Defiance is something that is inevitable and in some cases an issue that may even occur more frequently than expected. We put together a few ways you can deal with these situations in a classroom.

Most student behavior, whether positive or negative, is a communication of some kind. What is the student communicating with their defiant behavior? It could be due to many reasons, it could be that they don’t like you very much. In which case you’d need to work on relationship building. Students could be defiant because the work is too challenging, they don’t feel confident, they don’t like spelling, their partner isn’t nice to them, they woke up late, etc. Knowing the why, changes how your approach the student.

A key to handling defiant behavior is having a set up idea of how you are going to approach the situation. When a student becomes oppositional, it can be easy to react in some less than rational ways. For students with frequent defiant behavior, developing consequences with the student helps. Typically they will follow the classroom consequences, but the process of discussing and writing them down can be a powerful intervention. In addition to showing the cause and effect of noncompliance, you can also discuss with the student what supports they might need and what ones don’t work well for them.

Often when students are defiant, they are also not in great control of their emotions or actions. It can be helpful to give them time and space to reset. Consider having a calm down area in your classroom with clear procedures.

Students aren’t usually defiant just because they feel like it. Often they lack the skills to verbalize how they feel, ask for help, or ask for another option. In one classroom, a teacher had a visual velcro-ed to all the students’ desks. One side was green and the other was red. When a student needed help, they flipped the card over to the red side. This was a simple, nonverbal way to ask for help. Just as with academics, students need to be taught many of the social emotional skills we think come naturally. Spend time as a class practicing how to respectfully disagree. These steps can be practiced and used in moments of noncompliance.

Reflection should occur after a student is defiant, and it should be done by both the student and the teacher. As a teacher, you can think about how the situation could have gone differently. Did you stick to your pre-determined consequences? Did you use some of the tricks further down this page? Does the student seem to be missing some skills, like asking for help? Students can complete reflection sheets. These shouldn’t be punitive and should be paired with an adult discussion.

When a student is defiant, it can feel disrespectful and stressful. We might not always be our best selves in that situation. Give yourself time to formulate an effective response by taking a deep breath. This has a lot of purposes. It gives you a minute to compose yourself. It lets you bring your emotions back in line. And it models for the student how to handle a negative situation.

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