1. STAY CALM. The first thing to do when encountering disruptive behavior in the classroom is to stay calm. Count to ten, breathe deeply, and visualize a peaceful scene …anything to keep from losing a calm demeanor. No matter how much an offensive child tries to bait teachers, they lose credibility if they lower themselves to the student’s level. If the teacher keeps her composure, she will likely win the sympathy and support of the other children. They may even start using social pressure to discipline the disruptive student themselves. Keeping one’s composure, however, does not mean just accepting and tolerating the abuse. There are some specific, appropriate measures teachers can take in response to disruptive behaviors, which brings us to tip #2.
2. ARRIVING LATE AND/OR LEAVING EARLY. State the school’s policies clearly on the first day of class. Insist that children inform you, preferably in advance, of any special circumstances that will require them to be late to class – or absent altogether. Subtract points for coming to class late and leaving early. Draw attention to disruptive students by pausing as they walk in and out. Alternatively, set aside an area near the door for latecomers and early leavers. Finally, to discourage packing up early, routinely conduct important class activities for the beginning and the end of class.
3. ASKING FOR EXTENSIONS AND MISSING ASSIGNMENT DEADLINES. Specify penalties for late work, with or without an "approved" extension (e.g., docking a portion of the grade). Some teachers feel comfortable strictly enforcing this policy. But if you prefer to be flexible, you probably realize that children occasionally have good reasons for not meeting deadlines. But they also occasionally lie. So, assess each extension request and excuse on a case-by-case, child-by-child basis, perhaps allowing a single, documented incident – but drawing the line at the second.
4. PACKING UP EARLY. Routinely reserve some important points or classroom activities (e.g., quizzes, writing exercises, clarification of the upcoming readings, study guide distribution, etc.) until the end of class. Alternatively, have children turn in assignments at the end of class. Paper-rustling and other disruptive noise-making during class can be stopped the same way as is talking in class.
5. SHOWING DISRESPECT. Make your expectations for appropriate classroom manners clear from the start and reinforce them continually by your being a good role model. Enlist the aid of other children to monitor and report disruptive incidents. Talk to disruptive students privately and explain that their behavior is affecting their peers’ ability to learn. Sometimes children show disrespect to get the attention they believe they can’t get through any other means, to vent their anger towards authority in general, or to express some other deep-seated emotional problem. Leave such cases to the school counselor and refer such children as needed.
6. TAKING IN CLASS. Occasional comments or questions from one child to another are to be expected. However, chronic talkers bother other children and interfere with your train of thought. To stop them, try a long, dramatic pause. Then, if necessary, accompany your pause with an equally dramatic stare at the disruptive students. Say something like, "I really think you should pay attention to this; it will be on the test" or "You are disturbing your peers." If the problem continues, get assertive with the disruptive students outside the class. Direct intervention and public embarrassment are strictly last resorts.
7. WASTING TIME. If children habitually try to monopolize class time, encourage them to speak with you after class to clarify their questions. You can broaden the discussion and call attention away from the disruptive child by asking the rest of the class for the answers. Alternatively, you can put out a question box. Read the questions after class and briefly address some of them.
8. Become well-educated in all aspects of Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
9. Be sure to take care of your own physical and mental health.
10. Your best strategy against all forms of disruptive behavior is prevention. Be aware of potential problems, and plan carefully to keep them from developing.
Parenting/Teaching Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Believing in oppositional children is the right stance, but it doesn’t prevent them from coming to class unprepared, handing in assignments late, asking to use the bathroom over and over, and talking in class. Here are some strategies that teachers can use with disruptive children in class. Each of the four techniques described below has the teachers acknowledging the problem, and then working with the child to develop a plan to correct the problem (an approach built on collaboration):
1. Avoid arguing— Arguing with defiant children only makes them more resistant. It is highly unlikely that the teacher is going to “persuade” an oppositional child, whether that child needs to get work done on time or stop talking to his neighbor. A more indirect approach may be better. For example, “When you don’t get your work done on time, you end up having twice as much to do later – the first assignment that you didn’t complete plus the new assignment.”
2. Develop discrepancy— Children are motivated to change when they perceive a discrepancy between where they are and where they want to be. The teachers can make children aware of this discrepancy. For example, “You like to go to recess, but you are regularly losing that privilege by not getting your work done on time.” …or…“You said you want to be a computer programmer someday, but you fall asleep whenever you lose interest. What’s going to happen when the staff meetings you’re required to attend get boring?”
3. Express empathy— The teacher communicates with disruptive children from a position of power, but the teacher still respects the children and practices active listening. Despite the power associated with being the teacher, he/she recognizes that the behavior that needs to be changed can be changed only by the child.
4. Roll with resistance— Don’t meet it head on. Invite the defiant child to think about the problem differently. Rather than imposing a solution, see if the child can generate one. For example, “You missed the assignment. What’s a fair consequence for that?”
Teachers aren’t law enforcement officers. They aren’t expected to be entertainers or hand-holders. They do have the responsibility to create a classroom setting that engages disruptive children and fosters relationships based on mutual respect, though. True learning occurs when both work together, treading softly on differences and celebrating strengths.
Parenting/Teaching Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Sleeping in class: Sleeping in class is usually considered rude. Most teachers believe it should not be tolerated and is best curbed up front by waking a sleeping youngster and asking her to step outside with you. Once there, faculty often tell youngsters that it’s best for the rest of the class if they return when they are awake enough to be an active participant. This occurs from time to time, and you obviously are the one to choose lenience or punitive action. If it’s one of your more regularly involved youngsters, perhaps give them an option of an extra credit research assignment they can bring to your next class period covering the subject matter they missed while they were sleeping. An alternative approach is to assume that the youngster does not feel well or has some other condition that results in sleepiness when still for long periods of time. You might simply choose to wake the youngster and ask them if they are feeling alright. To pull this off, you need to approach it with true concern for the youngster's health and well being. Most of the time, youngster's are so embarrassed that they don't let it happen again. In particularly long classes, break up the session with activities or paired conversations about a topic to ensure that youngsters stay engaged. ODD youngsters don't learn much from listening, so remember that the more they "experience" the learning process – the more you are really teaching.
Repeated Tardiness: There should be clear parameters set around this issue up front – either in your class rules or in the class decided norms. It might be best to discuss this with ODD youngsters individually. Some are habitually late because they are dependent on others for transportation to school.
"Spacing Out" or Sitting with Back to Teacher: If this is a repeated problem, youngsters need to know that their non-verbal behavior is perceived as disinterest. You might ask them after class if they need a more comfortable seat. Some youngsters are extremely shy and it might take quite a while before they open up enough to make sustained eye contact or face the teacher completely.
Disrespectful Behavior: The reality is that sometimes ODD youngsters just plain won’t like you. You will find yourself in a conversation with yourself about why they don’t like you and treat you with disrespect. Animosity will perpetuate itself, so remember your role and look for a way to positively invite the youngster to engage more deeply in the class. Perhaps offer them a special task based on a self-disclosed talent (e.g., an ODD child whose hobby is Origami might lead a lesson on the art of following instructions).
Gum, Food, Pagers, and Cell Phone Disruption: If decided upon by class, consequences for breaking this policy might range from the loss of participation points to the offender having to present on a topic of interest to the class. Some teachers allow cell phones to be on the vibrate setting as long as they are attended to at the break rather than used when it interrupts the class. Teachers need to abide by this rule as well and allow for at least one mistake per youngster as accidents do happen from oversight. The idea here is to prevent habitual disruption from gum popping and phones ringing.
Leaving class too frequently: Camps are divided as to whether or not youngsters should ask for permission to leave for bathroom breaks or wait for a break in the class. Some teachers don’t require their youngsters to limit their bathroom breaks or ask permission, however, this is contentious for some teachers when breaks are taken too frequently. You might privately ask the youngster if everything is OK so that they know that you are concerned by their behavior. Don’t assume disrespect – it might be a bladder infection or some other physical problem.
Monopolizing Discussions: This is common but manageable. Many ODD youngsters are excited and talkative, so it might be good to give them some time to settle in. However, if it’s evident right away that this is a trend, it’s best to ask them to stay after class. You might approach them initially by saying that you are pleased with the amount of enthusiasm they have for discussion but were hoping that they have suggestions for getting the other class members equally involved. The youngster will most likely get your drift with minimal humiliation.
Plagiarism or Lying: Depending upon the class and the youngster’s prior knowledge of what plagiarism entails, some teachers issue an automatic F for the first instance, then expulsion from the class on a second instance. Most schools have specific policies. Be sure to know you school’s policy before taking action. Plagiarism should be outlined in your class rules.
Refusal to Participate or Speak: We can’t force youngsters to speak in class nor participate in group projects. This can be addressed and become a win-win situation by either giving the youngster alternative options to verbal participation (unless it’s a speech class) or simply carefully coaxing some response out of them and praising whatever minimal effort you receive from them. Remember, some youngsters are terrified to be in a class setting –especially if there are round tables rather than desks – allowing for little anonymity.
Parenting/Teaching Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Children with CD like to engage in power struggles. They often react badly to direct demands or statements such as: “You need to...” or “You must...” They may consistently challenge class rules, refuse to do assignments, and argue or fight with the other kids. This behavior can cause significant impairment in both social and academic functioning. They also work best in environments with high staff-child ratios, one-on-one situations, or self-contained programs, when there is plenty of structure and clearly defined guidelines. Their frequent absences and refusal to do assignments often lead to academic failure.
If you have a youngster in class who has been diagnosed with CD, here are some ideas for assisting them:
1. Avoid escalating prompts such as shouting, touching, nagging, or cornering the youngster.
2. Avoid giving ultimatums - use options instead.
3. CD children often work best in small group or one-on-one settings. They need a great deal of structure and clear expectations if they are to be successful. Therefore, it may be helpful to get permission to speak with any mental health practitioners who are involved with the youngster. These professionals can help you gain a better understanding of the disorder, and work with you to develop effective interventions for the youngster in you classroom. In turn, you provide to the mental health professional beneficial insight into how the youngster acts in and academic setting, which can help the professional treat the youngster in a more holistic manner.
4. Consider the use of technology. Children with CD tend to work well on computers with active programs.
5. Develop a plan, ahead of time as to what will be done if the youngster becomes angry or violent. Make sure the parent, staff and the youngster are informed about who will be contacted and the order of the steps which will be taken to ensure the safety of the youngster and others.
6. Do not carry a "grudge' against the CD youngster – and be willing to start over with them. CD children have true mental health issues and are often as overwhelmed and puzzled by their behaviors as those around them.
7. Do not touch children with CD’ especially when they are angry. They may take it as a personal threat.
8. Embarrassment is a concern for all teens, but is multiplied in teens with CD. Modifications and adaptations should been accomplished with subtle non-intrusive methods to allow the youngster to maintain a sense of dignity and responsibility. Blatant, harsh criticisms of these kids will perpetuate their fears of failure and feed into their cycles of anger and rage.
9. Establish clear classroom rules. Be clear about what is non-negotiable.
10. Give the youngster a choice in most matters. Stay away from direct demands or statements such as: “You need to...” or “You must...”
11. If the youngster is old enough to work, consider a work-experience program. CD children often do well in school-to-work programs because they find earning money an incentive.
12. Keep calm and logical during confrontations, especially if the youngster's behavior escalates. These children like power struggles and arguments.
13. Maintain respect as well as emotional detachment.
14. Make sure curriculum is at an appropriate level. When work is too hard, CD children become frustrated. When it is too easy, they become bored.
15. Remember that praise is important, but it needs to be sincere.
16. Maximize the performance of low-performing children through the use of individualized instruction, the breaking down of academic tasks, debriefing, coaching, and providing positive incentives.
17. Select materials that are relevant to the CD kid’s life. Although his skills may be at a lower level, he usually does not respond well to material he perceives as beneath him (age-wise). Look for "high-interest, low-ability" materials.
18. Structure activities so the youngster with CD is not always left out or the last one picked.
19. Children with CD often do well in programs that allow them to work outside of the school setting. Try to monitor your impressions, keep them as neutral as possible, communicate a positive regard for the children, and give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.
20. Systematically teach social skills including anger-management, conflict-resolution strategies, and how to be assertive in an appropriate manner.
Parenting and Teaching Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Although the progression from level to level is the same, the rate varies from student to student. This is why teachers need to be prepared to address discipline in their classrooms at different levels. Their children are functioning at different levels on the road to self-discipline.
Here are the levels and the associated behavior that occurs at the particular level:
Children functioning at level 1 are typically unruly (i.e., they often refuse to follow directions). They are defiant and require a tremendous amount of attention. They have few rules of their own, but out of fear of reprisal, may follow the rules of adults. Most youngsters progress beyond this level by age 5, but a few older children still function at this level.
This is the power level. What makes it work is the imbalance of power between the youngster and the teacher. When the child is young, the imbalance of power between him and his mother or father is significant. If the youngster is never taught a higher level, the imbalance of power diminishes as he grows up. The parent then states that she can no longer control her youngster. He will not mind. He challenges authority constantly.
Fortunately, very few of the children in the classrooms function at this level. Those who do, follow rules as long as the imbalance of power tilts against them. Assertive educators with a constant eye on these children can keep them in line. Turn your back on them for one minute, and they are out of control.
If these children want something, they usually just take it. They show very little concern for the feelings of others. They seek out extensions of power. Pencils, scissors, and rulers become weapons in their hands.
Children functioning at level 2 are a little easier to handle. They also represent only a small percent of the youngsters. They can be classified as having an individualistic morality. They can be very self-centered.
This is the reward and consequence level. These children behave either because they (a) will receive some sort of reward, or (b) don’t like what happens when they don’t behave. Most kids are moving beyond this level by the time they are 9-years-old. Older children who still function at this level do best in classrooms with assertive educators.
There is very little sense of self-discipline at this level. Like the power level kids, these youngsters need constant supervision. They may behave quite well in the classroom, and then be out of control in the hallway.
Children functioning at level 3 make up most of the youngsters in middle and junior high schools. These students have started to develop a sense of discipline. They behave because they are asked to.
This is the mutual interpersonal level. They care what others think about them, and they want you to like them.
These kids need gentle reminders. When the teacher asks them to settle down – they do. Assertive discipline works with these children because they understand it, but they rarely need such a heavy handed approach to classroom discipline.
Quite often you find children in the classroom that are in transition from level 2 to level 3. You may know of a child that gets into lots of trouble in other classrooms – but not in yours. This youngster is just learning to trust others and build the interpersonal relationships that are more common with his peers. Teachers need to let this particular student know that his good behavior is important to you not only in your class, but in others as well. Nurture this youngster, and you will see quick progress. Be unnecessarily assertive, and he will slip back to level 2.
Children functioning at level 4 rarely get into trouble. They have a sense of right and wrong. Although many middle school and junior high school children will occasionally function at this level, only a few consistently do. These are the youngsters teachers enjoy working with. The teacher can leave these students alone with a project and come back 30 minutes later and find them still on task. They behave because, in their minds, it is the right thing to do.
Children who function at level 4 do not appreciate assertive discipline. They are bothered by the fact that other children force educators to use so much class time dealing with discipline problems.
Although most children don’t usually operate at this level, they are near enough to it that they understand it. Cooperative learning activities encourage children to function at this level. Teachers who set-up several groups within the class give children a chance to practice working at this level (while the teacher waits close by, ready to step in if needed).
When you identify the level at which a child is functioning, you can then help that youngster work to the next level. It is a mistake to try and skip levels. Insisting that a level 1 child “get his act together” (similar to a level 4 child) is not a reasonable expectation. Instead, set your goal on level 2. You may be pleasantly surprised when you start to notice improvement.
Any youngster is capable of regressing every now and then. When you really get to know your children and are used to them functioning at a particular level, it is important to look for a reason when one of your children regresses. Problems with family members, friends, alcohol, or drugs may be behind a shift in behavior. It simply might be tiredness or the onset of illness. Whatever the cause, it is worth taking the time to talk with the child and see what’s going on.
Learning self-discipline is just like learning anything else. Your children aren’t always going to get it right the first time. So, teachers need to be patient with the process. Help them some more, and when you think they are ready, give it another try.
My Out-of-Control Child: Parenting and Teaching Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder