Friday, October 11, 2013

Interventions for Defiant Kids in the Classroom

Interventions for Defiant Kids in the Classroom

Overall I have a pretty well behaved class this school year, except for ONE.  This “one” student feels like 10 because of his extremely defiant behavior.  Mood swings, aggressive behavior, temper tantrums, extreme self-centeredness are only a few of the issues I’m running into with this child.  He knows the classroom rules really well.  He can even recite all of them on his own and recognize which rules he is breaking. He purposely chooses to hurt others and myself to get attention or to get his way. 

I noticed several things about this student.  He had trouble focusing, adjusting to new routines, frequently got out of his seat, needed a lot of adult assistance, excessive oral fixation.  What really sets him off is when he doesn’t get what he wants. 

Here are some of the interventions I’ve tried:

Give frequent breaks:
Use Break Cards: 

Click HERE to download it for free. 

This student gets 4 break cards a day.  He gets one during our language arts block, one for our math block, and two for our afternoon block.  I give two in the afternoon because that is when he is the most restless.  You can give more depending on their needs.  Make sure you really explain when a good time would be to use their break card because once they use it they won’t get another one until the next work block. During their break they can go to the classroom library, get a drink of water, or go to a quiet place in the classroom to take a break.  If you have an aide, you can even have them go on a brief walk.  I set a timer for 2 minutes or more if needed and then when they hear the buzzer they come back to join the class.

Reward chart for focusing on work:
Here is what my reward chart looks like:

Click HERE to download it for free.

Because my student needs frequent breaks and needs to feel like they have something to look forward to, he only has to move his race car 3 blocks before he gets his reward.  When I first introduced this to my student, I moved his racecar anytime I saw him doing something positive.  For example, sitting down at his seat quickly, getting out his school supplies, opening his book, getting to work right away, etc.  Because I looked for any positive behavior, he was able to get to his first reward quickly and could understand what the chart was for. 

The rewards will be different depending on what motivates your student and what you want to offer.  For my kiddo, I have a sensory box filled with different kinds of toys.  His sensory box has an assortment balls with different textures, sand box, play dough, interactive books, blocks, connecting cubes, etc.

Excessive oral fixation
My student is a thumb sucker.  If it isn’t his thumb it will be anything and everything that is around him.  It could be glue, a pencil, scissors, piece of paper, or even his clothes.  Because this is a safety concern, I talked to our school’s Occupational Therapist to get some ideas. 

Here are just a few:

Necklace with plastic tubing:
You need yarn and some kind of toxic-free plastic tubing that you can string.  Your student can put this around their neck and place the tubing in their mouth rather than objects in the classroom.  My OT also recommended using straws. 

Offer Chewy Foods:
Bagels, jerky, gum, Starburst, etc. works well.  You can use this as a reward or an afternoon snack.  Ask you child’s parents if they can bring these in for their child. 

Pencil Topper:
My OT gave me plastic tubing to stretch over the eraser of his pencil.  They can chew on the tubing rather than school supplies.  You can also purchase these at specialty online stores.

Use a timer for Time Outs:
There have been many times when my student needs to go on a time out for poor choices, but either refuses to go or gets out of his seat midway through his time out.  It took a while for my student to get used to taking a time out since it is his first year in school and his parents weren’t firm with him when he threw tantrums.  He had trouble understanding that as soon as he finished his time out he can join the class.

Here’s what I do:  I turn on my timer 5 or 10 minutes depending on the severity of his poor choice.  If he got up out of his seat before the timer rang, I would reset the timer.  When it rings he apologizes and then gets to join in our activity.  If he does not apologize, then he isn’t ready to join. 

Now I know you must be thinking, “why should my defiant student get all of these rewards?” for doing things that my other students do without being asked or given rewards.  Or you may be you’re thinking, “My other students will be jealous and will ask for the same rewards.”  The truth is none of my other students have asked for the same rewards because they know this student has challenges and that he has different needs.  EQUAL DOESN’T MEAN FAIR!  Children have different needs, so we meet them where they are (differentiation). 

When you do thisthis happens
I have to explain frequently why my student’s choices are either poor or good.  I used to say things like “I like it when you ____.” or “I don’t like it when you ____.”  But I found that it doesn’t give them a reason for why you like or don’t like their behavior.  Now I frequently say, “When you do (behavior), it (give an explanation).” For example, “when you get to work right away, it allows us to finish quickly” or “When you bother your seatmate during carpet time, it makes your friend feel unhappy and upset.” 

My interventions are still ongoing and I continue to brainstorm new ways to help my student.  Some days these interventions work, and some days it completely flops.  This may not work for every student, but it has helped mine.  I can finally teach and I don’t get as frustrated as I used to be.  I hope these interventions help your defiant kids in the classroom. 

I'd love to hear what kinds of interventions you are doing in your classroom.  Leave me a comment!

Till next time,

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday


  1. Thanks so much for your great insight and solutions...I have such a need for these ideas, so much appreciated! Amy :)

  2. I had an after schooler (2nd grader) like your student and he would not settle down to do his homework and would disrupt the rest of the children trying to complete their studies. He would throw this books and pencils at me and the other kids as well as snacks, chairs and would hit and would verbally abuse me with any assistance I would try to give him. Finally had to let him go. Wish I had your ideas as they may have helped that angry young man. He is still in my prayers. I will try your ideas if I run into this again. Thanks

  3. Thanks for sharing this post. I also have a student with similar needs in kindergarten, and we have a very similar system in place. I'm glad to see that for you, too, some days are better than others.

  4. Yikes! You are a genious! Thanks for sharing all your wonderful ideas! :)

  5. Thank you! You gave me hope for tomorrow!!!!

  6. To "Anonymous" who commented on Oct 13th, 2013....what exactly do you mean by "finally had to let him go." I'm sorry, but the kid is in 2nd grade and you basically infer that it was time to "give up" on him and let someone else try to help him. I would LOVE to work/consult with a teacher like KKAP, as she (?) seems open to suggestions and willing to do whatever it takes to support a child with challenging behavior.