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Having to find behavior management techniques for dealing with defiant student behaviors in the classroom is a reality for all teachers. Classroom teachers, special subject teachers and assistant teachers, all have to respond to a variety of defiant behavior(s), sometimes, on a daily basis. Defiant behavior(s) also affects the other students who share space with those who are struggling. This post will give you 10 tips for classroom management that will help new teachers and experienced teachers with defiant behaviors.  


Some, experience severe behaviors. This post will address good classroom management strategies for dealing with mild-moderately defiant behaviors. These are behaviors that are unsettling and/or disruptive to your teaching, including; non-compliance, arguing and being rude and disrespectful.

*The strategies discussed here and the Freebies passed along, are not intended for significantly defiant behaviors that may be dangerous to you or the student. Those behaviors and related strategies are outside of the scope of this blog post. For help with excessively aggressive or dangerous behavior, seek the help of a qualified mental health professional and or behavior specialist.


Behavior Management Techniques for Responding to DEFIANT BEHAVIOR



When students are defiant with us, how we respond is very important. 


Depending on the situation, we may want to respond in one of 3 ways: 

  • Disengage
  • Interrupt
  • De-Escalate

Additionally, 3 things you do NOT want to do are:


  • Get Visibly Angry {even though you may feel angry}
  • Raise Your Voice {keep a calm, neutral/flat voice}
  • Use Intimidation {as opposed to giving a clear/pre-determined consequence}


Let’s take a closer look at each of these 3 choices. 

In many cases of defiant behavior, the best choice is to disengage with the student. Do not allow them to “bait” you into a power struggle. Power struggles never end up favoring the classroom teacher. In a power struggle, no one usually wins, but often the student believes he/she won.


To Disengage with a student who is showing defiant behavior:


  • Breathe deeply before responding {this helps you to be calm and gives a bit of time before you respond}
  • Ignore small stuff {don’t get caught up in a cycle of defiance}
  • If necessary to attend to the behavior, use a neutral voice to state what was wrong and to implement a pre-determined and expected consequence, i.e. do not deliver and “off the cuff” consequence
  • Be brief, use few words
  • Move on as quickly as possible 
  • Don’t hold a grudge {reward positive behaviors as quickly as possible}



To Redirect a student who is showing defiant behavior:

{only if the behavior is mild and can be ignored}


  • Divert the student’s attention to something more positive {a preferred book or topic of conversation, etc.}
  • Change of setting {get a drink of water, deliver a note, etc.}
  • Take a cool down or sensory break
  • Show empathy, then move on


To De-Escalate a student who is showing defiant and challenging behaviors:


  • Use positive wording vs. negative {“When you are finished with your math, you can have free choice”…vs. “No free choice until your math is done.” }
  • Use neutral non-verbal body language and facial expressions {try not to mirror students body language, keep your hands down and sit or bend down}
  • Acknowledge the student’s control, then state your wish {“You can choose to rip your paper, but I hope you do not.”}
  • Consider postponing consequence {if student is very agitated, postpone consequence until they are calm}
  • Allow student a way to “save face” {give them an “out” a negotiation that is brief and clear but acceptable to both}
  • Use humor {must know your student to know if this strategy is appropriate or not}
  • Try to give students an easy way “Yes” response {ask questions that the student would likely say “Yes” to, this can activate a positive feeling in the student}


The best way to handle is to always be calm, brief, direct and non-judgmental in order to get a more desired behavior the next time around. It's always a good choice to give the student time {to respond} and space {personal space}. 


Think about what the function of the inappropriate or disruptive behavior might be. If you know that the student is being defiant because he/she is insecure about his/her ability to do the task, come up with ways to make it more accessible to them or start with an easy task. By easing them into more challenging work with clear classroom expectations slowly they can complete work with the rest of the class.


The good news is there are dozens and dozens of classroom strategies to help decrease and de-escalate defiant behaviors. Here are my top 10 tips for classroom management for supporting students who exhibit mild – moderately defiant behaviors. These little things will make a huge difference when trying to create a positive classroom environment.


De-Escalation Strategies For Teachers To Use With Students 

1. Stay or Get Calm

2. Use a Low or Neutral Voice

3. Validate The Student’s Feelings

4. Listen Without Judgement

5. Show Empathy

6. Encourage a Break or a Calming Strategy That Has Been Pre-Taught And Practiced

7. Give “Planned” Choices {Plan ahead so that you only give choices that you can/will accept}

8. Ignore Minor Behavior issues

9. Give Clear Instructions Using Few Words

10. Recognize And Praise Desired Behaviors {as soon as possible}



Keep the teacher poster: De-Escalation Strategies, handy for you to review, on a daily basis and when a child’s behavior becomes defiant and problematic.


And Here Are My Top 10 Calm Down Strategies, For Younger Students this School Year


1. Take Slow, Deep Breaths

2. Count To 10, Forwards And Backwards

3. State Your Feelings 

4. Take A Short Break

5. Think Positive Thoughts

6. Change Your Environment {with permission-go for a walk or move to another part of the room}

7. Think About What You Need {and then tell an adult}

8. Accept Help

9. Think About Consequences  “If_____/Then______”

10. Think About What Size The Problem Really Is


 It is important to pre-teach these student behavior strategies and practice them often, when the student is calm and showing more positive behavior. This is a great way to help specific students to be able to access the strategies when they are upset. Go over clear expectations and classroom rules on the first day of school to create meaningful classroom routines.

Use these handy posters to help you!



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 Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!

Cindy ~Socially Skilled Kids


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