Managing Disruptive Behaviors in the Classroom

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on March 13, 2012 9:49 am

The classroom is a rapidly shifting and volatile environment.   “It is essential to this learning environment that respect for the rights of others seeking to learn, respect for the professionalism of the instructor (teacher), and the general goals of academic freedom are maintained.  Occasionally, faculty members find that they can not provide effective classroom instruction because of disruptions.” (Butler University, 2012, Online)

When a child is disruptive in the classroom, this can cause other children to perform poorly, as well as, igniting other children to become agitated, emotionally distraught, and insecure in the safety of their classroom.  Unfortunately, disruptive behaviors act as a bong vibrating throughout the learning environment. 

Disruptive children may or may not recognize the repercussions of their behaviors, attitudes and perceptions. “Children who have habits of behaving in hostile and aggressive ways are almost universally disliked.  They are disliked by their peers, siblings, neighbors, teachers and not infrequently by their parents.” (Braman, p. 149, 1997)  Regrettably, disruptive children are often lost to their own negative behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions.  Leaving an impression upon the child that they are worthless, underserving, and alone.    “The habitually hostile child learns early that his (her) behaviors is not going to earn him (her) the love and affection he (she) so desperately wants.” (Braman, p.149, 1997) 

A child’s disruptive behaviors can detract from a child’s ability to thrive in the classroom. Moreover, disruptive children are often placed in behavioral modified learning environments, which only imprints the idea that they are incapable of functioning in a traditional classroom.  


1. Personal attacks in the classroom

2. The use of electronic devices such as cell phones, IPods, PDAs, MP3 Players, Gameboys, Laptops, etc.

3. Students leaving the classroom without permission.

4. Students talking while the teacher is talking or instructing other students.

5. Persistent tardiness to the classroom, school, or other academic related activities.

6. Students sleeping in the classroom

7. Ignoring a teachers direct and indirect instructions

8. Students questioning or arguing with a teacher or another academic authority.

9. The creation of unreasonable and controllable noise, sounds; a basic pandemonium in the classroom.

10. Students being aggressive, hostile, or showing haughty behaviors.

11. Students acting out through screaming, shouting, arguing, or being belligerent.

12. Any form of bullying by a student, teacher, parent, or another in an academic setting.


1. Know the policies and procedures of your school system.

2. Does your school system have a behavioral policy in place?

3. Are there training opportunities in place to manage disruptive behaviors?

4. Does your school system have a school counsellor or school psychologist for students? Staff? If not, do you have access to a therapist through an employment and family assistance program, EFAP?

5. Know the protocols for setting up a team meeting for a disruptive child.

It is not uncommon for disruptive students to have a challenging home life.  Get to know your student’s familial environment. While Statistics Canada will no longer be collecting data on divorce and marriage (The Globe and Mail, 2011, Online); children whose parents have divorced or separated have a higher likelihood of behavioral issues.  Moreover, familial environments that are inundated with abuse have a higher probability of affecting a child’s outlook, perceptions and behavioral responses.  “Before we can decide who to handle a problem we are having with another person, we first need to understand what the other person was thinking or why she (he) acted the way that she (he) did.” (Seligman, p. 246, 1995) Therefore, when we approach a child who is being disruptive, we should have a macro-picture of the child.


1. Respectful communication is key to de-escalating a hostile environment.

2. As a teacher, be assertive but respectful when dealing with a disruptive student.

3. Teachers should create and set healthy boundaries for all children.

4. Active listening is essential in the classroom.

5. All children need positive role models. 

6. When disciplining a child, offer positive praise, as well as positive correction. 

7. Be aware of your verbal and nonverbal communication. 

8. Always inform the child of their negative behavior and consequences that may follow.

9. Recognize your personal limitations.  Ask for help!

10. Consider using de-escalating techniques such as breathing and meditation. 

11. Avoid using aggressive communication both verbally and nonverbally. 

12. Acknowledge when a disruptive child is displaying positive traits, behaviors, and attitudes. Do not avoid complimenting a disruptive child.  Reinforce positive behaviors, attitudes and perceptions.

13. Be an advocate for all children. 

As a teacher or school administrator, we should work towards the best interests and outcomes for all students.  All-to-often, children who are disruptive are considered a nuance and a distraction. By the time a child enters disciplinary action, their teachers and school administrators are looking for strategies to curtail the child’s negative behaviors, rather than seeking to illuminate the positive in the life of the child.  We forget to acknowledge the child’s worth and goodness. It is important that both occur simultaneously, allowing for action to occur to correct the negative behavior, while uplifting the child’s worth and goodness.  Sadly, children who are problems in the classroom rarely gain “positive” feedback because of their disruptive behaviors.  This strategy frequently backfires instilling into the child a sense of worthlessness. 

Children thrive upon positivity. “The key to changing things often turns out to be interrupting the cycle by catching a disruptive child behaving appropriately and heaping on positive attention/rewards for even rare praiseworthy behavior.” (Brodkin, 2012, Online)


Braman, O. R. (1997) The oppositional child. Indiana: Kidsrights

Brodkin, A. M. (2012) Hot topics: Managing disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Retrieved March 10, 2012 from

Butler University (2012) Addressing classroom disruption. Retrieved March 11, 2012 from

Grant, T. (2011) Statistics Canada to stop tracking marriage and divorce rates. Retrieved March 11, 2012 from

Seligman, M. E. (1995) The optimistic child, A revolutionary program that safeguards children against depression and builds lifelong resilience. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company

The University of Wisconsin (2012) Addressing disruptive children behaviors: A guide for instructors Retrieved March 9, 2012 from

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

12 comments on “Managing Disruptive Behaviors in the Classroom”

  1. Anne Oliver says:

    Dear Asa,
    Thank you for your comments on classroom behavior. It has been a long time since my children were in school, but from friends who are teachers, I hear lots about these types of problems and the lifelong effects of not addressing these issues. Teachers and parents would gain insight from this very good article.

    1. Dear Anne Oliver,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. It is a real shame that these sorts of behaviors continue to plague so many classroom environments. While you have children who are no longer in school, your voice can act as a positive influence on those struggling to develop positive learning environments.

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and efforts.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  2. Dr Jeff Peimer says:

    Dear Asa

    I am not involved in teaching, but have recently become involved in youth mental health work and I find, regarding point no:5 the lack of effective role models, and extremely prevalent a sad phenomenon. It maybe highlights how we should be working with parents in a therapeutic sense when dealing with problem kids.

    1. Dear Dr. Jeff Peimer,

      Thank you for taking the time to review and offer your feedback. It’s true when there’s a lack of “effective role models” children needs become lost. Moreover, it is a sad phenomenon, but fortunately, this phenomenon does not have to cease with difficulty. Furthermore, we are capable of employing positive boundaries and influences that help develop the positive that is so lacking.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

    2. Lina says:

      This seems like a huge controversy with teehracs and parents. Some argue that television and the internet is bad for their education while others considered it beneficial. I have to agree with both and say that it depends on how old the children, the program/website the children are watching, and how long they are watching the program/ on the internet. If the television/internet is educational and promoting interaction, what is the big deal?The problem you see is that children are spending too much time on these electronics and not enough time reading. I see that with the new generation of children, technology will advance and the children will adapt to the technology. The advancement in technology will incorporate reading and an e-reader will not be unusual to them. However, the problems of not becoming physically active, not being socially active and reading less should promote the parents/teehracs to monitor the children’s activities and encourage the activities for development.

      1. Dear Lina

        I am certainly appreciative of your time and feedback. I wholeheartedly agree that “The problem you see is that children are spending too much time on these electronics and not enough time reading.” The importance of reading and technology are unequivocally equal, neither trumping the other, because both offer positive merits for the life of the child.

        Again, I am sincerely appreciative of your time and review.

        Warm Regards,

        Dr. Asa Don Brown

  3. Tracy says:

    Thank you for your discussion of an often overlooked topic. Unacceptable behaviour can go viral in a classroom and school disrupting everyone’s learning environment. If these behaviours are not addressed effectively and efficiently they can spiral out of control. Disruptive behaviours are also evident outside the academic environment and can be as destructive. These non-productive behaviours in the work place and/or the home also need to be addressed to create a functional environment.

    Thank you again for your discussion


    1. Dear Tracy,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and personal feedback. You hit the matter upon the head; “unacceptable behaviour can go viral in a classroom and school disrupting effectively and efficiently they can spiral out of control.”

      I also agree that it’s creating such insulators that will provide for a functional environment.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. Thank you for addressing an essential and tragically underdiscussed topic! Interpersonal communication skills (active listening and conflict mediation) benefit from the same focus, instruction, patience, confidence and optimism as other skills. Too frequently parents and teachers simply demand and discipline. Foundational to teaching and inspiring respect is remembering that behind every behavior is a positive intention. If an instructor teaches disdain and condemnation to 30 students while “disciplining” one who is disruptive – the whole world loses.

    1. Dear Mariaine Cover,

      I am certainly appreciative of your time and feedback. It is intriguing how “too frequently parents and teachers simply demand and discipline.” Before acting or reacting, we need to be certain that we are not merely striking out at a child or group of children; rather seeking to offer a “positive” remedy for the negative behavior.

      Mariaine Cover, I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  5. Leah says:

    What your article says is so true Dr.Brown. It is almost like the disruption is contagious.
    Teachers or counselors could all benefit from reading this article. I have seen extremes in the type discipline used in the classroom from a teacher ignoring the offender to very negative type disciple, neither beneficial to the class or the offender.

    1. Dear Leah,

      Thank you for your time and feedback. I too have witnessed a broad array of discipline types used in schools. I agree that neither negative discipline nor ignoring a student is beneficial in the classroom setting.

      Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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