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Discipline By Design Series – Part 7 of 12 – Helping the Difficult Elementary Student Find Peace and Balance

Last week we discussed some ways we can cultivate the climate for preschool-aged children. Today our focus will be on helping difficult elementary students find peace and balance at home and in school.

At the core of any disruptive or difficult child are deep hurts and a hunger for love and attention. Much of their outbursts, and sometimes even anger, stems from fear – fear of not being loved or accepted. If we can start with a nurturing heart, we can overcome many of these obstacles and love students to wholeness.


On a practical level, however, we need some ways to intervene. It is safe to say that the more intense the individual child, the more intentional the intervention needs to be. A significant amount of disruptive behavior breaks out because the child does not know how to proceed. They have experienced failure and its repercussions, and so they fear facing it again!

With that in mind, try this approach: describe the outcome you expect. Have your child(ren) or students paraphrase back to you what you just said. Be specific in your instructions. Describe in concrete terms what you see and how you feel. Do not simply say, “You’re doing a good job.” Tell the child specific things such as, “I like the way you put away the toys by yourself this morning.”

Give children special and close attention. Some children respond best to a prearranged cuing system, which especially comes in handy in public or in class. In this type of system, the parent or teacher gives a visual signal (touching the ear) or verbal phrase (“Remember, I’m looking for good listeners”) when a targeted inappropriate behavior occurs. The cue reminds the child to correct their behavior without direct confrontation or loss of self-esteem.


When we react, we are in flesh. What we want to do is respond in the power of the Holy Spirit. Move slowly toward the child and count to ten silently as you go. Use nonverbal cues to avoid embarrassing him. Never belittle him in front of his peers. Both he and the other children know that he stands out. If the teacher or parent belittles the child, then the other children will sense permission to belittle that child as well.


An episode of acting out may be the result of what happened in the child’s life an hour or a day before the event in question. Lots of us are quick to blame ourselves. Please don’t. Sometimes a parent or teacher takes a hit from a child just because they’re there. Don’t worry about the provocation. Realize that your role is to help the student put his or her world back together.


…before it becomes a confrontation. A confrontation is a lose-lose situation. No one likes to be backed into a corner. The goal of discipline is not to control but to be skilled guides and facilitators who help children learn to know, love, and love again within an orderly environment.


Always treat a child with respect. Plus, by remaining polite, you don’t allow the child to pull you into the bad guy role. Calmly and gently take the child aside and deal with him or her individually rather than in front of others, whether in class, in public, or with other siblings. By doing this, you take the child out of the negative limelight.


Approach the unruly child with the attitude that you’d like to know what is going on in his or her mind so you can help. Say, “It seems like you’re having a rough time today. May I help?” This is a polite way of telling the child that you expect better behavior than what you just witnessed.

Next week we will spend some more time discussing ways to deal positively with issues such as ADD, ODD, and bullying in the elementary years.