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How to Handle Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom

When a child displays disruptive behavior, it means they're unable to communicate their needs. Learn how to handle and help children in the classroom.

As a teacher, you want to provide the best possible environment for your students to learn, explore, and grow. However, one of the more challenging aspects of teaching can be classroom disruptions. It’s common to encounter this behavior, so learning helpful intervention strategies and classroom management tools can be vital for building a comforting and supportive classroom community.

Disruptions in a classroom environment may make you want to throw your own tantrum, but children who act out aren’t doing it intentionally. 

Disruptive behavior can be caused by students who struggle with focus and emotional regulation. This doesn’t mean you should always ignore the student behavior—classroom disruptions can affect the well-being and academic performance of the whole class. It does mean that you should build a positive relationship with the student. At its core, supporting and understanding students who struggle with behaviors will be more effective than punishment.

If you’re looking for new ideas on how to handle disruptive behavior in the classroom, read on. We’ve created a list of tips to manage classroom behavior while building stronger connections with your students. 

Signs of Disruptive Behavior in a Classroom

Disruptive student behavior can take many forms—it isn’t just fighting or blowing spit. It may start small, with quiet whining, talking to peers, or refusing participation by putting their head down. Without investigation, it may escalate to wandering the room, interrupting, bothering classmates, and so on.

Disruptive behaviors can fall into the following categories: 

  • Inattention – Students struggling with attention may fidget, wander, play with items on their desk, etc. This form of disruption is rarely intentional. If the work is above or below the student’s level, it may be hard to focus. Students may also struggle with executive functions that make sustained attention challenging. 
  • Interrupting lessons – Children may shout out answers, talk over you, whisper to classmates, make frequent excuses to leave their desks (sharpening pencils, bathroom breaks, etc.), or be deliberately noisy. It can also include inappropriate behavior such as outbursts, yelling, swearing, etc. This can happen when a student feels excited, enthusiastic, frustrated, or angry. Ultimately, there’s various reasons for this behavior that you should dig deeper to uncover.
  • Aggression – Another form of classroom disruption includes hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting, and other forms of threatening behavior. Young children are still learning how to cope with big feelings and address conflict appropriately. They can often let those big feelings get the best of them leading to physical altercations.
  • Not cooperating – Students may simply ignore your directions, whine, argue, or talk back. 

How to Handle Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom

With so many different manifestations of disruptive behavior, it can be difficult to identify a one-size-fits-all solution. However, these intervention steps will help you find a place to start no matter what behaviors are present in your classroom.

#1 Identify the Trigger 

Behavior is always an attempt to communicate something—an unmet need, anxiety, discomfort, etc. Understanding the trigger for student misbehavior is the first step to support them in adjusting those behaviors.

Some common reasons for disruptive behavior include:

  • Lacking cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills
  • Lack of support for learning differences
  • Feeling bored or unchallenged by the lesson
  • Difficulty transitioning between tasks 
  • Struggling with emotional regulation skills to manage anxiety, stress, or frustration
  • Changes or stress in the home

#2 Help the Child Access Calming Supports

During a disruptive episode, the student may be overstimulated and unable to think clearly. It’s important to give them time to recover. Try to:

  • Stay calm – Help them regulate by using a calm tone of voice and keeping your own breathing deep and regular. Always avoid yelling, shaming, or blaming.
  • Limit verbal directions  – Help remind students of supportive options with short and direct statements. Pair with visual support tools to remind students who are struggling to access communication when upset
  • Let them feel heard – Acknowledge their feelings with phrases like "That must have been really frustrating," "I hear you, you felt sad that recess was over," and "You felt worried about that."
  • Provide coping tools – Encourage them to try deep breathing, counting to ten, or using a fidget toy. Provide a quiet “comfort corner” in the classroom where they can take a break. In addition, social emotional growth books may prove to be effective.
  • Join their team – Help the student understand that you are on their team, trying to problem solve what to do next together. It's not about getting them in trouble. Teachers could say, "Let's figure this out together" or "I'm here to help.”

#3 Set a Time to Speak One-on-One

Once your student has calmed down, you need to have a conversation with them about the behavior. Avoid doing this in the middle of a busy learning environment. Instead, plan a time to talk one-on-one.

Remember, your goal isn’t to lecture or shame the student for not living up to classroom expectations. Instead, your aim is to investigate the problem that’s causing the behavior. Be prepared to ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to their responses. This line of communication should be supportive and not be introduced as a punishment. You can offer suggestions and solutions, such as:

  • More frequent breaks in between activities or lessons
  • Gain student’s input on where they might feel the most comfortable sitting
  • Agree on a non-verbal cue for the student to initiate a break
  • One-on-one help with material they don’t understand
  • Ask if they want help problem solving with a friend

#4 Create a System or Signal

Make a plan to help the student address their problem before it becomes a disruption to teaching in the future. You might try:

  • Signal cards – Provide color-coded cards the child can display to signal you if something is wrong. Green could mean “I’m good,” yellow means “I need some help,” and red indicates “I need a break.”
  • Hand signs – ASL signs can help kids communicate with you or your classroom aides quietly. Your whole class can learn words in ASL like break, help, bathroom, and drink.
  • Create visual systems – Kids who struggle to stay on task may benefit from seeing a daily schedule on the board. At the beginning of the day, update your visual picture schedule, including recess, lunch, and other key times. Erase each item as it’s completed. This can help kids feel a sense of control over their day and keep track of how close the next break is. 

Benefits of Keeping Kids in the Classroom

It can be challenging to try to continue teaching your class while addressing individual needs and behaviors. Many schools are set up in ways that make it difficult to manage classroom behaviors while encouraging kids to stay in the classroom. 

So, should disruptive kids be removed from a classroom? It may seem like the only disciplinary action, but it isn’t a long-term solution. If students learn that you aren't able to be the one to help them with their feelings, they develop a stronger connection with someone outside of the classroom, like an administrator or school counselor etc.

Sending kids out has several drawbacks:

  • It can shame the student and make them feel excluded
  • It can let the student feel they “escaped” your classroom
  • It makes them miss out on instructional time
  • It can affect your teacher-student connection

Instead of sending an individual student out, try an in-class break. Keeping the student in the classroom has benefits for both you and the student:

  • It shows they’re part of your classroom community, even if they’ve made a mistake
  • It lets them keep up with the lesson
  • It shows that you can find constructive solutions—you don’t just send students away or use the principal as the authority figure

For Classroom Disruptions, Choose Positive Solutions Over Punishment

When it comes to classroom disruptions, remember that every behavior is an attempt to communicate. Be open and curious about the messages your students are sending—even when the message comes in the form of misbehavior. 

One of the best things you can do to support classroom behaviors is full-class instruction to help students build a foundation of social emotional skills. Slumberkins has all of the tools and resources for educators to help students learn coping skills to cope with big feelings, improve problem solving skills and learn ways to self-regulate in the classroom, on the playground and at home.

Start building a stronger classroom community today and avoid teacher burnout with help from Slumberkins.


  1. ADDitude. Disruptive behavior: Solutions for the classroom and at home. 
  2. Child Mind Institute. Breaking the behavior code. 
  3. Clutter-free Classroom. Classroom hand signals. 
  4. National Education Association. Disruptive behavior in the classroom? Identifying the cause could be the cure. 

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