Montessori Alliance

Classroom Management

Challenging Behaviour

We’ve been contacted a number of times about a child’s challenging behaviour in a setting and while we are not experts we like to help by providing a listening ear and supporting the childhood professional in whatever way we can.  To this end we’ve compiled a couple of different scenarios and strategies aimed at assisting and empowering staff dealing with a similar situation.


The first scenario deals with a child who was being destructive in the environment and aggressive to both adults and children. The manager and staff of the setting formulated the following plan:

  • Dedicated a staff member to the child to act as a Key Worker.
  • The Key Worker shadowed the child, wrote down everything the child did or said.  Recording observations enabled the team to notice what triggered the behaviour.
  • The Key Worker used the information from the observations to divert the child from acting out or getting annoyed before the behaviour began. The things which acted as triggers were removed from the setting or avoided.
  • The staff working as a team chose to ignore the negative behaviour and focus attention instead on the child/adult the behaviour was aimed at.
  • Staff were realistic and knew the negative behaviour would get worse before it got better but when they showed no reaction to the child’s negative behaviour other than making sure the child was safe, the behaviour stopped.
  • Partnership with parents is vital to the success of this approach. A plan of action was drawn up by the school and the parents of the child.  It was agreed only positive behaviour would be shared with the parents in front of the child and that the parent would reward the child with loads of attention and positive comments. What the child ate and the child’s home routine were discussed.  It took a while for the parents to not punish negative behaviour at home but when they saw the benefits of positive reinforcement of good behaviour they changed how they reacted to negative behaviour at home.
  • Consistence both at home and at school where both were in agreement of how negative behaviour was dealt with meant it took a relatively short time for a positive permanent change in behaviour to become established.
  • Without the support of the parents it is unlikely the desired outcome would have been achieved.

Positive re-enforcement, observations, identifying triggers, teamwork with parents, consistency, and acknowledging that it had to get worse before it gets better are the key factors.


The second scenario deals with a child who was acting out a behaviour he had witnessed

The child had witnessed his father being physically aggressive towards his mother and had been expelled from a previous setting as a result of his aggressive behaviour.

  • Building trust with the child was a key feature of how the staff in the setting approached this challenge as the child had felt rejected when he was asked to leave the previous setting.
  • Two members of staff took it in turns to stay with the child in a safe section of the classroom where they could talk to him until he relaxed and knew they were not going to hurt him either physically, emotionally or verbally as he had witnessed his father do to his mother.
  • Talking to the child’s mother about what was going on and the approach the setting was taking enabled the mother to be open about her situation, ask for help and take the advice the setting gave her on board.
  • Eventually the child engaged with the environment and his peers and settled extremely well.


The common thread through these scenarios is not to concentrate on the behaviour but the reason behind it.  Have a key worker who works exclusively with the child for a while. Observe the child, notice if there are any triggers, speak to the parents without accusing them of being unable to control their child and work in partnership with them for the good of all.  It may not work for every child but it will work for some.

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