Do you spend more time managing behaviour than teaching? Are you at your wits’ end trying to control some of the children in your class?  These ten tips should help you gain control and get back to doing what you do best:  teach.


Rules are important to establish expectations of behaviour in the classroom.  Ideally, rules should be discussed and decided upon by the whole class, in order that the children understand why they’re needed.  They are more likely to abide by the rules if they are involved in writing them. Limit the number of rules to no more than 5 and make sure they are phrased positively. Rules should be clearly displayed and children reminded of them frequently.

Understanding the Behaviour

All behaviour happens for a reason and is a way for the child to communicate with us. We need to look beyond the behaviour to what’s driving it.  It’s important we address the causes of the challenging behaviour, rather than just managing it when it happens. By meeting the child’s needs, we can prevent it from happening again in the future.  Reflect on what happened and look for patterns by using an Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence (ABC) chart.  Be proactive, rather than reactive.

Building a Relationship 

According to James Comer, “No significant learning happens without a significant relationship”. Having a positive relationship also encourages the children to behave appropriately, and will make your behaviour strategies more effective.  Use every opportunity to get to know the children; greet them as they come in, find time out of the classroom at break time and lunch time to chat, show an interest in them and their lives.  Your interest may be rejected at first; you need to be committed to building trust. Little and often works best.


A countdown is useful at the end of an activity, as it gives children time to finish what they’re doing.  For example, 5…. Finish the sentence you’re on, 4…. Put your pens down, etc.  This is especially important for children with additional needs or attachment issues as they find change and transition particularly difficult.  Countdowns are also useful for getting the children’s attention.  For example, “Give me 5” (show high 5 with your hand):  5… Eyes on me, 4 … Ears listening, etc.  A “High 5 hand” listing the steps can also be displayed on the wall.


The ‘Attention Rule’ states that what we give attention to, we will get more of. Children strive for our attention and if they’re not getting it for positive behaviour they will often resort to negative behaviour.  This means that effective praise is a really powerful strategy.  Make sure praise is genuine, immediate and labelled, e.g., “Well done for putting your hand up, Zach.”  Use proximity praise to make sure attention is given to those doing what you’ve asked; praise the ones lining up on either side of the child who isn’t. Praise the challenging children more often – spot the good. Use more subtle praise for those who find it hard to accept; thumbs up, pat on the back, wink.

Tactical Ignoring 

The Attention Rule also means that tactical ignoring works well to eliminate unwanted low-level behaviours, but it’s not easy.  Start by saying what you want; “Hands up, who knows…” then ignore those who are calling out.  Ignoring means no interaction; no glowering, raised eyebrows, tutting. The ignored behaviour will usually get worse before it gets better, as the child seeks the point at which you will give in.  You must continue to ignore until the behaviour stops, then make sure you look for the next opportunity to praise.

Secondary Behaviours 

These are the additional behaviours that children engage in, often in protest to doing something you’ve asked.  For example, putting their gum in the bin but kicking a chair on the way past, or rolling their eyes, or muttering under their breath.  They’re trying to get a response out of you but if they’re doing what you’ve asked, don’t rise to the provocation of any secondary behaviour; ignore it and use labelled praise for doing what you’ve asked them to do. You can always make a note of and address the secondary behaviour later.


Using choices is a great way to get the behaviour you want, whilst teaching children to take responsibility for their actions. For example, “You can either put the football cards away in your drawer, or put them on my desk. It’s up to you, it’s your choice.” You could also add a consequence – make sure it’s logical –  which helps children learn that their choices have consequences and teaches them to make good choices, e.g. “You can either continue to play with your football cards and I will take them away until the end of the day, or you can put them in your drawer now and then take them out at break. It’s up to you, it’s your choice.”

‘When – Then’

‘When-Then’ is another great strategy for getting the behaviour you want, without nagging. However, the ‘Then’ must be something the child wants to do, e.g., “When you have finished that sentence, then you can go out to break”.  By using ‘When’ instead of ‘If’, there is an assumption that the child will do what they have been told to do and there is no room for argument. If the child does try to argue, just repeat the statement like a “broken record”.

Clear Instructions & Positive Language 

Often, the way we give instructions to children is not as clear as it could be.  Remember, children are usually very literal.  If we say to them, “Would you like to put your books away now?” they could quite easily say, “No.” Don’t phrase instructions as a question, simply say, “Put your books away, thank you.” Saying ‘thank you’ assumes compliance, whereas, ‘please’ sounds like you are asking and not necessarily expecting compliance.  When giving a child an instruction, use their name to ensure you have their attention.

Always use positive language; say what you want, not what you don’t want.  If you say, “Don’t run”, children hear ‘run’, so instead say, “Walk, please”.  Children are more likely to do what they hear you say, as mentioned above for rules.

We hope these tips are useful starters for taming the children in your class! Remember not to take it personally as all behaviour is for a reason.  Think about WHY the child is behaving the way they are.  It might be the only way they can think of to express their needs.  We need to understand them to make our behaviour management strategies most effective.

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