Working with Challenging Children: Tips to Make It Easier


Challenging children are in our classrooms every year, and we can choose two options…combat all year or learn ways to help them. Challenging children are acting out because something isn’t quite right in their world. This post offers suggestions to help teachers with coping and supporting them.

The stress of state testing and changes in our routines weakens children’s ability to stay resilient and brings out negative behaviors from even the best behaved children. For children with poor self control, coping skills, and/or other behavioral difficulties, these things can lead to meltdown, especially when teachers are worn out from the pressures of testing, record keeping, and attempts to meet school expectations.  

Let’s face it.  Dealing with discipline isn’t pleasant for anyone, so perhaps this is a good time to share how we might avoid it.  Here are a few ideas I have, and I know I could use a few tips myself.

challenging children really need classroom routines

We are all creatures of habit, and when routines are disrupted, none of us like it.  All kids enjoy parties, projects, and fieldtrips, but for the child that really counts on a routine, these fun events can lead them into trouble. Our attention may be pulled by the to-do lists we have, so we may miss the child’s warning signs. Challenging children will let you know they’re unhappy with change.

Provide a Visual Schedule to Help challenging children Know What to Expect next.

Giving advanced notice of change and posting it may make all the difference. Many teachers do this year round, but if you haven’t included this, you might give this a try.  It may be a child specific schedule that is needed.  One idea is to use a small cookie sheet and magnetic self adhesive sheets normally used for business cards to make magnetic event labels.  They can be moved and reused easily.

Watch for the Events That Trigger Behaviors and Plan Ahead for your challenging children.

School assemblies may be fun, but the lack of structure seems to cause challenging children stress. As routines change, we need to increase our awareness of our students’ moods.  We need to be aware of what sets some off, and head off the triggers before they happen.  Cuing students for changes and giving them choices when possible can help them feel more comfortable with the changes.  Yes, this takes time, but I’d venture to guess that more time is spent handling problems that arise when we aren’t proactive. You might give your student three squares of paper…red, yellow, and green. During your event, make eye contact with child and allow them to show…green (all good), yellow (I’m tired), or red (I need out of here) cards.

Allow Flexibility in Movement, Snacks (if needed) and Space.

As we know in reading, one size does not fit all with book selection. Children have varying tastes in their interests and read at different levels.  A book that one child loves may be totally wrong for another.  It is the same way with behaviors.  For some children, we can not adopt a one size fits all behavior plan.  As we teach, we keep learning styles in mind, and we need to be aware of children’s needs with classroom behavior too.  

For the child with unique behavioral needs, a break, a kind word, a snack, a chance to move, or additional space may keep him/her on the learning train. Again, meltdowns take a lot more time then allowing a little wiggle time.  In fact, incorporating movement into the teaching routine helps children improve attention.

Build a Strong Connection with challenging children to Find Out What’s Important to them.

I will end with one last thought, and that is to make the challenging child your buddy.  If a challenging child knows that he/she can trust you and that you care, that will increase motivation to please you. A warm good morning, a compliment, an inquiry about the child’s activities outside of school, or a comment that you care about them builds security.  Security builds trust and keeps the child positive.

I will close with a reminder that many heads are better than one, and remember to not make assumptions about children or their families. Challenging behaviors are caused by MANY different things. We do not know what’s going on in a child’s life or what may be causing angst for them.

The best advice I have is to stay positive and work together…with the child and with the family to find positive solutions to help.

Have a great testing season, and may the challenging child move through it meltdown free. Until next time…happy reading!


other posts you might find helpful:

resources that might help challenging children:


Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Plenty of great information to help us make it through the end of the school year! I think it is really important to plan ahead for triggers that could cause conflict. Great point.
    Burke's Special Kids

  2. Deb

    Good reminders! I'm so glad you started this linky. I hope to be able to participate more. If you have time to email me the topics in advance that would be awesome. It takes me a long time to think. 🙂
    Not very fancy

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