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Strategies to support

Persistent challenges or disruptive behaviour can be difficult to manage and lead us to feel deskilled as practitioners. As such, it is important to be as proactive as possible so that we can establish a safe environment in which children and young people can build positive relationships, and develop their social and emotional skills. We recognise that all behaviour is a form of communication, and where there are concerns over externalising or internalising behaviours, the strategies given below may be helpful. While this list is not exhaustive, in order to be accessible, the strategies are subdivided by behaviours you might see in the classroom.

Difficulties participating and presenting as withdrawn or isolated

Use assessment through teaching – e.g. are there parts of the curriculum that they find easier to manage than others? Use these to develop confidence.

Analyse informal observations; frequency observations and other observation sheets.

Differentiate tasks to ensure that all child or young person (CYP) experiences success in the classroom.

Include explicit teaching of behaviour expectations.

Try small group work e.g. friendship or social skills, nurture groups.

Give the young person responsibility for looking after someone else.

Use a backward chaining approach – bringing CYP in at the end of assembly or school day.

Use play based activities.

Establish the CYP’s interests.

Use buddying /peer mentoring to enable the CYP to take on both roles enabling them to receive support from a peer and providing support to a peer.

Try activities which provide the CYP with a sense of belonging or importance to the group.

Challenging behaviour

Give a consistent message but flexible approach, e.g.’ I want you to be in class learning’ is the consistent message; the approach to support this happening may vary or be flexible depending on individual needs.

Ensure that reasonable adjustments are made such that we differentiate for social, emotional and mental health needs in the same way that we differentiate for learning.

Understand the basis for the behaviour e.g. what is the history/context?

Offer a ‘Get out with Dignity’ clause letting the pupil leave the situation.

Continue to implement strategies that are reassuring.

Offer clear guidance – explicit messages letting the pupil know what is expected of them.

Monitor so that you have a good understanding of the frequency and location of triggers – frequency charts; STAR observation sheet; ABCC observation sheets; informal observations can be carried out to inform understanding.

Understand that behaviour is a method of communication e.g. what purpose is the behaviour trying to achieve for the child or young person (CYP)? What are they trying to tell us with their behaviour/ is there an unmet need? Help the CYP learn to substitute other, more acceptable, behaviours.

Devise a risk management plan which includes pro-active strategies, early interventions to reduce anxiety/harm and reactive strategies to ensure a consistent approach.

Use reintegration plans to support the CYP in returning to full time schooling. A gradual reintegration is most effective.

Employ a clear plan of action, agreed with parents with regard to physical intervention (schools do not need parental permission to use reasonable force on a pupil).  A risk assessment must be in place if the CYP is causing a risk.

Use choices to allow the CYP some control with the same end result e.g. “Would you like to talk to me now or in 1 minute?”

Teach the CYP different ways to get their needs met, such as developing social skills or strategies to self-regulate emotional states.

Use readiness to learn strategies and routines, for example, ater breaks or between tasks.Consider the impact of the timetable and how you prepare CYP for transitions.

Plan for transition between year groups / phases of education, including ‘what works well’ in terms of in class differentiation and support professionals meeting to unpick the behaviour.

Communicate effectively with home/family e.g. what is going on at home, another agency’s involvement?

Seek advice from the Fair Access Team, Educational Psychology Service, Learning Behaviour and Advisory (LBAT) and Autism and Social Communication (ASCT) teams if difficulties persist.

Ensure that advice is consistently implemented and analysed and reviewed for effective impact.

Ensure there is a whole school consistent approach to support the CYP’s individual strategies.

Physical symptoms that are medically unexplained

Use activities that are stress reducing e.g. games, dance, colouring, gardening, animals, forest school.

Keep a log and analyse pattern or trends to identify triggers. Talk to school nurse, pastoral or safeguarding lead regarding your concerns if issue persists.

Attention difficulties

Have a clear structure to the day.

Have a consistent seating plan for all lessons – primary or secondary.

Sit the child or young person (CYP) away from distractions near good “learning” role models.

Have clear expectations regarding behaviours and a clear and consistent response to behaviours.

Think about potential reasons, is there a pattern?

Record behaviour- but remember to analyse and review trends.

Allow plenty of time for movement or frequent small concentration period

Plan lessons in small manageable chunks.

Be aware of times of the day that may be more difficult.

Use of a ‘time out’ card to enable classroom behaviour to remain positive. Do not assume the ‘time out’ card is being “abused” if it is used often for one lesson of the week. It may be that there are certain sensory – or otherwise – barriers to learning for the CYP in this lesson.

Consider whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made to discipline procedures / behaviour policies and ensure these are in line with equalities legislation.

Consider whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made to discipline procedures / behaviour policies and ensure these are in line with equalities legislation.

Attachment difficulties

Be aware that CYP may say they do not want the support offered. This doesn’t always mean that they don’t need it. Seek to support in more subtle ways, but do not withdraw support.

Liaise with parents for shared understanding.

Consider the family context and the range of CYP who may have attachment difficulties e.g. adopted, forces children, previously child in need, or a child who has experienced care.

Ensure there is a good transition when the CYP starts school – check the history.

Consider the appropriateness of existing discipline procedures / behaviour policies. Discuss an individual plan if necessary. The law states that ‘Reasonable Adjustments’ must be made.

Liaise with the virtual school for care experienced children, educational psychology service (EPS), learning behaviour advisory team (LBAT) for training.

Low level disruption or attention seeking

Differentiate your use of voice, gesture and body language.

Focus on reducing anxiety and thereby behaviours.

Use rewards and consequences flexibly and creatively e.g. ‘catch them being good’.

Positive reinforcement of expectations through verbal scripts and visual prompts.

Have a ‘Time in/out’ or quiet area.

Pick your battles. It is unreasonable to expect “perfect” behaviour and to apply the same sanctions in the same way as you would with a child or young person who doesn’t struggle with impulse control or maintaining focus.

Ensure a positive progressive approach to managing behaviour is taken, not a punitive behaviourist approach. Even though the latter may be more immediate and may make adults feel temporarily more in control.

Difficulty in making and maintaining healthy relationships

Use small group/nurture group activities to support personal, social and emotional development.

Model appropriate emotional responses to disagreements or difficulties with e.g. sharing/turn taking.

Think about who the child or young person (CYP) can maintain a relationship with, for example, adults only, younger children. Why might that be? Can you use this information to build the CYP’s capacity to maintain relationships?

Try differentiated opportunities for social and emotional development e.g. buddy system/paired learning activities/scaffolding group work.

Use restorative approaches when relationships break down.

Use a key worker to rehearse and replay more appropriate social communication methods, provide opportunities to practice the social communication skill being learned in class.

Do not use the schools ‘special educational needs’ base purely as a reactive strategy when friendship issues arise.

Presenting as significantly unhappy or stressed

Identify a key figure within class or special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) team who can provide an emotional secure base and build on preferred learning styles.

Establish a safe place/quiet area which is chosen and agreed with the child or young person.

Ensure feedback is used to collaborate and plan with parents, to ensure consistency between the home and school and setting.

Consider the use of comic strip conversations to identify triggers and identify an alternative choice of action.

Provide opportunities to reflect emotional states and develop strategies to support self-regulation.

Patterns of non-attendance

Talk to parents to identify barriers of non-attendance.

Think about ‘push and pull’ factors.

Consider accessing the West Sussex Emotional Based School Avoidance (EBSA) materials, as these can be useful diagnostic tools for early intervention.

Collaborate and plan with parents, to ensure consistency between the home and school / setting.

Consider the impact of exclusions on individual attendance in the long run – will the child or young person learn that this behaviour enables them to go home to their safe space in their bedroom?

Difficulties following and accepting adult direction

Look for patterns and triggers to identify what may be causing behaviours e.g. use of language.

Be aware that these behaviours may underlie an unmet need for safety.

Use positive scripts – positive language to re-direct and reinforce expectations e.g. use of others as role models.

Provide limited choices to give the young person a sense of control whilst following adult led activities.

Consider calming scripts to deescalate, including for example, use of sand timers for ‘thinking time’.

Use meaningful rewards and consequences flexibly and creatively such as ‘catch them being good’ sticker charts or whatever the child or young person is personally motivated by, e.g. hair care, personal care, sports, shooting baskets, controlled access to iPad, YouTube etc.

Consider creating a visual timetable and using visual cues such as sand timers to support the end of activities and sharing.

In addition to the strategies above which are taken from the ‘Ordinarily available inclusive practice (OAIP) guide, the child or young person may also benefit from:

  • Clear boundaries and routines, changes of routine explained and discussed with children with time to prepare for them.
  • Weekly timetables to monitor behaviours.
  • Explicit teaching of rules / values and routines i.e. ‘Rule of the week’.
  • Visual timetable clearly displayed – appropriate for the age of children in the class.
  • Appropriate behaviour is noticed, praised and rewarded – the reward system is personalised.
  • Consistent script
  • Calm or safe space (agreed with the child)
  • Key worker who can build a relationship with the student (meet / greet and debrief)
  • Opportunities for positive social interactions, including turn taking and sharing.
  • Modelling, by adults, of behaviour that shows patience, respect, good humour and calmness.
  • Tasks may need to be differentiated by level/outcome/pitch/pace and grouping to match learning needs, concentration level, interest and motivation.
  • Language of emotions displayed clearly, both in words and pictures, to assist with the development of emotional literacy – accessible to the age in the class.
  • There should be strategies to focus on emotional needs. These may include strategies such as Circle Time, Friendship Circle, Thrive LINKS
  • Pastoral Support Plan (PSPs) or Individual Behaviour Plan (IBP) may be used.
  • Parent /carer involvement in programmes is particularly desirable. All agencies should work together to ensure that parental involvement is achieved wherever possible with discussions at your termly Early Help review Meetings. Link to Solihull, Early Help Plans etc. LINKS
  • Baseline recording of particularly difficult or significant behaviours should be made in order to carry out an ‘ABC analysis’ to inform interventions and evaluations (Antecedents, Behaviour and Consequences). LINK
  • The student may need an individual risk assessment. LINK
  • Analysis of Fixed Term Exclusion data to identify effective strategies to minimise repeat incidents resulting in targeted support for individuals.
  • Robust systems for recording and analysing serious behavioural incidents.
  • Multi-professional assessment/support which may include the Early Help process.
  • Referral to Early Help
  • Zones of Regulation
  • Therapeutic Thinking Strategies
  • Managed move for a fresh start
  • SENCo to do further assessments as APDR doc by LBAT
  • Referral to Speech and Language Therapy Service if any concerns regarding  the child/young person’s speech, language and communication skills

Further training:


Last updated 9 November 2020

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