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What's their problem?

Handling a child with emotional or behavioural difficulties is never easy, but there are ways to help them. Gill Moore offers advice

Significant numbers of children with special needs have emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBDs) - 18 per cent in primary schools and 30 per cent in secondary schools.

There is no absolute definition of EBD, which can range from challenging behaviour to serious mental illness.

Children with EBD are often in a state of high anxiety. This makes it difficult for them to concentrate. They may be restless and have difficulty following instructions. Some may have been abused and find it hard to form relationships because they have learned not to trust adults.

They may suffer from a lack of sleep because of poor housing, rowdy adults or spending the evening in front of a TV or computer, and have an unhealthy diet.

Children leading disrupted lives may be upset by changes of routine. They may try to protect themselves by adopting an "I don't really care"

attitude. Aggression and swaggering rudeness often mask their deep insecurities. Children may be afraid of new situations and learning in case they fail.

Children may see themselves only as victims, and may not have any responsibility for their own actions. Often pupils have not learned appropriate ways to express themselves. They may lack grammatical skills and have a poor vocabulary. They become easily frustrated when trying to make a point. And they lash out when things go wrong for them because they have poor negotiating skills.

Rudeness and aggressive gestures and language have been learned from poor role models at home, among peers or in the media. Children may have to grapple with different sets of values and standards between home and school.

However, not all parents are to blame. Often they struggle too. Children with EBD may have missed a lot of their schooling through absence or exclusion. One specific problem is Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. This can result in a child who is restless and fidgety, cannot concentrate, may talk too much, and rarely finishes a task. Such children often behave impulsively, and do not foresee the consequences of their actions in school or at home.

As they get older, their behaviour may become more antisocial, and include aggressiveness and bad language. Their difficulty in organising themselves and foreseeing consequences makes their lives seem chaotic Gill Moore is a lecturer in basic skills and SEN governor


Work with family carers, support staff, and other professional services. A home-school diary may help you to engage parents and work on targets together. Watch out for children who try to play adults off against each other.

Work on your own communication strategies. Develop your emotional awareness and listening skills. Try not to demonise children.

Model good behaviour, polite responses and respect for individuals.

Understand what triggers a child's behaviour, good and bad. Keeping a diary which includes what happened before the event as well as the behaviour itself may help you spot patterns. Try to pre-empt situations which trigger bad behaviour. Changing seating arrangements or playtime routines can help.

Be consistent with the child. Agree rules, sanctions and rewards which are applied throughout the school by all staff.

Identify and agree with the pupil which behaviours are not acceptable and why. Enable success. Reward good behaviour and give opportunities to practise it.

Try to help children see the link between cause and effect, and take responsibility for their behaviour and their learning.

Ask a teacher you respect to act as a mentor. Get them to observe in your classroom and make suggestions, or ask to observe them. Older children can benefit from a mentor. Use time out and cooling off periods if things get fraught.

Don't get overtired: find different ways of relieving stress.

Further help

Could the pupil be the victim of abuse? "What to do if you are worried that a child is being abused" can be downloaded from

How to adapt literacy and numeracy hours at KS2 for EBD pupils: "Preventing behaviour problems: what works" is available from UNESCO. Visit www.ibe.unesco.orgpublicationsEducationa* PracticesSeriesPdfprac08e.pdf.

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