What happens if my child is…. Being disruptive?

Ludworth Primary School
What happens if my child is…. Being disruptive?
Disruptive behaviour goes beyond normal, naughty behaviour. Sometimes a child can disturb the
classroom so much that neither the child concerned nor other children can learn. Disruptive behaviour
concerns teachers, children and parents. So how does a teacher cope? And what is the effect on
other children? This article provides you with background information about this important problem.
You will see that we have used ‘he’ for children and ‘she’ for teachers – this is just to make it easier to
Why are some children disruptive?
Nearly every child has the odd naughty moment, but most like to please their teachers and their
parents. They aren’t really happy when they’re misbehaving. However, there are a few children who at
some time during their school career seem to take up more than their fair share of the teacher’s
time. They are noisy and restless and they stop other children from learning. There is usually a good
reason for this kind of behaviour. There are three important causes of disruptive behaviour and each
one is linked with some kind of unhappiness.
Problems at home.
Problems at school or in the classroom.
Physical or mental problems.
These true stories show an example of each.
Problems at home
Gary is seven years old. He is very quiet in class, but can be touchy. He sometimes explodes in rage.
He used to work well, but in the last six months his work has gone off and he no longer seems to try.
Gary’s dad left home, but no-one explained his disappearance to Gary. His mum now has a new
boyfriend who sometimes stays for the weekend, bringing his two younger children with him. Gary no
longer knows his place as his world seems to have been turned upside down. His uncertainty shows
itself in his withdrawn behaviour, but can cause him to become very angry with other people for no
apparent reason.
School and home need to talk together to work out a way of explaining to Gary all the things that have
happened. He might need professional help provided by medical services. His mum might also need
some help. It might cause Gary too much pressure to work at his usual level of achievement. He might
need easier work for a time, so that he can complete tasks and feel he has achieved something.
Problems at school
Daisy is five years old. She has recently started school, but she pushes other children away, grabs
toys and equipment, won’t let anyone else in the sand-tray, and hits out at others who try to play with
her. She is an only child and didn’t attend playgroup or nursery. She has never had to learn how to get
along with other children. Her mum wanted her at home with her.
Daisy must learn how to share. In school she will need to learn by working alongside other children
with an adult showing her how to take turns and share equipment. Her mum will have to be encouraged
to let Daisy mix and take her share of the rough and tumbles of life.
Physical or mental problems
Ben is eight years old. He is always talking to the others on his table. He does little or no work and
although he starts lots of tasks he never seems to finish any of them. Ben is constantly on the move.
He doesn’t sleep much and can’t even concentrate on computer games or television. He can’t settle
with one friend. Ben has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Ben’s parents and the school need
support and advice from medical and psychological services.
These children don’t want to be disruptive. They would much rather be happy and accepted like their
classmates. In fact, being disruptive makes them even more unhappy. But that doesn’t make it any
easier for them, for their friends, or for their teacher.
How does a teacher deal with a child who’s being disruptive?
Provided the classroom is well organised and the teacher and pupils get on well together, one child
exhibiting low-medium level disruption shouldn’t stop the rest from learning. Disruptive behaviour is
often a short-term problem which goes away in time, for example if a child is finding the work too
difficult. However, if it doesn’t get any better then you can expect us to step in and make sure other
children aren’t suffering!
Step One – the class teacher keeps a careful watch on the child to find out when and why the
disruptive behaviour occurs. She might keep a diary in which outbursts are recorded. She is
trying to find out what triggers difficult behaviour.
Step Two – once the teacher has gathered the information, the school will call a meeting with
the child’s parents to pool information and decide what is to be done. The school might decide
that further help is needed and ask the parents’ permission to involve outsiders, such as the
family GP or the educational psychologist. This is a very sensitive matter and the school will
follow the guidelines laid down by the local authority so that it is dealt with properly.
Step Three – our school, with the help of the parents and the outside agencies, will come up
with a plan to help the child. The plan will have clear targets and we will check those targets
regularly to make sure it is working. If the problem is very bad, we may decide to draft in
extra help to work alongside the pupil and to ensure that the other children in the class can
get on with their work undisturbed.
How we as a school try to change disruptive behaviour
Time out
If a pupil has lost control of his own emotions, he may be taken out of the classroom to work
somewhere else, for example an area just beyond the classroom or another teacher’s room. For many
children this gives them the space they need to get a grip of themselves and they can usually go back
and continue the lesson. Young children will need to have an adult with them throughout to explain why
they are being removed, when they can go back and how they will be expected to behave when they do
Reward systems
The teacher and child between them decide what has to change. Every time he succeeds, he collects a
sticker. If he collects enough stickers during a morning, or a day, or a week he earns a reward. This
works well, provided that other children in the class understand why he is getting special treatment.
They need to know that their own good behaviour will also be rewarded.
Circle time
In some schools friends help children to change their behaviour. Usually this will happen in something
called ‘circle time’. They discuss the issue as a whole class and come up with ways of helping. This can
benefit both sides. The disruptive child gets support and class members, with the guidance of the
teacher, get some useful experience in dealing with difficult situations.
Usually simple measures will help the disruptive child to settle down. But occasionally a disruptive
child proves very difficult to contain and other children suffer. The teacher has to spend so much
time on him in class that others don’t get the help they need. Or he makes it hard for other children
to concentrate in lessons or to enjoy playtime. If the action plan doesn’t work, then we have to
consider more drastic measures.
Exclusion means that a child is not allowed to be in school for a certain amount of time, for example at
a particular time of the day or for a limited period of a day or several days. This can give teachers
and classmates a breathing space and allows the school and the parents to get together to decide
what is to be done in the long term. Permanent exclusion is the very last resort and we use it only
when all other options have been tried and failed.
To Sum Up…
Much disruption is not from being bad on purpose. Behind disruptive behaviour lie problems which a
child is unable to solve. Teachers have many ways to help them manage difficult behaviour and these
are successful in nine cases out of ten. The other children in the class and the child’s parents or
carers have important parts to play in helping the disruption to settle down.
Roary Pownall, Headteacher, Ludworth Primary School