Behaviour - Disarm the weapons of class disruption

Bad behaviour in primary children can be just as challenging as teenage stroppiness, but tackling it calls for special tactics

My non-teacher friends are of the view that those confronting stroppy teenagers should be allowed to use any means necessary to maintain order. "Where there are weapons of class disruption, let teachers use shock and roar," they cry. However, when I tell them that Nathan (aged 7) painted his face orange, then hid under a table and refused to come out - as disruptive to my class as a stroppy teen is in a secondary school - they laugh hysterically.

What these friends don't understand is that, as children grow up, they find new boundaries to push against and different ways to misbehave. When my daughter was 3 she would lie down in large department stores and scream. When she was 8 she restyled her friend's hair with a pair of kitchen scissors. When she was 15, and her parents had ruined her life, she barricaded herself in her room and subjected the entire street to Westlife.

Common sense dictates that if the ways in which children misbehave are age-related, how we respond to them must be age-related, too. None of us would deal with a naughty five-year-old in the same way we would a stroppy 15-year-old. The problem for primary teachers is that while there are more behaviour schemes than you can comfortably fit on several naughty steps, they are mostly written with older students in mind. Very few are aimed specifically at younger children.

Here, then, is my attempt to start filling the void with a short guide to dealing with the Five Weapons of Class Disruption in the primary classroom.

Calling out

This is rude, unfair and a pain in the backside. Where there is harmony it brings discord; where there is order it brings chaos; where there is a lesson observation it brings the threat of capability procedures. And while the war against it must be waged through consistent and unremitting application of the "no calling out" rule, it is occasionally worth trying something different. A fun thing you can do is to allow the child to be the teacher while you pretend to be a child. This way you not only teach a valuable lesson but get your own back, too.

Class clowns

Daniel once wore a gorilla mask to school and spoke only chimpanzee. This made a pleasant change from his usual repertoire of silly noises, weird faces and farting sounds. Of course, class clowns crave the attention of other children and therefore cannot be disarmed by tactical ignoring. Punishments don't work either because, in the entertainment business, there is no such thing as bad publicity. The best thing to do is to applaud their talents, suggest that you could give them a few career tips over break and, finally, reward them with a 10-minute slot just before home time. This will keep everybody amused while you tidy up.

Stealing stuff

Are your precious resources going AWOL? Is Ryan's pencil case missing, presumed stolen? Was Amy's Justin Bieber sticker chart lost in action? Well, forget hardened criminals and think gullible primary children. For example, my class are convinced that those little sensors on the ceiling are spy cameras. They also know that if missing items have not been found and returned to their owners before the end of school, the tapes will be examined, culprits identified and the police informed.


When you are in a hole, the golden rule is to stop digging. When children answer back or refuse to follow instructions, it is tempting to argue with them. But answering back those who answer back leads only to more answering back. And there is no sight more unedifying than a primary teacher-turned-sergeant major bellowing in the face of a small child who is happy to bellow back. Instead, breathe deeply, stay calm and repeat your instruction clearly and firmly. And when you do this, remember: don't say please, expect obedience and add a brief thank you at the end.


Physically stopping small children from fighting isn't hard. The problem is negotiating a permanent ceasefire. My advice is to wait for the sobbing and recriminations to die down, then insist the warring parties shake hands and apologise. Next, demand they hug. Last, order them to give each other a big wet kiss. They won't, of course, but, like my non-teacher friends when I tell them about Nathan's behaviour, they will end up laughing.

Steve Eddison teaches children aged 7-11 at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

What else?

Has your primary class gone native? Find out how to tame them from this blog.

Teachers discuss age-specific sanctions in this TES Connect forum.

In short

  • There are key differences between how children under and over 11 behave, and different reasons behind those behaviours.
  • As a result, using the same behaviour management policy across the two age groups is rarely a successful, or advisable, tactic.
  • Therefore, a bespoke way of dealing with problems has to be devised for younger children - one that is centred less on being a sergeant major and more on using humour, subterfuge and compromise.

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