Ask an expert: What’s the best way of dealing with my teen’s bad behaviour at school?

October 18, 2019 8:33:47 AM

“My 14-year-old son is always in trouble at school and has even left the school grounds a few times because he gets angry when things go wrong. Whenever he reacts badly, the teachers punish him straight away, and I’m worried he’ll end up getting excluded. What might be a better way of dealing with him?”

Education and behaviour expert Peter Nelmes, author ofTroubled Hearts, Troubled Minds  (Crown House Publishing, £16.99), says: “This is a difficult situation which urgently needs the heat taking out of it if an exclusion is to be avoided.  The adults involved need to take the lead to effect change; they cannot simply wait in hope that a troubled 14-year-old will suddenly develop a new attitude and new skills.

“The school may feel that punishments cannot be avoided in their attempt to put in boundaries for him, but there’s much more they can do.


“By far the most effective way to change a pupil’s behaviour is to have someone with whom he can connect, someone who can cut through the secondary resentments and feelings of rejection caused by the punishments, who can acknowledge the seriousness of the consequences of his behaviour but who doesn’t make it the entirety of their focus, and who can move beyond external perspectives of him and appreciate his emotions and view of the situation.

“This will allow them to forge a connection, and give them far more leverage for changing opinions and behaviours.

“A person who has a relationship with him based on respect, empathy, humour and warmth will be accorded more authority than anyone perceived by the pupil as authoritarian and rejecting. This will also give him someone to run to and hopefully keep them on side when things go badly.

“Because we don’t know what behaviours are involved, it’s difficult to go into specific approaches, but here are two questions that can help frame best practice.

“Firstly, imagine there was a £1 million prize on offer for you if you could get a pupil through the day without incident, and you had unlimited resources with which to achieve this.  What would you do to win the prize?

“Such a question encourages consideration of how the provision around the pupil could be shaped to start to meet their needs.

Teacher teaches a pupil at a table in the classroom

“Secondly, how would you shape things if you won the £1 million only if the pupil spent the whole day kicking off? A strange question, but it enables the staff working with the pupil to identify the triggers for the challenging behaviour, and so avoid them.

“The questions have a theoretical £1 million prize to encourage creativity in seeking solutions, and to emphasise that the emotional needs of children which drive challenging behaviours are no respecters of resource-led responses by schools to such behaviours.”