It used to be said that EBD stood for Extremely Bloody Difficult, Every Blinkin' Day because many children labelled with emotional and behavioural difficulties are often more openly hostile and defiant than traditional learners. Here are tips for working with extreme defiance.
1. Make sure they understand that they are responsible for their actions no matter that "she started it", "I'm tired" or "I've got ADHD".
Always start by giving the impression that you assume difficult children can behave well: inappropriate behaviour is not pre-ordained. Let them know that they are responsible for their behaviour, actions and language. If they hit or swear at somebody, it wasn't the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder that did it - they did. Some children, however, will need more help than others about making appropriate choices.
2. Be consistent in your approach and handle disruptions with a response that includes no emotion and not too much talking. Consider non-aggressive body language and offer the child an escape hatch to calm down.
Don't allow the child to get you frustrated or angry. You may then start behaving in a similar way to the child.
3. Sometimes look for a compromise. Very defiant children are into power. Let them save face by providing them with two options, where either is OK with you.
Most children are looking to do a deal after the initial blow out. Be prepared to allow it, especially if health and safety issues are not involved.
4. Know that your job is to set boundaries, but the child's job is to test them. Use assertiveness as opposed to aggressiveness, but eliminate sarcasm and other put-downs. This should be obvious, but it's worth reminding yourself and the rest of the staff.
5. If it's not working in class, get to know the child better. "Everybody has a price" and "everybody listens to someone". Find out what motivates and influences them.
This may take some time, but it is worth doing because it can lead to a much more effective relationship.
Remember: don't take it personally - it's not about you, it's about them.
Fin O'Regan is a behaviour and learning consultant and former head of the Centre Academy School, a specialist school for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Clapham, south London.