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Managing the Disruptive Student

Managing children who are disruptive, those who lack motivation and appear as though they would rather be any place than in the classroom, is easier when teachers take the right stance. Anything is possible when teachers have faith in the children they teach. Learning starts with a dedicated teacher interested in meeting the challenge of how to present content in a way that successfully navigates the barriers defiant children erect.

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

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