5 Strategies to Try When You Feel Frustrated by Your Students’ Behavior (for K-2)

Have you ever felt frustrated by your students’ behavior?

Maybe you have a difficult class this year. Or maybe your otherwise well-behaved students are getting a little squirrelly as the holidays approach.

Whatever the case may be, if you get frustrated with your students’ behavior sometimes, you’re not alone. It happens to me more often than I’d like, and I know it happens to tons of other teachers too!

When I’m feeling especially frustrated by my students’ behavior, I take a little time to regroup. In this post, I share 5 things I do to help get myself and my students back on track!

Do you have a challenging class? Here are 5 things to try when behavior is a problem in your classroom!

Photo Credit:  Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

1. I focus on my mindset.

It’s easy to focus entirely on the academic part of school. You know—the skills we have to teach, differentiating instruction, all of that stuff.

But I believe that teaching appropriate behavior is JUST as important because the brightest, most highly-educated student is not going to be successful in the world if he/she cannot get along with others or follow rules!

So if I expect my students to come into my classroom already knowing how to behave appropriately, I’m setting myself up for some serious frustration.

Just as I wouldn’t get angry with a child for not mastering addition immediately, I would not get angry with a child for not having great behavior immediately.

Teaching behavior is part of my job, and sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that.

2. I take a “scientific approach” to solving behavior problems.

It’s easy to become emotionally involved and upset when your students aren’t behaving as you’d like them to!

I’m sure that you, like me, want the best for your kids. You want them to behave appropriately so that you can do a great job of teaching them what they need to know.

When it comes to our students’ behavior, we have a lot of “skin in the game,” so to speak. We’re emotionally invested!

That said, when I’m dealing with a behavior problem, I’ve found that I have to take a few steps back and start thinking about things in a more detached, “scientific” way.

I want to tackle behavior problems with curiosity, as if I’m an outside observer or researcher. I want to ask, “What’s causing this behavior?” and  “What am I doing that could be contributing to this behavior?” and “What could be added, removed, or changed to help solve this problem?”

To take this “scientific approach,” choose the behavior problem that your students are having the MOST trouble with. (I know there might be a few, but just choose one to start!)

Decide if it’s one student, a group of students, or the entire class that you want to observe.

Then, watch closely for this problematic behavior over the course of one or two days.

Write down WHEN the behavior is happening.

Write down what happens immediately BEFORE and immediately AFTER the behavior.

Afterward, look over your notes and ask:

  • Are there any patterns?
  • Does the behavior arise mostly in the afternoon? During transitions? Before lunch? Or another time?
  • Is there something that always comes immediately BEFORE or AFTER the behavior?
  • What might be triggering the behavior?
  • Is the behavior serving a purpose, i.e., getting your attention, getting other students’ attention, avoiding work, etc.?

Based upon what you find, come up with a possible solution to try (just one thing). Try it for several days. Ask yourself, “Is this working?” And if it’s not, that’s okay! Just try something different!

I call it a “scientific approach” because it’s kind of like an experiment. You observe, try out a solution, and observe some more.

If you’re having trouble finding time to observe and jot things down, you might ask your school psychologist or counselor to come in and do an observation.

3. I try something different.

If you do the same thing over and over again to try and resolve a behavior problem, but it isn’t working, it’s probably not a good idea to keep doing it!

Even if it feels like NOTHING will solve the problem, it’s still worth a shot to try different possible solutions and see if they work.

Here are a few common problems and possible solutions to try:

Noise Level Problems

  • Lower your own voice
  • Teach a fun song, signal, or chant that quickly gets the kids to quiet down

Interrupting

  • Ignore it, and give TONS of praise to students who raise their hand or wait appropriately
  • If it’s just 1 or 2 students, give them a notepad and pencil for writing things down to tell you later

Tattling

  • Teach repeat-offenders to write the tattle down before they come and talk to you about it (writing it down can be therapeutic);
  • Recognize that the problems kids are sharing with you probably SEEM like huge problems to them, so demonstrate genuine concern, AND…
  • Teach conflict resolution / kid-driven solution—and put a big poster of the solutions up in the classroom that you can point to when a child is tattling!

Physical Contact / Problems Keeping Hands To Self

  • Dismiss students one small group at a time when going into small groups or lining up (pushing and shoving often happens during transitions)
  • Make time for extra movement breaks to help students expend extra energy
  • Teach “victims” exactly what to say when someone hits/pushes them (i.e. “Ouch! I don’t like that. Please STOP.”)
  • Teach some whole-group and/or small group lessons on appropriate physical contact vs. inappropriate physical contact

And as I mentioned in #2, I only try one possible solution at a time—so I can tell if one particular strategy really works.

4. I devote time to relationship-building.

If you have a challenging class, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the kids. You end up spending so much time and energy just getting through the day!

Try making time EVERY DAY for a short, fun activity that you and the kids enjoy, one that helps strengthen your relationships with the kids and their relationships with each other.

Simple activities to try: sharing about your weekends, playing parachute games, playing “hot potato,” reading a silly book, show and tell, or student of the week.

5. I do something nice for myself!

In addition to numbers 1-4, I always try to do something nice for myself when I’m feeling especially worn down by my students’ behavior.

It can be something really simple, like taking 10 minutes to read a book in the morning, going to bed a little early, buying or making something special for breakfast, planning something extra fun for the weekend, etc.

If you do something that makes YOU happy, you will definitely bring that happiness (and maybe a little more patience) into the classroom.

Conclusions

Which strategy do you think would be most helpful in your classroom? Do you have any strategies to add? Let me know in a comment—I’d love to hear from you!!

Happy teaching!

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11 Responses to 5 Strategies to Try When You Feel Frustrated by Your Students’ Behavior (for K-2)

  1. Thank you SO much for this post! No matter how many years we’ve taught, these issues can still be a challenge. Love the idea of the notepad for talkative children!

  2. Thank you Alison,
    We here in Perth, Western Australia are in the middle of report writing.
    I certainly needed your words of wisdom about behaviour as I have had a challenging but wonderful group this year.
    I have to keep reminding myself not to think up excuses for avoiding tasks that just have to be done…reports,assessments,transition folders etc
    Any ideas??

    • Hey Kathleen! Just wrote you back on the other post, but a friend suggested a good strategy that might help with this. Pick a task (one that you don’t like), set a timer for 20 minutes. Work for those 20 mins, no distractions. When the timer goes off, decide if you need a break or can keep on going! I also try to do my least favorite tasks first, to get them out of the way. 🙂

      Alison

  3. I have an owl named “Wise Wendy” that I use for tattling. She just sits in the classroom and is there to listen to your tattles instead of the teacher. It could be any stuffed animal or character you want…saves you from hearing endless tattling.

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