have a classroom full of children watching you. If you lose your temper and start shouting at an oppositional child, you have given up your position of authority and lowered yourself to the child's level. Instead, take a deep breath and remember that you are the authority figure in the situation.

Do Not Raise Your Voice—

This goes hand in hand with not losing your temper. Raising your voice will simply escalate the situation. Instead, a better tack is to talk quieter as the child gets louder. This will help you keep control and appear less oppositional to the child, thereby helping to calm the situation.

Privately Speak to the Child—

You might consider calling a hall conference with the child. Ask them to step outside to speak with you. By removing the audience, you can talk with the child about their issues and try to come to some sort of resolution before the situation gets out of hand. Make sure that during this time, you recognize that you understand they are upset and then talk with them calmly to determine the best resolution to the problem. Use active listening techniques as you talk with the child. If you are able to get the child to calm down and return to class, then make sure that you integrate the child back into the classroom environment. Other children will be watching how you deal with the situation and how you treat the returning child.

Talk With the Child at a Later Time—

A day or two after the situation has been resolved, pull the child involved aside and discuss the situation with them calmly. Use this to try and determine what the trigger was that caused the problem in the first place. This is also a great time to try and give the child ideas of other ways to deal with the situation that they might be able to use in the future. For example, you might have them ask to speak with you quietly instead of shouting in the middle of class. Please see my best teaching experience where I was able to turn an oppositional child into one who was productive and happy in my classroom.

Treat Each Child as an Individual—

Realize that what works with one child might not work with another. For example, you might find that one child responds particularly well to humor while another might get angry when you try to make light of the situation.

Use Referrals if Necessary—

An office referral is one tool in your behavior management plan. This should be used as a last resort for children who cannot be managed within the classroom environment. If you write referrals all the time, you will find that they lose their value both for your children and also for the administration as well. In other words, you want your referrals to mean something and to be acted on as necessary by the administrator in charge of the case.

My Out-of-Control Child: Parenting/Teaching Children with ODD


*ODD Support Group for Parents and Teachers

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