How to Handle Misbehaviour at School

Written By

Shannon Wassenaar
April 16, 2024

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Tom is an active third-grade student. His parents would describe him as a “busybody.” He’s always exploring the outdoors, playing sports, and building model aeroplanes. 

Tom struggles to sit still for long periods, especially at school. He gets lots of silly energy in class, and his antics make his friends and classmates laugh.

His teachers often remind him to be quiet, sit still, or get back to work.

When he struggles to listen to his teachers, his recess privileges are taken away. 

Being inside for recess makes sitting still and quiet in class even harder. Tom gets more rowdy and disruptive, which often ends with a trip to the principal’s office. 

Tom is getting stuck in a cycle, and something needs to change!

Misbehaviour at school can be really hard to solve. Gathering information from your child and teachers to get to the root of the problem and coming to a fair and reasonable solution can feel challenging. 

The purpose of this blog is to help parents and teachers better understand why challenging behaviour is happening at school and help guide them to make gathering information and collaborating with each other more effective.

Why Your Child Is Misbehaving

Behaviour is communication. When kids misbehave at school, it’s important to ask: what could this behaviour be trying to say? 

Kids don’t misbehave to be “bad” or manipulate their teachers. Their behaviour helps them communicate a deeper need, whether it’s the need for connection, attention, hunger, movement, rest or a release of feelings. 

Here are a few common reasons kids misbehave at school:

  • Testing the teachers’ boundaries.
  • Insecurities or lack of confidence.  
  • Copying their peers.
  • Physical discomfort (hunger, illness, pain or fatigue).
  • Lack of emotional regulation skills. 
  • A desire for more autonomy. 
  • Relationship conflict with parents or friends. 
  • Learning or attention difficulties. 

In Tom’s case, his behaviour might be communicating:

  • I wonder what will happen if I tap this pencil on my desk. 
  • I wonder what’s going on outside.
  • I need to giggle, and I can’t control it. 
  • I wonder what my friends will do if I make a silly noise. 
  • Sitting at this desk is hard; I just want to play. 

How to Gather Information From Teachers

Before coming to a conclusion or making assumptions about your child or their teachers, consider gathering more information. 

Step 1: Initiate communication with their teachers. Plan to meet outside of school hours, to keep communication open, honest and confidential. 

Step 2: Prepare questions in advance. Before meeting with teachers or staff, prepare a list of questions or concerns. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for teachers to provide information. Here is a list of questions that can be helpful to ask:

  • Are the boundaries in the classroom consistent and clear?
  • Have there been any social issues with classmates or friends?
  • Are there opportunities for autonomy throughout the day?
  • Is my child getting enough rest and movement throughout the day?

How to Gather Information From Your Child 

It’s important to give your child an opportunity to share information with you. The key is approaching your child from a place of calm, compassion, and curiosity.

1. Come from a place of calm. If this feels too emotional for you, wait to approach your child until calm. 

2. Offer your child compassion. As you approach your child for information, remember that they are human and worthy of respect. Consider reflecting on and drawing upon your own experiences at school as a way of empathizing with your child. 

  • “You were having a really tough day. I know what that’s like. I have days like that, too.”
  • “It can be really hard to listen all day at school. I know how hard that feels.”
  • “When I was in school, sometimes I had so much energy it made it hard to sit and be quiet.”

3. Approach your child with curiosity. Instead of using statements that assume, blame, or shame, focus on getting curious. 

  • “I heard you were having a hard time listening in class today. What’s up?”
  • “I wonder why you’ve been struggling to sit in class? Help me understand.”

How to Collaborate With Teachers and School Staff

Now that you’ve gathered information from your child and their teachers to understand the situation a bit more, you can take the next steps toward fixing the issues. 

It’s important to collaborate with teachers and school staff to ensure you’re on the same page. The best solution is the one that feels good for you, your child and the school staff. 

For example, Tom’s parents asked to meet with his teacher to discuss his behaviour in class and come up with a solution to the issue. 

Step 1: Clarifying the Issue

Ensure each party is clear about the issue. Key questions to consider: 

  • What is the specific behaviour? 
  • What has been the impact of this behaviour?

For Tom, his teacher shared the following behaviours: 

  • Tom’s been finding it really difficult to sit still during class. He often taps his pencil on the desk, fidgets, looks out the window and talks to other students during lessons. 
  • Tom is speaking out of turn, getting out of his seat and acting silly in class. His behaviour is preventing him from getting his work done and distracting other students.

Step 2: Establishing the Desired Outcomes

Parents and teachers take turns stating their desired outcomes. This is an opportunity for all parties to share their ideal outcome. 

  • Tom’s teachers want him to stay seated during class and focus on his work without disrupting the other students. 
  • Tom’s parents want to find a way for their son to focus better in class so he learns and doesn’t fall behind.

Step 3: Communicate Possible Solutions

Each party can share their suggested solution based on the behaviour. 

  • Tom’s teachers suggested that he be seated away from the windows and separate from his classmates to eliminate distractions and help him stay focused.
  • Tom’s parents suggested that the teachers give him an active role in the classroom, like a teacher’s helper, so he has more opportunities to move throughout the day, which would help him stay seated and focused when necessary. 

Step 4. Questions or Concerns With Possible Solutions 

At this stage, both parties can communicate their comments or concerns with the other party’s suggestions. 

  • The teachers agree that Tom needs more opportunities to move, but they fear it won’t be fair to the other students to make him a teacher’s helper.
  • Tom’s parents agree that Tom is easily distracted, but they are concerned that seating Tom separate from his classmates will make him feel excluded or isolated. 

Step 5. Coming to a Compromise

A collaborative solution starts by considering what’s fair and realistic for everyone – Tom, the other students, the teachers and his parents. 

The compromise: Regular, scheduled movement breaks. This solution could benefit Tom, his teachers and the other students. 

The plan: The teacher will offer “wiggle breaks” throughout the day. These breaks will have a clear start and finish so the students know what to expect.

Celebrate Positive Progress and Growth

When you notice progress, it’s important to acknowledge the child’s growth and celebrate their improvements. This is true at home and at school.

Noticing the good can simply sound like:

  • “I love how you came to me when you needed a break instead of shouting.”
  • “Thank you for being patient. I know it was hard for you to sit still.”
  • “Your teacher said you raised your hand every time you wanted to speak today!”

Keep This in Mind 

Getting to the root of the behaviour and collaborating with teachers to resolve behaviour issues is going to take time, patience and compromise – but it doesn’t have to be complicated! 

As you work towards understanding and resolving behaviour issues at school, keep in mind that the way you navigate these situations is going to model to your child how to solve conflict. You have an opportunity to teach your child how to approach tricky topics, ask good questions, respond with compassion and collaborate with others. 

For more support, check out The School Toolkit, which includes over ten worksheets to help your child navigate friendships, the school environment and routine, tough separations and more!

Explore The School Toolkit

Get simple parenting tools sent straight to your inbox.

    Article By

    Shannon Wassenaar
    Shannon is a Registered Psychotherapist, Content Specialist, and Highly Sensitive Parent with a passion for understanding, and promoting human relationships. Shannon holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology, and a Masters degree in Psychotherapy. She began her professional career as a trauma therapist, and continues to support families from a trauma-informed perspective. Shannon uses her knowledge and experience to create educational content for parents, and treatment plans to help families flourish. In her spare time she enjoys taking long walks, playing recreational sports, and sipping a hot latte at a local cafe.