The behaviour question

6th January 2012 at 00:00

A boy in my class has been told he is not returning to his mother. He was known as a disruptive child when he was with her, but calmed down a lot when he went into foster care. I'm wondering how to handle him in the next week. He will do anything to get my attention: tapping, singing, making noises, kicking people. I know he is having a rough time. How can I avoid making it worse?

What you said


Talk to the class when the teaching assistant has taken this poor lad somewhere else for five minutes. Let them know he is having a tough time and needs everybody's help. Tell them he might be very naughty for a while because he wants people to notice him, but you want to notice him only for being good. He needs to learn that he gets absolutely nothing from anyone, including his friends, for being naughty and gets lots and lots for being good.


Get him to spend 10-15 minutes reading with a teaching assistant at the start of the day so he has a chance to talk about anything bothering him. I would also make him my right-hand man for taking the register back, pencil-sharpening and so on. However, I think it would be a mistake to ignore poor behaviour in this situation.

The expert view

This boy sounds like he is going through a rough time - and so, therefore, are you. But it's going to take courage to give this child what he needs and not just what he would like. There's a job to be done and it won't get done by appeasing his misbehaviour. If he's going to go through an extended period of social care, he needs somewhere rules exist and order prevails, populated by people he can trust to look out for his best interests. That place is school.

It's rough on him, it's rough on you, but what can you do? Make sure that when he misbehaves he is called out on it. And you're right, the temptation will be for him to misbehave to get you to look at him. So make sure that misbehaviour ends up with the exact opposite: when he misbehaves, or makes mooing sounds or whatever, there has to be a strategy in place whereby he is removed and taken to a place where he is in monitored isolation from his peers and the sunshine of your love.

Reintegration to the classroom has to be dependent on his acquiescence to your boundaries. That's how you enforce the rules without giving him the negative attention that, in his angry, confused child-mind, he mistakes for the esteem of others.

And make it clear that you want the best for him; that you want him to be good and you're so proud of him when he is. But now isn't a time to rely on "catching him being good".

He needs to know the difference between good and bad - and that falls, it seems, to you. If he doesn't learn self-restraint in your classroom, I fear he won't learn it anywhere else and the pattern of his life could be set at this frighteningly young age.

It's a grim, awful responsibility. But who knows? You might just be the person who steers him down a better path.

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

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