What Approach is Best to Handle Defiant or Whiny Students?

2011Symposium_1_2During the course of my teaching day, I have many opportunities to prevent or respond to undesired behavior. Though no two children are identical, I have noticed that undesired behavior often can be placed into one of two categories: defiance or whining. Children who dig in and refuse to do what they are asked frequently have control of their parents and their households. In school, teachers know how to respond such behavior, and this frustrates the child, who then sometimes adds anger to the difiance. With children who behave defiantly, progress is slow, because even though their way isn’t working well for them, they don’t want to give up the control they enjoy.

The slow road to improvement is paved with patience, in the face of unstable emotioins, kindness in the face of hostility, and caring in the face of a facade of uncaring. Many adults don’t realize that a child behaving this way has taken control out fear of not being cared for or liked; that the child really would feel more secure with the adult in control, but doesn’t yet feel secure enough with the adult, be it teacher or parent, to given up control to them. With children who have felt this way for years, the change may take months, or even more than a school year. There will be times when you will have to administer consequences for bad behavior, and even confront the student because of what they have done. But confrontation should be used sparingly if at all, because each time it is used, the child may question whether you really are on his or her side.

I have two students in mind as I write this. Both were exhibiting the behavior I have described. They were given detentions, their parents were called, and they were in the school disciplinary system several times throughout the year. Nwon-t-listen-stubborn-girl-24158354ow, as the year draws to a close, both have softened up. Eyes that were scowling and angry are now less so and at times happy. They are more willing to be cooperative, and I am more apt to smile at them, have pleasant conversation with them before school, and feel good about the changes I see in them both. It wasn’t until I lightened my approach to them, after imposing strict discipline, that this change began to occur.

The whining student has also become expert in controlling adults. These
students have learned that adults will do almost anything to stop the whining or even crying that comes up out of no where when situations aren’t to the child’s liking. These students often blame almost everything that has gone wrong on someone else. If they weren’t the cause of the problem, they surely become enablers of its continuance. They assume that if they just keep whining they will get their way. I tell these students in a quiet and calm voice that they are behaving badly, I will tell them what they did that was bad behavior, and tell them to stop fussing. They usually don’t stop right away, but at that point, I just walk away from them and go on as if they weren’t even there. When they see their whining is not having the desired effect, they stop. If I revisit their grievance, it will immediately start up again, and then it will stop as suddenely as it started when they again see they will get no where with me. In a relatively short time (at least compared to the defiant behavior described above) the whinnig will stop, perhaps saved for a more sympathetic adult.

When the teacher remains calm and unphased, in control of him or herself even in the face of a students who are not in control of themselves, the teacher will almost always prevail. At times it takes all the humility I can muster and then some not to get angry, but there is power in self-control, steadiness, and an unconditional determination to always act in the best interest of the students I teach. It doesn’t happen that way every time, but that is the plan, and that is how it ought to be done. Much undesirable behavior can be prevented with a calm demeanor, and students will be grateful for your steady and sure hand on their situations.


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