Child Behavior: Disruptive Actions
Ask a Child Psychologist
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Q | I have a student who disrupts class to ask questions about everything from completing assignments to whether his mother will be picking him up after school. If I don’t answer, he gets very upset.
A | This example highlights why thorough assessment is essential. At a glance, your student may seem purely disruptive, but it sounds as though he could be very anxious—and a well-designed behavior plan targeting the disruptive behavior may be ineffective. I don’t have sufficient information to make a diagnosis, but anxiety can manifest as disruptions in class.
Your student’s probable anxiety is manifesting in several important ways. Specifically, he is engaging in reassurance-seeking behaviors. He is asking you for information he already knows and that you have told him repeatedly.
Reach out to his parents. In addition to sharing your concerns about the most disruptive outbursts, share your observations about what triggers those outbursts. Mention the questions the student is asking you and how often. That way, he can get the thorough evaluation and treatment he needs.
In the meantime, try to shape your student’s behavior so it is less disruptive. For example, let him know that you will respond to his questions when he raises his hand while in his seat and asks in his indoor voice.
Question for Dr. Fernandez?
Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org).
Image: Brian Rea