When a teacher is armed with these 8 helpful tips, even the most challenging classrooms become more manageable, and students with disruptive behavior disorders can thrive.

Many people first receive a disruptive behavior disorder (DBD) diagnosis during childhood. Because conditions like oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and intermittent explosive disorder can make sitting still and dealing with boredom difficult, the school setting can be just as challenging for children with a disruptive behavior disorder as it is for their teachers.

Teachers and other school staff may struggle to manage the signs and symptoms of DBD in their students. Here are eight tips for handing DBD in the classroom:  

1. Write Daily Schedule on the Board

Knowing what comes next helps school staff plan their day, but it also provides students who have disruptive behavior disorder with much-needed structure. By knowing where they are in their daily schedule and how much time remains in each block, children with DBD can gain a sense of control over their environment, thoughts and behaviors.

2. Establish Clear Rules

Having clear rules in the classroom helps set appropriate expectations for each student. The standards serve as unambiguous guideposts for the student with a DBD to follow for the day and entire school year.

Rules should be simple and easy to understand. Some examples include:

  • Be on time
  • Be kind
  • Do your best
  • Show respect

Rules help the students, but they also support the teachers as well. When teachers are consistent with their expectations, their ability to manage their classrooms improves dramatically.

3. Reward Positive Behaviors

Students with disruptive behavior disorders receive a lot of attention when they behave in aggressive or disrespectful ways. By shifting the emphasis to positive behaviors, a teacher can change a child’s life. This positive reinforcement encourages children with a DBD to practice desirable behaviors and helps them gain self-esteem. It also helps them realize that they can receive just as much attention for good behavior as bad behavior.

4. Allow Mini Breaks

Forcing a person with a DBD to sit still and focus for long periods is like asking a person in a wheelchair to climb a flight of stairs. Ultimately, such a request is unfair and unproductive.

By building small breaks into their daily schedule, teachers give students something to look forward to and an opportunity to expend excess energy. The breaks should involve activities tailored to the student’s needs, like:

  • Doing jumping jacks
  • Resting on a mat
  • Playing catch with a friend
  • Getting a drink of water
  • Doing yoga
  • Practicing relaxation techniques

5. Have a Plan Ready

Having a disruptive student in class means an outburst will happen eventually, no matter how much focus there is on prevention. Prepared teachers do not react spontaneously to these instances because they already have a well-orchestrated plan prepared to control risk.

Successful plans include ways to keep other students safe while de-escalating the behavior of students with DBDs. A teacher can even share details of the plan with the class to ensure everyone plays their role during times of trouble.

6. Utilize Timeouts

Timeouts are excellent behavior modification strategies because they are a mild form of punishment. Other punishments apply unwanted consequences after an undesirable behavior, while timeouts work by subtracting all rewards from the environment the moment a child misbehaves.

7. Provide Immediate Feedback

Based on the laws of conditioning, behavior is more likely to change when an adult provides feedback for an action immediately after it is completed. Without an immediate response, the link between behavior and response gets lost.

If a child performs a desirable action but receives no verbal or tangible reinforcement, there is no motivation to repeat the behavior. Instead, notice positive behaviors and shower the student with praise, rewards or tokens they can exchange for a prize in the near future.

8. Use Motivational Strategies

One of the best ways to manage disruptive behavior disorder in school is to use motivational strategies to encourage wanted behaviors.

Teachers and school staff can encourage all students, but they must understand what motivates children for this encouragement to be effective. Too often, adults assume they know what a child wants as reinforcement but miss the mark. To eliminate this disconnect, teachers can have a conversation with the student to establish target behaviors and ask what rewards they’d want when they practice these behaviors. Understanding what encourages a student with DBD will make them more likely to exhibit positive behaviors.

Disruptive behavior disorder can be challenging to manage, especially if an individual struggles with co-occurring substance use. Fortunately, treatment for both of these conditions is available. Reach out to The Recovery Village today for more information about professional care options.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

ADDitude Magazine. “Disruptive Behavior: Solutions for the C[…]assroom and at Home.” August/ September 2004. Accessed on March 30, 2019.

Concordia University. “5 Tips for Handling EBD Kids (Emotional […] Inclusive Classroom.” January 26, 2013. Accessed on March 30, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.