Behavior Management Strategies For Disrespectful Students That Work

Behavior management strategies in the classroom can be undermined by a few students who thrive on being disruptive. Trying to manage a classroom and teach while a student is being rude and disruptive is a challenge many classroom teachers face. To compound the problem even more, some of these students are diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder {ODD) and don’t usually respond to typical behavior management strategies.

As a former school social worker, students were frequently sent to my office for misbehaving in class. Unfortunately, this meant that they missed valuable instruction time. When they did return to class, they couldn’t keep up with the lesson. They would resume their disruptive behaviors and again would have to leave the classroom. Sadly, for many students, this is a common cycle.

Initially, when these students were sent to me I felt pressure to ‘fix’ them and send them back to class ready to learn.  The truth is, there is no quick fix to manage children who are chronically rude, oppositional, and defiant. However, there are behavior management strategies that can decrease the frequency and intensity of their negative behaviors. The key is to implement these strategies appropriately and consistently.

Additionally, it’s important to have realistic expectations.  It would be wonderful if after a week of implementing these behavior management strategies that defiant students stop disrupting the class.  However, that’s not likely to happen. Change won’t occur overnight.  Behavior management strategies aren’t magic and educators aren’t miracle workers.

As mentioned before, some disrespectful students will have a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder while others won’t. The good thing is that these behavior management strategies will work for those students without an ODD diagnosis.

Understanding Opposition Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Behavior Management Strategies For Working With Oppositional Students

ODD is a common mental health disorder among children and adolescents. According to the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, ODD is “a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior directed towards authority figures.” Some common behaviors often exhibited by children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder includes:
• Frequent temper tantrums
• Excessive arguments with adults
• Refusing to comply with rules and requests
• Often questions rules
• Deliberately upset and annoy others
• Overly sensitive and easily annoyed by others
• Blames others for their mistakes
• Frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
• Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking

Behavior Management Strategies for Working with Rude, Defiant, and Oppositional Students

It’s important to remember that the goal of many oppositional and defiant students is to feel in control. If they feel threatened in any way, they will rebel, manipulate, and push limits until they believe they are in control. Here are a few behavior management strategies those working with oppositional students can implement to avoid power struggles.

1. Intervene at the first sign of trouble. When you are able to address a problem behavior as soon as it starts, you can prevent negative behaviors from escalating. For example, maybe a student starts tapping the chair of the student sitting in front of him with his foot. Rather than ignore this behavior, you can ask the student kicking the chair to help you with another task. You want to make sure the task is something they don’t mind doing. Preferably something that makes them feel important.

2. Address student in private. Kids who are oppositional and defiant love to put on a show. If they feel attacked or embarrassed in front of their peers they will up the ante and show out. It’s helpful to correct their behaviors out of earshot of other students. This might look like you walking by the student’s desk and whispering your directive to him or her.

3. Plan ahead. If a child is known to be oppositional and defiant in certain situations (i.e. during school assemblies), make a plan ahead of time as to how you will handle the situation. It’s hard to know how to react to a problem when you are caught off guard. When you have a plan in place, you are less likely to react to the student or take their behaviors personally.

Moreover, oppositional children thrive off control. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you are unsure of what to do and end up battling for control to maintain order in the classroom.

4. Be clear about rules, expectations, and consequences. Even though oppositional kids will test the limits no matter what, it’s important that they have a clear understanding of the rules and consequences for not meeting expectations. Clear rules and expectations allow you to be consistent in how you respond to disruptive students.
Some kids may need frequent reminders to help them remember the rules and benefit from having them posted or frequently reviewed.

5. Remain calm. It’s no secret that oppositional students are great at getting under people’s skin. They have a knack for pressing buttons and alienating others. They will challenge your authority by any means necessary, and that includes making personal attacks. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep a cool head when a child is referring to you by every name in the book except for the one that’s yours. In these moments, it’s important to remain calm and not react to the student.

The minute you let a defiant child get under your skin, you’ve lost control of the situation. The worst part…they will know it and will take complete advantage. Especially if they have a captive audience. Whatever you do, stay calm.

6. Praise positive behavior. When kids are rude and disrespectful it can be difficult to build a positive relationship with them. According to psychologist Carolyn Webster-Stratton, founder of The Incredible Years Series for Parents, Children, and Teachers, children who are oppositional develop poor relationships with teachers due to their aggressive and disruptive behaviors. Webster-Stratton (1993) found that because of their negative behaviors, oppositional students received less encouragement and support from their teachers.

Although it’s important to address bad behavior, it’s equally as important (or even more so) to recognize and praise disrespectful students when they exhibit positive behaviors. When students only get attention for acting out, they learn that if they want attention, all they have to do is misbehave. It doesn’t matter that they’re getting negative attention. What matters is that someone is paying them attention period.

Additionally, praising positive behaviors reinforces the behaviors you want to see and encourages the student to behave in that manner more often.

7. Maintain a positive home-school connection. It’s no surprise that parents of disrespectful and oppositional students get lots of phone calls home. However, when parents are only contacted when their child is misbehaving, it can be demoralizing. They may avoid calls and not show up for meetings because they assume you are going to bash their child. Understand that many parents struggle with guilt and view their child’s poor adjustment as a sign that they are inadequate parents.

You can remedy this by being empathetic towards parents. Don’t just call to complain about their child. Every now and then make a positive call home notifying parents of something positive their child did. Send an e-mail to check-in on how things are going at home with their child. Taking these extra steps reassures parents that you value their child and don’t just see them as a behavior problem. Parents won’t feel judged by you and will be more receptive to collaborating and supporting your efforts to help their child.

8. Create a calm down area. Having a calm down area in the classroom gives students a chance to use their coping skills to self-soothe. It also allows them to stay in the classroom during instruction time. Of course if a student is out of control (i.e. yelling, throwing things, etc.) sending them to a calm down area won’t help. Here are some tips for using a calm down area effectively.

9. Develop a safety plan with school officials. Sometimes it’s necessary to call in reinforcements when a student escalates to a point where they are a threat to you, other students, and themselves. Establish a safety plan with school officials and counselors for how to safely contain students when they escalate from being disrespectful to being destructive or physically aggressive.

This might be that you have the other students leave the classroom while disciplinary personnel de-escalate the situation. Whatever your plan, review it periodically to make sure everyone understands their role.

10. Create self-care plan. Working with kids who are rude and disruptive is draining to say the least. These students can test your patience and cause you a great deal of stress. Practicing regular self-care helps you manage your stress levels, promotes positive well-being, and prevents burnout. Check out these helpful self-care tips to get you started on creating a self-care plan.

What are some behavior management strategies you use when working with rude, defiant, and oppositional students?

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Behavior Management Strategies For Disrespectful Kids


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  1. I love this! I am an elementary art teacher near Boston MA. in my 29th year and found this to be right on the money.. Thank you for your article.

  2. Rhis is helpful
    I have seven high school junior boys in one class of 20, who do not care about anything to fo with learning. They are very smug and feed off of each other. I have used, and still use, many of these suggestions, but nonthing seems to matter to them. They have an audience, so they keep going.

    1. I am right there with you.
      My class is the last block of the day, study hall.
      No grades I can give and the only form of discipline a teacher can give is detention. That doesn’t phase them.
      Calling home is no help. It seems to always be the teachers fault or wrong number.
      I am sure their home life is difficult but so are the other 20 kids in the room. It is impossible to maintain any level of respect.

  3. I believe ODD is just a cop-out for parents who didn’t discipline their children consistently and firmly enough in their early years.
    We’ve created a disrespectful, entitled and self obsessed generation.
    Sure there’s the odd child exempt of this but 9/10 of these ‘ODD’ kids are a product of their parents lack of discipline.

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