19th February 2010 at 00:00

An intelligent but devious Year 3 boy from a single-parent home is making my life hell. He says: 'I'm the naughtiest boy and I'm famous' and the other kids love him. What should I do?

This kind of behaviour is enough to rile the most patient of teachers, but reacting emotionally will only aggravate the situation. "Try to adjust your mindset and, rather than blaming the child, take a step back and make a plan that takes away assumptions about behaviour and intent," says Paul Dix, lead trainer at Pivotal Education behaviour consultancy. "Suck out the emotion from the situation and search for a way forward that is rational, intelligent and empathetic."

Behaviour of this sort may be indicative of low self-esteem and therefore punishing a child is not always an effective approach. Instead, seek to reinforce positive behaviour that you would like to see.

"This is an intelligent child. He is eloquent, reflective and independent," says Mr Dix. "However, he's not using his intelligence in the best way. Counter the pretence of him being the 'worst child in the school' by highlighting his intelligence over his behaviour."

Rewarding positive behaviour is often more effective than issuing disciplinary sanctions, says Steve Mills, deputy head of William Ransom Primary School in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and winner of last year's BT award for Teacher of the Year in a Primary School.

"You should start ignoring the negative behaviour. It takes a very strong teacher to do that. Establish a class culture where you ignore the boy's bad behaviour but heap on praise as soon as he does something positive," Mr Mills says.

By making him the centre of attention when he has completed a set task, you satisfy his desire for attention, adds Mr Mills. Crucially, however, it is on your terms, thereby enabling you to gain greater control of the classroom. A system of positive rewards should benefit not only him but the rest of the class.

If a child is not responding to traditional lessons, look for imaginative ways to encourage literacy, says Dr Terry Haydn, reader in education at the University of East Anglia and author of Managing Pupil Behaviour. "Try to build into lessons things for all the children that are not dependent on writing. Children like expressing themselves digitally through soundbites, Twitter, texting and voice threads. By making the format varied you may lure him into literacy."

Coming from a single-parent family, the child's disruptive behaviour may stem from the absence of a male figure in his life. This can contribute enormously to a child's lack of self-esteem. Mr Dix suggests that the teacher should team him up with a male mentor to show him how to behave appropriately. "If you can't find a suitable adult male role model, try encouraging a peer mentor relationship with a Year 6 child," he says.

As a further measure, Mr Mills suggests that the teacher recommends the involvement of external agencies. A parent support worker could help the mother to implement effective behaviour strategies at home. Better discipline out of school would encourage better communication between the school and family, and reinforce behaviour-management techniques used by the school.

However, there is no short-term solution to this problem. Above all, the teacher needs to be patient, says Dr Haydn. "Continually and consistently try to reinforce the same messages with the hope that, with a bit of maturity and less gratification, his behaviour will change."

Keep looking for initiatives to engage with the pupil. Dr Haydn says: "Behaviour management is the 'art of the possible'. Unfortunately there is no single magic answer to the problem, but approach it with continual patience, remorselessness and resourcefulness and you may succeed."


- Reward positive behaviour with praise.

- Boost self-esteem by setting attainable goals.

- Look for new ways to engage the pupil's interest in writing.

- Set up a male mentor scheme.


- Allow the pupil to become the centre of attention for his negative behaviour.

Next week classroom accidents.

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