Behaviour management, when I was on my teaching course, was one of the most asked about questions from the other students.
How do you manage children’s behaviour?
I was super fortunate to fall in with an excellent behaviour manager specialist at my school and she helped me tweak a LOT of things in my first year from where I first started…
Sometimes though, it’s not just the behaviour of children we need to worry about or struggle with.
You might work in an office with other people and struggle with the way they behave towards you. Maybe you think they’re rude, obnoxious or plain condescending and, even worse, you’re not sure what to do about it. Maybe you find it hard to
Take heart, because a lot of the tips I have for behaviour management work for humans of all shapes and sizes!
Accept you cannot control the behaviour of others.
No one human can fully control another.
You can ask, coerce, cajole, compel, force, blackmail, beg and do all sorts of things to persuade another member of our species into a specific action but you cannot reach into their head and flip a switch to make them do something they don’t wanna do.
Even successful hypnotism is based heavily on the art of suggestion rather than any sense of control over a person.
And the Imperius Curse can eventually be fought against, so that defence don’t fly here.
The sooner this fact of life was accepted and realised, the easier it became for me to deal with other people’s behaviour. I don’t get (as) angry or defensive when someone doesn’t listen to me.
I get frustrated, sure. And bored. And am very unimpressed 86% of the time. But because the way other people react is something I exert very little control over, all I can do is manage how they chose to act or react.
And those reactions and actions were very much choices, conscious or subconcious. The person is choosing this lane of behaviour.
In this same way, you can choose your reaction. And that’s the only thing you can control. So don’t beat yourself up if you ask them to put the pen down and they try to set fire to the desk.
The burnt desk is not your fault!!
Build a relationship
Why would you listen to anything I have to say? Well, we kinda have a relationship – either you’ve been to my blog before and have come back, or you’ve seen me on Twitter somewhere and were intrigued by whatever I said or did or I left a comment on or link to your blog somewhere or I bribed you with the promise of cookies.
It’s tenuous but a relationship of some sort is there – the slavish typing of posts on my part and some vague acknowledgement of my (and my work’s) existence on your part.
In the case of children and teenagers and students, I try to let them know genuinely what I’m there for. Yes, I’m passionate about learning. Your learning. And your well-being. Yes, all of you.
It’s not unusual to have students remember you after they’ve left. I always work with them in the hope that the memories will be positive ones, rather than of me screaming at them (Bet you might remember teachers like that from your childhood and adolesence!)
Trying to tell off a student you don’t know may not work for a myriad of reasons but the biggest one I often hear is “Miss, they don’t even know me.” And they’re right.
They end up giving this teacher the same belligerent look you’d give to a stranger on the street trying to demand your respect when they’re not wearing any clothes. It’s a deliciously sweet mixture of “Who the heck are you?” combined with “You don’t know my life!”
In these cases, I go for back up or try to support whichever member of staff is dealing with them, even if it is by my physically presence as an impartial witness (often cools both sides down immediately).
Ask questions. Listen to the answers.
Normally, when something happens in the classroom or playground, I simply ask: “What happened?”
I try to give them some time to talk – and sometimes some time or conversation constraints: I had one child who loved to blame others and dodge responsibility for their actions.
This often resulted in me having to sit through a ten minute tirade of why the other kid was a pain and they was sooo victimised that they simply had to punch so-and-so in the face etc etc etc.
I told that child that they could tell me what they had done before they told me about the others. Putting another child in a headlock was a total choice you made.
Then that child told me I was one of their favourite teachers.
I love how wonderfully weird children can be.
My jumping to conclusions or trying to solve the problem in 2.5 seconds (which I initially did, quite regularly) missed the point – often, the people I work with just want to be heard and have someone empathise or sympathise with their plight, no matter how big or small it may be.
To make it clear that I’ve heard what they’ve said, I will sometimes repeat back what they’ve said or vocalise my understanding of the situation. I ask questions to clarify the picture unravelling in my head.
I try my best to comprehend the point they’re trying to get across – I’m not very good with words myself so I know it can be tricky to sum up the churning mass of emotion(s) one may be experiencing using mere words.
We deconstruct it together. And come to a conclusion that, even if they’re not super happy with the consequences (“Yes, I understand it was an accident. You still have to clean it up.”) they understand how we got there.
This often means my lunchtimes and break times are spent talking to irate or offended children/adults/
“So-and-so doesn’t like me!”
“I do, though!” I chirp and they roll their eyes in smug embarrassment, children and adults alike. It’s great having someone listen. /like in this Twitter thread which tears me up.
The children can be easier to work with because the adults I work with can be sceptical about sharing. Or they’re over-sharers and tell everyone everything even when not asked but don’t really want to resolve the issue. They just want to talk. At times like this, it’s less behaviour management and more ‘mitigating damage.’ Or eating lunch somewhere else.
With the adults, even if I don’t have constructive advice or feedback, I get a lot of positive feedback for just being an ear. I don’t actually say much in these conversations, apart from asking a few questions, clarifying the points and trying to understand their feelings about the matter.
Clearly set your boundaries and expectations
This to me was the far hardest of everything here. When you have a great relationship with someone and you listen to them really well but don’t make it clear what you want, you know what you end up being?
A door mat, that’s what.
When I had my first class, I loved their personalities. But it used to confuse me that they did whatever they wanted in the classroom.
Of course they did – I hadn’t told them what I wanted to them to do in terms of organisation, presentation or behaviour. It’s easy enough to say I want them to be kind, but they didn’t know what that looked like.
Sometimes it’s verbally setting my boundaries: “Thank you! I don’t/can’t eat that/smoke/drink though.” or “I need some help with my marking, so I’m going to give you a written subject for my PPA cover.” As a supply, I tell the class what I expect them to do, consequences if they don’t and remind them too.
I’m not here to play (in this lesson). Don’t try me.
Sometimes it’s physically setting boundaries. I once had someone at work literally scream at me and later I realised I could have just walked away from it. There is nothing in my job description that means I have to put up with that. And then that person would have known I wasn’t okay with that tantrum behaviour because I wouldn’t have been implied to be complicit by standing there frozen. Yes, there are situations where people will behave downright unacceptably in (supposedly) polite company. I quite often remove myself from situations I don’t agree with. My mental wellbeing outweighs looking ‘good’ or ‘committed’. 🤷🏿♀️
Offer choices that are acceptable to you.
I’ve found this is especially important with children because if I say “Do this or get out,” I have to be prepared for the consequences of what happens if they choose to get out.
No point me hoping they’ll decide drawing pictures of Stonehenge beats wandering the corridors if I don’t want them wandering the corridors. I normally say “Do it now, or in your own time.” Either choice they make, you win! I’m gonna be sat there anyway, eating carrots and hummus, whether my kids are working or not.
Sucks if someone’s brought cake in though.
This tip doesn’t always work (to be fair, none of them are 100%): I’ve had a child who always said “No!” to all options I presented to them.
It was a surprise, as I find children like having a choice, but we were still building our relationship so I had to go out of the classroom for support. We had a very tough year that year – that child really tested my patience and I’m not afraid to admit it!
The same works with adults – you can present two choices you’re definitely okay with (“I can come over on Monday or Tuesday”) and this can open the door to more negotiation (“Is before or after 6 on Tuesday better?”). But you’ve said your piece and can let them know if some parts won’t work fully for you (“I understand that Thursday is better for everyone but I’ll have to leave by 4.”)
People can be super understanding that you are a human being with needs and a life outside of work. I try to value myself like I value other people.
I debated putting this at the beginning of the post but thought it’d be more effective at the end. If you deliberately read through all of these in a belligerent or ‘hostile tone, you might find it doesn’t work.
“Put the pencil down please.”
“Put the pencil down please.”
“Put the pencil down please.”
I’ve had days where I’ve been frustrated and angry and expressed this and gone home and had to have a lie down for a couple of hours. It always makes me feel physically sick and drained.
Giving myself a few seconds to breathe deeply allows me to calm down and rationally think of what the best solution might be, instead of getting swept away in a tide of rage I might later forget.
I think that’s it so far. How do you manage badly behaved people in your workplace? I’m especially interested in how you manage adults!