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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

Managing ODD Students in the Classroom: Issues and Solutions

Undermining the teacher’s authority: This is tricky as it speaks to "attitude." An ODD child might belittle the teacher or engage in a battle of the wills. This youngster would need to be privately told that his attitude was confrontational and asked how this might be resolved mutually. Be careful not to read most questions about content, interpretation, or assignments as a challenge of authority. Acting as it they are not, even when you suspect they are, can convey a sense of confidence and control. Sometimes merely assuring the youngster, while smiling, that you have indeed reflected on this issue at length and that he too will understand soon why the information or the assignment is valuable diffuses the situation. You may even want to encourage him to ask the question again at a later date if necessary.

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

Tips for Dealing with the Conduct Disorder Student

Needless to say, children with Conduct Disorder (CD) are frequently removed from class, suspended and/or expelled. They are often involved in physical altercations and may bring weapons to school. Children with CD have difficulty with interpersonal relationships and may be abusive to boyfriends/girlfriends. Because they are defiant, children with CD are often absent from school and have difficulty completing assignments.

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

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