What bringing up siblings tells us about effective behaviour management.

In this blogpost I’d like to explore and challenge commonly held views about behaviour management in primary schools (and possibly secondary schools). In particular, I’d like to counter the accepted view that we should differentiate our behaviour management based on the child’s ‘needs’, circumstances or abilities and put forward the case for old fashioned rules and regulations as well as high expectations for all. If you’d like to know a bit more about differentiation of behaviour management, I have found a video here which sums up the concept, but to me it just looks like lowered expectations for children from certain backgrounds. My own argument is based on my observations of bringing up children and from conversations over the years with fellow parent friends who have also brought up 2 or more children.

“My children have exactly the same personalities and like exactly the same things!” said no parent ever. What all parents know, and teachers fail to grasp, is that despite pretty much the same DNA, lifestyle, nutrition, upbringing, culture and family can still turn out siblings that are completely different, yet parents still seek to do their job of guiding and bringing up all their children to be decent, kind, hard-working and successful (we want to be proud) regardless of how different they are as people. One of the key differences that arises between siblings is in their behaviour and many parents will happily trot out some horror stories about the one child who was a pain in the arse during their toddler years (and at various other points during childhood). Primary educators would typically say that the child displaying behaviour at the naughtier, more defiant end of the behaviour spectrum is clearly not having his ‘needs’ met, is possibly struggling with some aspect of his homelife (maybe the middle class mum is too ‘pushy’ or ‘cold’, maybe the working class mum hasn’t taken him to enough museums or craft fairs) or maybe has mild ADHD. The accepted course of action deployed would be:

  • More praise
  • More rewards
  • Easier or different work (or less work)
  • Lowered expectations
  • Reduced punishments
  • Suspension/alteration of the usual rules and regulations applied to the rest of the class
  • Acceptance of poor behaviour as somehow inherent to that child’s situation or personality
  • Viewing the child as a passive victim, unable to control his own actions or emotions

Here’s a picture of how a typical primary teacher would look when confronted with a flying chair from a child:

I am accommodating of all the children’s needs! Nothing phases me!

Let us compare this to how a typical parent will deal with the one child in their home who is more defiant and inclined to poor behaviour:

  • Less praise
  • Fewer rewards
  • The same amount of chores
  • No change in expectations
  • Increased punishments
  • No change in rules and regulations
  • Refusal to accept poor behaviour as part and parcel of their son or daughter’s personality
  • Viewing the child as a competent human being, able to control his own actions, emotions and make good choices

Basically, a parent of a difficult child won’t differentiate behaviour management for two reasons:

  1. They don’t want to merely accept that one of their children is naturally naughtier than their brothers or sisters; they want to ensure that all of their children are loved, appreciated and respected in the future.
  2. They know that to ‘differentiate’ the behaviour management (the way an educator might) would lead to deep resentment from siblings and (justified) accusations of favouritism. The brothers and sisters who work hard to be good, hard-working, kind and helpful might wonder whether if there is any point in behaving and they might also feel rejected by the parent who, instead of praising them for doing good things, is busy praising the brother or sister for not smashing up the toys.

What this approach entails is a re-doubling of effort for the parent, even if the parent is at their wit’s end, utterly exhausted and privately contemplating relaxing the rules or turning a blind eye to the constant barrage of slight misdemeanors. I’ve been been in that situation and it ain’t pretty. The child might have felt that they had it a bit tough, that I should’ve relaxed a bit, but I’m ok with that; I’d rather the child resented me a little bit for being so relentless with my expectations and for dishing out those punishments without fail than for that child to have grown up thinking that poor behaviour is OK.

There is another aspect to the ‘Instinctive Parenting’ approach to behaviour management and it’s rather difficult for many educators to stomach. Basically, behaviour management can be influenced by the parents’ emotions and sometimes these emotions include anger, hurt and frustration. We’re only human after all. I’ll be the first to admit that I have got it slightly wrong on some occasions because I have been angry and annoyed. However, to some extent this is ok because I do believe that children need to know that their behaviour has an effect on others. How else would they develop empathy? Out of anger I confess I have given my offspring a rollicking that left them in no doubt that they had done something bad. Many would recoil in horror at my admission because of course the ideal is for us parents (and teachers) to remain super calm, maintaining our Mona Lisa smiles, at all times. The thing is, this is not how society or civilisation works. I believe that the parents’ approach to behaviour management better prepares a child for success (measured by happiness and wealth) in our society because the people that they will eventually mingle with will also get pissed off with bad behaviour and there are also rules and regulations  (aka The Law) that are applied to everyone regardless. Be assured though I am not advocating we lose our cool completely in the classroom, because we are paid professionals after all, but that it is OK to be angry and frustrated and for children to see a bit of that. In fact, for some children who come from homes where domestic violence is the norm, it’s educational for them to see how adults can be angry and not let that anger get out of hand. I don’t think it is normal or healthy for children to think that adults remain placid and almost happy to be on the receiving end of poor behaviour.

You know what’s great about this approach? It works. I feel pride when strangers and family tell me that my (now much older) children are well behaved, although the job of parenting continues as ever! If I told said strangers about the behaviour of one of the children when they were much younger, they would not believe it, such is the turn around. Many parents would verify that the kindest, most decent people they know used to act like complete shits when they were little children.


Instead of differentiation of behaviour management, let’s be sticklers for rules and have high expectations of all children.

Who’s with me?


8 thoughts on “What bringing up siblings tells us about effective behaviour management.

  1. What you say is so blindingly obvious that you’d think that only an utter moron would dispute it. Yet such is the power of ideology and sentimentality that virtually every ITT and CPD provider has bought into this pernicious nonsense.

    Almost 25 years ago, the Educational Psychologist Tommy MacKay started a behaviour management programme in West Dunbartonshire’s 46 primary schools. Over a period of three years, he was able to convince their teachers that their pupils–most of whom lived in high-rise slums similar to those in Glasgow–could and should be held to the same standards of behaviour as any other child. The next step was to convince these teachers that disadvantage was no barrier to learning to read, and he introduced the Jolly Phonics programme. By 2006, all West Dunbartonshire pupils were going up to high school with a reading age of at least 9 1/2 (over this age, reading scores are little more than verbal IQ measures).

    I met 24 West Dunbartonshire teachers in 2006, and I have never met primary school teachers who were so confident and switched on. And relaxed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with you. I fought a case quite recently where a school regime was unable to deal with appropriately, nor teach, a child who caused them difficulties. The school folk, and the accompanying stream of local authority advisors, in my opinion and experience, had no clue how to handle, nor teach, the said child who ended up on a very long, semi-exclusion (which I maintain was an illegal exclusion but it proved impossible for this to be discussed and dealt with transparently by ANYONE in authority in ANY organisation including Ofsted).

    I went through three levels of complaint with Ofsted and can describe (but won’t bother here) how the whole system was farcical and entirely unaccountable in every which way you can imagine and I ultimately had to give up (plus the father of the child physically removed the child from the said school and refused to let her go back there at all).

    Anyway, part of all this is that the child was only allowed to attend the school on four afternoons per week (with NO eduction provided for the child in the mornings for 8 months) – and I described to Ofsted and others, in no uncertain terms, that the timetable was like one ‘for a performing circus monkey’ including playing with the big ball (named!), doing cartwheels in the field, helping out in Reception, and a snippet of this and that – all with the ‘velcro’ teaching assistant (not allowed in class).

    The reason I am mentioning this here because it is, in my view, exactly what you’re talking about with the excuses culture of why certain children behave in certain ways, months of case meetings where professionals are flapping around speculating as to ‘reasons’ for certain behaviours, ZERO suggestion that the teaching (or lack thereof, or type of) could be causal or contributory to the behaviours, and NO accountability for the disgraceful illegal exclusion about which every single person with authority was i complete denial.

    I discovered that the Children’s Commissioner at that time had written reports saying pretty much the same thing – that NO authority would take any account of illegal exclusions and knowing about the consequences of wrong teaching and flawed approaches to behaviour management that are so endemic in our country (and no doubt America too), knew that I was totally powerless to do anything tangible about this situation.

    Be heartened, Quirky Teacher, that folk such as Tom and myself know exactly what you are talking about and, nowadays, there is a growing body of other teaching professionals who think differently from the excuses culture. Which is NOT to deny that children have horrendous challenges of one description or another to surmount.

    The very best help we can provide them with, however, is teaching them properly, developing mutual respect and ensuring we can function in practical ways employing the kind of expectations that you describe in all your postings that actually make whole-class teaching viable and enjoyable for all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have worked in schools that would make your eyes water. Nobody ever threw a chair at me. I work in Inner London where this behaviour you refer to has become a thing of the past, in my experience.
    Do children throw chairs at your school? I bet they don’t.
    I find this constant drip drip drip of disrespect for children, parents and especially teachers from you, Mrs Hepplewhite, Mr Burkhard – when was the last time they had responsibility for a class? 25 years ago? Have they ever had a class under the current regime? Ermmm? – and others, based on outdated rumour and gossip, is becoming quite sinister and needs challenging.


    • Granted, teaching unions have an interest in exaggerating behaviour problems, but in January this year the ATL reported that:

      “Forty-three per cent of education staff said they have had to deal with physical violence from a pupil in the last year, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

      “Of those who have experienced physical violence from a pupil, 77% have been pushed or shoved; 52% have been kicked; 50% have had an object such as furniture thrown at them, and 37% have been punched.

      “Eighty-nine per cent of teachers have dealt with challenging or disruptive pupils in the last year. Support staff also have to deal with challenging or disruptive behaviour, with 90% stating they had dealt with it in the last year.”

      Even allowing for bias in collecting and report data, I think this pretty conclusively demonstrates that your anecdotal evidence is not typical of what most teachers experience. Terry Haydn at UEA is one of our foremost authorities on behaviour in schools, and his evidence is much closer to the ATL version than the sanitised Ofsted claim that behaviour is at least ‘Satisfactory’ in 99.7% of our schools.

      Most teachers I know who are still working are in schools where behaviour is rated ‘good’ report that discipline varies; the worst classes are around 3 on Haydn’s scale, with pupils walking in and out of class at will, and only the best teachers can maintain behaviour at levels 9 and 10 on the Haydn scale. The rest are mostly 6 or 7, with low-level chatter going on during seatwork, but no open defiance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Quirky works in primary schools and writes about them. I refer to primary too.
        OFSTED recently find 88% of primary schools good or better. Of those that are found less than good, some, not all, will be found wanting due to behaviour. For Quirky and the rest of you to persist that poor behaviour is rife in primary schools and is caused by progressive ideology is propagandist teacher bashing and I wonder why you do it? Why do you do it?
        Stating that talking to a neighbour is poor behaviour is scraping the barrel, looking for trouble, in my opinion. I know classes where you can walk in and it all looks very lively, but the teacher gets outstanding results and observations. I know other classes where everyone is silent at all times, scared to say boo to a goose – results are not so good. I know classes with integrated children with ASD conditions who will set off screaming for 45 minutes at a time, when something upsets them, maybe more than once a day at the start of term, or will have to be managed with loud dramatic voices while class teaching is going on, and these class teachers still get outstanding results and observations too.
        Please stop teacher bashing.


      • Pat–I do everything I can to support teachers at all levels, primary and secondary. Most of them try very hard under difficult circumstances, but to pretend that everything is lovely in the rose garden is to do the profession a profound disservice. After all, do you think the ATL is ‘teacher bashing’? It would seem that you’ve missed out on the CPD on reflective practice.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s