The Behaviour Question

Tom Bennett

An eight-year-old child in my class has recently started to self-harm, by hitting their head against walls, scratching and punching solid objects to the point at which knuckles are grazed. I have numerous strategies in place but I have now exhausted these and it feels as if they are no longer supporting the child. I feel clueless as to my next steps. There are complications that make it very difficult to convey the problem to the parents. This self-harming is distressing not only for the child, but also for the rest of the class and for me. I am in my first year of teaching.


I would recommend keeping a daily log of all concerns and incidents involving this child. Sometimes people outside your classroom can fail to realise the impact on youyour class and having evidence in black and white can hammer it home.


Have you had a formal meeting with the local authority behaviour support service and asked for advice? They should have someone who can observe and advise you. As you are in your first year, you should also have a mentor with whom you have regular meetings, who should be your point of liaison for the senior leadership team.

The expert answer

Huge sympathy to you with this situation. It sounds like you're doing a dreadfully difficult job with a very challenging child - especially in your first year.

This child's issues sound beyond the capabilities of a classroom teacher alone to solve. At this stage, you need to become a part of the process rather than the sole guardian of the process.

You cannot be expected to both teach this class and manage this child's needs.

I would have said that the parents should have been involved at a far earlier stage in the process but, from what you imply, there are complications that preclude this. I take your word that this is the case, as it would be standard procedure to investigate the background to this behaviour and see if there was an integrated school-home solution.

My advice is to refer the case to your line managers, the senior staff and especially the designated child protection officer in your school. All schools have to have one. They act as a conduit and liaison between the school, child services, social services and home. They are also trained to get in touch with the right people. This behaviour may be an expression of abuse at home, a desperate cry for attention for a number of reasons, a sign of mental illness - or perhaps something more innocent.

When this child harms, I expect they get a great deal of attention. Perhaps this is the reason - if no one pays them attention at home they may want a simple way of getting sympathy.

It is too delicate and too complex a challenge to face alone. I am sure you're doing your absolute best with your class and this pupil. It's time to get others involved to shoulder the burden, and get this child the help they need.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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Tom Bennett

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