The Behaviour Question

24th August 2012 at 01:00

I work in a specialist school and I have a new mixed class of Year 5 and 6 pupils who have moderate learning difficulties. One of the children has severe difficulties with turn-taking, playing games and socialising. He likes to control the classroom. If things don't go his way he can quickly turn on you. The resulting behaviour often includes violence and screaming aimed at both adults and children. Are there any special ways I should set my classroom up, or any activities I should introduce, to deal with this?

What you said


I would start with a circle time session every morning and after lunch. This would help with turn-taking and his sense of belonging, and help him to realise that everyone has a voice. You can introduce rules in these sessions, such as making sure that only one person speaks at a time, and also include games. Some circle time games are available online. Visit

The expert view

This sounds like hard work. There is a safety issue here, isn't there? If this child has to dominate (which he can't do here, obviously) and modifying this behaviour leads to violent tantrums, you need to be ready to intervene as soon as he starts to try to dominate and have a removal strategy ready to roll if he responds badly.

My fear is that any attempt to compromise with this pupil and to meet him halfway will have several damaging effects. For a start, the pupil learns that sometimes he can get away with behaving in a way that won't assist his integration into mainstream communities.

As far as possible this behaviour needs to be deterred, even though it's enormously hard work. But it's going to be a key skill throughout his life, and a potential deal-breaker in every other social context. If this child wants any life other than one of isolation and fringe existence, he needs adults to draw lines and boundaries, and then electrify them.

Also, the other pupils will see the dominance and feel that they have similar rights to rule the roost through aggression. And that's not something we want any child to learn.

My advice is to keep standing firm. Have others in the classroom to assist you. Have a safe place the pupil can be removed to, to teach him that participation in the group is conditional to compliance with group rules. While this may be tough on the child, it's a hell of a lot less tough than the alternative lifestyle. Also, allowing the pupil to remain in the classroom during tantrums is very hard on the other pupils. And you.

Good luck, and have a good summer.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Read more from Tom on his blog,, or follow him on Twitter at @tombennett71. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum

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