The behaviour question

23rd September 2011 at 01:00

I have a very loud Year 1 class that is driving me mad with its 'he said, she said' stories. One boy, who has been mothered a lot, has tantrums where he ends up sobbing and upsetting the rest of the class. Should I make him sit on a special cushion when he behaves like that?

What you said


With the over-mothered child, don't compromise. Whenever the next tantrum comes, have a prepared strategy to deal with it. If at all possible, have a TA in the class who will take the child away as soon as the gale starts to blow, so he learns that big, dramatic gestures only result in his removal from an audience.


One school I worked in had sticker-time after break and lunch. Children had to nominate someone who had done something good for a sticker. All the attention-seeking children had to think of something good to "tell", which worked well.

The expert view

Be clear that tantrums are not going to work in your classroom. You are not going to play this game. To change the behaviour you need to remove the benefits of negative attention, directly address the tantrums, and teach new behaviours that work for the child and the class.

The instantaneous move to a thinking spot with a cushion, chair, mat or carpet gives the attention-seeking child all the physical cues they need to realise that something has gone wrong.

Do not speak to the child about their behaviour while they are crying. Be prepared to repeat the same lines and walk away for a minute or two: "I will come and speak to you when you have stopped crying", "Crying doesn't get you what you want here". Obviously, we are talking about persistent, deliberate crying and not crying due to genuine upset.

When the child has stopped crying (or at least the breaths in between have lengthened sufficiently), confront the behaviour. Run through the same script every time. Sustain your poker face; let the child know what they have done and which rule it contravenes. Practise a routine that is predictable, safe and easily repeatable. Most importantly, make sure he knows the behaviour you are looking for. Simple, consistent, repetitive rituals targeted at specific behaviours will accelerate change.

Refocus your reinforcement and reward around the tantrum behaviour, and take every opportunity to tell him "on" rather than "off". Mark the moment with the child with stickers, stamps and smiles. Send a note home with the child. Let everyone know that new behaviours are welcome and appreciated.

Deal with "he said, she said" triggers by refusing to discuss hearsay evidence in "learning time". Tell the children they can speak to you at lunchtime if they are still worried. You may find the clamour at the door at break reduces to a trickle by lunch.

Encourage all adults to send exactly the same message with the same words. At first, the child might try to elongate the sobbing to see if this will get them what they want. Expect and plan for this. Ride through the eye of the storm and the tantrums will slow and then stop. It might still work at home but it will never work in school.

Paul Dix is managing director of education training consultancy Pivotal Education.

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