Defiant Students: Stop Your Worst Behavior and Classroom Management Problems


defiant student educational article


Defiant Students:
Stop Your Worst
Behavior and Classroom Management Problems

 Includes Free Anger Management Worksheet and Lesson Plan



defiant students"Nothing seems to work

with that child!"

Have you ever said those words?

If you work with very out-of- control, seriously defiant students, chances are you have said those words more than once. You were right. Nothing was working to rein in that youngster. In this issue, we'll explain why nothing worked, and what you can do that will work. Hopefully, this article will help you avoid saying those words so often.

Just about everybody has one– that child who is almost gleefully defiant and out-of-control. You know the youngster. He's the one who seems to live to torment vulnerable peers. He seems to almost take delight from engaging in problem behaviors like property damage, harm to others, verbal abuse, and defiance. If you noticed the heavy use of "he" in the last few sentences, that was not by accident. This child does tend to be a "he."

Can you name the mental health label that might be used to describe this type of child? If you've come to one of our popular professional development workshops, or been a longtime subscriber to this educational blog, you should know the answer.

defiant studentsThe answer is "conduct disorder," a topic frequently covered in the articles in this blog and also in our workshop. As you hopefully remember, the term "conduct disorder" roughly means that the child has no conscience, remorse, or relationship capacity. That means that these defiant students  don't care about hurting others or damaging property, so they do what they want, when they want, to who they want.

Only a mental health professional can diagnose this disorder, so it is very important that if you are not a social worker, counselor, etc., you never say that a child is conduct disordered (C.D.). However, it is okay for you to carry that concern in your mind.

Here is the most important information: You must work with C.D.s differently than everybody else. If you attempt to use conventional approaches with C.D.s, you will find "nothing works." There is your explanation for why nothing seems to work with some defiant students.

You may be surprised to learn that conduct disorders are not a tiny fraction of your students. Estimates are that 11-15% of your youngsters are C.D.s. That means you probably have more than one defiant student with whom nothing seems to work.

In our workshop, we devote hours to teaching you about this student. Obviously, we can't fit all that information into brief article. Yet, clearly, this isn't a student you want to work with when you have just a smattering of information on how to manage them, so we'll do our best to explain:

(1) Why nothing has been working to manage your defiant students

(2) What to do instead


Defiant Students:
How to Stop the Behavior and Classroom Management Problems


 Includes Free Anger Management Worksheet and Lesson Plan


student defianceWhy Nothing Works with

Defiant Students

Children and teens with conduct disorder are "wired" differently than other students. That means that they may not be able to care. Because of that difference, the following interventions will fail: character ed, values clarification, empathy building, second chances, making amends, and more– far too many to list here. These methods fail because the child must care about others if these techniques are to work. These approaches are absolutely fine for other types of children, but will never be of value with C.D.s. In fact, these methods make the situation worse because they communicate to these children that you don't understand who they are, and don't understand how to control them. That perception generally leads these youngsters to believe that they may be able to do whatever they want without having to deal with consequences that would be of significant concern to them.

What to Do Instead

First, if possible, stop using any intervention that requires that the child care. For example, stop using empathy-based methods. Stop saying: "Timmy, that makes Juan feel bad when you slap him." For a C.D., with those words, you just painted a target on Juan's back. Review the list of common interventions in #1 above, and discontinue using those approaches with children who may be C.D.s.

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book on defiant studentsSecond, use approaches that are designed to work with children who appear to lack empathy and compassion. There are lots of methods to replace the conventional approaches that fail with C.D.s. We'll give you one key method here. It's a free student anger management worksheet and lesson plan. Check out this student behavior management worksheet and lesson plan from our Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Free anger management worksheetbook and ebook series. The worksheet is called "Do You Want to Go Through Life Without Brakes on Your Actions?"  and can work well to show defiant students that misbehavior costs them. That worksheet and lesson plan is from our Temper and Tantrum Tamers book which is one of the volumes in the 11 book Breakthrough Strategies series. This type of worksheet begins to powerfully demonstrate to C.D.s that "when you hurt others, you can get hurt too."

Notice that we are compensating for the lack of empathy by showing the C.D. that he will often have troubling consequences to deal with when he hurts people or property. (By the way, this intervention and handout is fine to use with almost any child, but is especially useful with C.D.s.)

So, the key point to include in interventions for C.D.s is: Hurting people or property can hurt you. This approach will do no harm if you have guessed wrong about a child being conduct disordered, but can really make a difference if the child actually is.

Now, you have one key pointer to help you work with your hardest-to- manage youth: keep the costs of misbehavior high. There are so many more methods to also use, that we must emphasize that this brief educational article is absolutely inadequate for giving you all you need to effectively manage your most unmanageable, defiant students.

defiant studentsTo best ensure your safety, and that of your students, be sure to more fully update your skills as soon as possible rather than rely on the limited information we have been able to squeeze in here. Our best resource is called All the Best Answers for the Worst Kid Problems: Anti-Social Youth and Conduct Disorders. It is offered as a book or ebook. We also offer many online courses on how to work with very defiant students.

Please be sure to note that we're not identifying C.D.s as "bad" or "hopeless." Instead, we are asking you to consider that you have a diverse population of youngsters, and you need to always select the correct tools for the correct kids. For students who have conduct disorder, choosing the wrong tools can yield disastrous results. Choosing the correct tools can put you back in charge of even the most out-of-control, conduct disordered, defiant students.

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About Ruth Herman Wells

Author/Trainer Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. is the director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops. In 2011, Ruth was rated as a Top 10 U.S. K-12 educational and motivational speaker by Speakerwiki and Speakermix. She is the author of several book series, a columnist, adjunct professor for two universities, and a popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter. Ruth's dozens of books includes Temper and Tantrum Tamers and Turn On the Turned-Off Student.