Help! My students are out of control!

I think the greatest fear of many teachers is to have that moment, that terrifyingly overwhelming moment, in which they think: “These kids are out of control!” Fear not. Thankfully, there are many tools that we can equip in our teaching toolbags that will allow us to avoid this horrible scenario.

A specific type of discipline that I have studied extensively and seen used in classrooms is Conscious Discipline. This method theorizes that misbehavior in a child is ruled exclusively by their brain states. When a child is acting out physically, they have entered a survival state ruled solely by the brain stem, or the survival area of the brain. The child feels unsafe, so he is reacting in order to protect himself from a perceived threat. A child who is acting out verbally has entered an emotional state ruled by their limbic system. This child feels that they are not loved or liked, so they are responding to perceived hurt. The goal of this method is to connect with the child, and move them to their prefrontal lobe, so they are able to understand and connect with you to realize when their actions are wrong.

So how does this actually work in a classroom? The biggest thing an acting out child needs is to calm down. The Conscious Discipline model provides examples of breathing exercises that a child can do when upset, and suggests a “safe place” in the classroom for a student to calm down. You can send an acting out student to the safe place so that they are able to calm down and talk to you. A child needs to be calm before talking, or they will not absorb what you are saying, and only become overwhelmed. Also, be sure to create an inclusive and welcoming environment where students are celebrated. If all of your students feel accepted, they will feel safe and comfortable. Lastly, be sure to go over and practice the your rules. Students cannot be expected to know what to do if we don’t let them know. Practice, practice, practice!

This is not an end-all cure to bad behavior, but beginning to practice Conscious Discipline can get you in the habit, and move toward better behavior and classroom harmony. Good luck!

By: Alex Thorne


6 thoughts on “Help! My students are out of control!

  1. Alex, those are good points. I, too, agree that one of the scariest moments in a teacher’s career is that first moment when her student (s) act out. However, behavior problems can be simple or extremely complex and consist of sevearl factors. Not only must a teacher be on the outlook for children’s different learning styles, but also intune to a child’s usual behavior. If a teacher can’t a) distinguish what is normal for THAT child b) know the family and home lifestyle and 3) have different behavior reinforcement procedures to best cope with a child’s behavior and improve upon it, that teacher will likely have a difficult time managing the situation when it does arrise.

  2. Very interesting information, i had never heard of this method but it sounds very useful. I think its very important for teachers to know the various strategies that they can use if one discipline strategy does not work with one child you can try a different one. One thing i agree with you is that with whichever strategy you use its important to be persistent with it and stick to it as much as possible. Great post!

  3. Alex, I really enjoyed reading your post because just like you mentioned, one of my biggest fears is to not be able to help and handle my kids. This semester I observed a 2nd grade dual language classroom this semester and my mentor teacher used this strategy in her classroom as well as others. She actually made a contract as the rules for her students to sign instead of having a certain rules poster. She also had a safe place for her children where their was objects like stress balls to help students calm down. She also had a book with different feelings and expressions that helped children decide what they where feeling and why they were feeling that way. I think this was a great idea because it help the teacher stay on task with the other students while an upset child was calmed down. When they were ready to talk about, most of the time they were over it. I really found this useful and hope to out it to use in the future.

    Interesting post!

  4. Alex, I enjoyed reading your post and I think it will come in handy when I become a teacher. Like you one of my biggest fears is that I will not know what to do when my students act out. I think it is important to learn how to act in these situations before we become teachers. This semester I observed a kindergarten classroom and I saw my teacher use this strategy. There were twenty-two students in her class and sometimes they would get out of control. She would call their attention and as a class they would use breathing exercises. Something that I strongly agree with is that a teacher needs to be persistent with a strategy. Students react better towards a strategy when they are familiar with it.

  5. Alex, I agree that this is the fear of most teachers and since 2011 I have observed classrooms where they have implemented this strategy, and not just the classroom the whole school as well. Something interesting I noticed this semester from a teacher that used this strategy not only for occasions where kids are out of control, don’t feel safe or feel mad, but also incorporated in her morning routine. The students did breathing exercise in order to start the day calm and focus.

    Thank you for sharing,


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