Behavior Management Series

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NASET’sBehavior Management Series is a unique guide for all teachers in helping to understand what their student’s behavior really means and how to identify and resolve the issue. This series offers teachers the insight into the inner dynamics, conflicts, fears, symptoms, tension, and so on of students who may be experiencing difficulty learning or behaving in the classroom. This series is like having a psychologist in the classroom, and assists teachers in fully understanding the causes of behavioral and learning problems that they observe on a daily basis, along with practical suggestions for dealing with these issues.

As a special education teacher you will come in contact with a variety of personality types in the classroom. For the most part, teachers are put on the firing line with little or no training in why children do what they do. They are expected to help children learn but are not trained in understanding the numerous dynamic obstacles that prevent children from reaching this objective. Most teachers have not taken courses on human nature and dynamics and are not aware of symptomatic behavior and what is means. This lack of understanding creates immense frustration which only hinders the teacher’s progress in working with fostering children’s academic success.

All teachers need to understand the inner workings of children who are experiencing trouble in school. Understanding what causes children to choose certain behavioral patterns can help reach them sooner and prevent long lasting scars.

We will present you with an easy to understand basis of why children do what they do. It is our hope that this insight will allow you to work more effectively on the real issues that may be creating problems in and outside of school. We have also provided step by step suggestions on what to do when a specific behavior occurs in your classroom. The suggestions are only guidelines on what to do. It is critical to understand that patterns of inappropriate behavior should always be shared with the school psychologist or child study team. We hope this series acts as reference tool for early identification of problems seen in everyday classrooms.

How Problems Generate Into Symptoms

Dynamic or internal problems i.e. conflicts, fears, insecurities, create tension. The more serious the problem or the greater the level of tension experienced by a child. When tension is present, behavior is used to relieve the tension. The more serious the problem/s the greater the tension and the behavior required to relieve this tension becomes more immediate. As a result, the behavior may be inappropriate and impulsive rather than well thought out.

When tension is very high it may require a variety of behaviors to relive the dynamic stress. These behaviors then become symptoms of the seriousness of the problem. That is why the frequency and intensity of the symptomatic behavior reflects the seriousness of the underlying problems.

As the child becomes more confident or learns to work out his problems i.e. through therapy, the underlying problems become smaller. As a result they generate less tension and consequently less inappropriate, impulsive or self-destructive behavior patterns.

If a child does not recognize or does not have the label for the problem then the tension is usually released through some form of behavior. We call these outlets of tension behavioral symptoms. These behavioral symptoms are sometimes misidentified as problems and therefore treated as such. When this occurs the problem only gets worse. If one sees a fever as the problem, then treating that alone will exacerbate the problem.  These behavioral symptoms become the first signal noticed by teachers, parents and professionals.

Therefore, it is very important for teachers to understand the difference between symptoms and problems. If this is not fully understood, a great deal of frustration will occur in trying to extinguish the symptom on both the part of the child and the teacher.

The identification of symptoms as an indication of something more serious is another first step in helping children work out their problem.

Symptomatic Behavior

Examples of typical symptomatic behavior patterns that may be indicative of more serious concerns may include the following:


lies constantly

frequently hands in incomplete work


gives many excuses for inappropriate behavior

fearful of adults

constantly blames others for problems

fearful of new situations

panics easily

verbally hesitant



short attention span



fears criticism

physical with others

rarely takes chances



unable to focus on task

defies authority




not able to generalize

turns head while listening



trouble starting work


tires easily



poor judgment

overly critical




painfully shy

unwillingness to venture a guess

overly social

unwillingness to reason

slow starter

social withdrawal


constant use of self criticism

destroys property

bullies other children


needs constant reassurance


poor reader

poor spelling



While many of these symptoms may indicate the presence of a problem, several guidelines can be used to determine the seriousness of the problems:
 1) FREQUENCY OF SYMPTOMS - Consider how often the symptoms occur.  The more serious the problem the greater amount of tension generated. The greater amount of tension the more frequent will be the need to release this tension. Therefore, the greater the frequency of the symptom, the greater chance that the problem/s are serious.
2) DURATION OF SYMPTOMS - Consider how long the symptoms last. The more serious the problem the greater the degree of tension generated. The greater the degree the longer it will take to release the tension. Therefore, the longer the duration of the symptoms the more serious the problem.
3) INTENSITY OF SYMPTOMS - Consider how serious the reactions are at the time of occurrence.  The more serious the problem the more intense the level of tension coming off the problem will be.

Energy Drain and its Effect on Behavior and Learning

Low Tension Level - Division of Energy

Everyone possesses a certain amount of psychic energy to use in dealing with the everyday demands and stresses of life. In normal development there is a certain amount of stress but because of an absence of major conflicts which tend to drain energy, the individual has more than enough to keep things in perspective. Consequently, the division of energy usually results in what we call positive behavior symptoms.

For instance, in school the child, will exhibit (more often than not) behaviors that include, good concentration, responsibility with school work, consistency, age appropriate attention span, flexibility, appropriate memory, high frustration tolerance, appropriate peer interaction , organization and an appropriate ability to focus on tasks.  One will hear these comments from teachers and notice many at home when the child is involved with homework. It is also important that it is kept in mind that not every child who is conflict free will exhibit these symptoms all the time. Only become concerned if patterns of behaviors reflect a potential problem.

If the child is conflict free, one will also notice certain positive behavior patterns at home. These will include (more often than not), normal strivings for parental approval, resiliency, willingness to reason, willingness to try, appropriate judgment and normal responses to discipline. Again keep in mind that these patterns may vary to some degree during adolescence and still be within “normal” limits.

If the child is not experiencing any major problems, he/she will usually have little difficulty falling asleep. While they may have problems waking up, as many of us do, it will not interfere in their ability to get to school. A problem like this is only serious when it affects one’s ability to function, usually referred to as a functional impairment. Such would be the case if a child could not get up every morning and was consistently late to school. This type of symptomatic behavior might be a signal of a more serious problem.

Socially, the child will (more often than not) maintain social interactions; show a willingness to try new social experiences and treat his/her peers appropriately.

High Tension Level - Division of Energy

 However, when serious conflicts arise, the available energy must be "drained away” to deal with the conflicts like white blood cells to an infection. Since energy must be drained away there is less available energy to keep things in perspective.

When a parent or teacher observes a pattern of behaviors similar to these, he/she should automatically become aware that some serious problem may exist. These symptoms are not the problems but an outgrowth of a serious problem. It is therefore very important for the parent to try to identify what the problem or problems are so that treatment can take place.

If it is suspected that some difficulty exists, one should not hesitate initiating a referral or consultation with the school psychologist or contact a local therapist for a consultation. Like an “infection”, waiting too long will only aggravate the situation.

Consequently, when such serious problems or conflicts arise, they will drain off energy normally used for home and school.  As this energy is drained away to deal with these serious issues, negative symptomatic behavior patterns will develop. Such symptoms should indicate to you that a problem exists and needs to be defined as soon as possible. These negative behavior patterns, indicating the presence of conflict/s will be observed in many areas of the child’s life.

For instance, at school the child may now exhibit negative symptoms like inability to focus on task, procrastination, disorganization, denial, irresponsibility, inflexibility, projecting the reasons for problems on everyone and everything else, selected forgetting, daydreaming and so on.

At home a parent may observe oversensitivity, over-reactions, forgetfulness, unwillingness to venture out, unwillingness to reason, stubbornness, lying, exaggeration and possible somatic complaints such as stomach aches, headaches and so on. You may even begin to notice changes in the child’s sleeping patterns. He/she may have great difficulty falling asleep since tension interferes with relaxation and may even begin to sleep walking or other signs of restless sleep. In the morning you may find extreme resistance in getting up which may result in lateness or absence. More frequent nightmares may also be a signal of some unresolved inner conflicts.

Socially, one may observe the child withdrawing from social situation, constantly finding fault with peers, being unwilling to try new social experiences, express social fears or beliefs that no one likes him/her and so on.

Remember, that such symptoms only occur as a result of a deeper undefined problem. Once the problem is identified and resolved, the negative symptomatic behavior will dissipate since the tension will be alleviated. If caught early, most of these issues can be resolved in a relatively quick period of time. However, also be aware that even though the problem may be identified, many months or years may have passed and will result in a longer treatment period.

If therapy is required be aware that it can be a long term process, especially if the problems have been around for a long period of time. However, you can tell if your child is making progress in therapy by the reduction of the negative symptomatic behavior patterns. As a child begins to verbalize the issues and find better ways of coping, the tension becomes diminished. As the tension is reduced the need for symptomatic behavior is also reduced, So usually a reduction in the frequency, duration and intensity of negative symptoms will mean that your child is getting stronger and may be on the right track.

Each month you will be presented with approximately six different symptomatic behaviors that are frequently observed in the classroom. We will explain the possible underlying reasons for the behaviors and provide helpful and practical suggestions on how to handle the behaviors in the classroom.

Adapted from The Special Educator’s Book of Lists/2004/Pierangelo/Jossey Bass Publishers

Behaviors Covered:

Issue #1

    • Why Children Have Unexcused Absences

  • Why Children Exhibit Overall Academic Failure in School

  • Why Children Have High Activity Levels

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Issue # 2

  • Why Children Have Low Activity Levels

  • Why Children Are Verbally Aggressive

  • Why Some Children Become Easily Angered, Annoyed or Upset

  • Why Children Are Anxious

  • Why Children Exhibit Separation Anxiety

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Issue # 3

  • Why Children Are Argumentative

  • Why Children Need to Be the Center Of Attention

  • Why Children Need Immediate Attention

  • Why Children Can’t Attend To a Task

  • Why Children Have Short Attention Spans

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Issue # 4

  • Why Children Bother Other Students Who Are Trying To Work

  • Why Children Are Boy or Girl Crazy

  • Why Children Are Bullies

  • Why Children Cheat

  • Why Children Become Class Clowns

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Issue # 5

  • Why Children Avoid Handing In Classwork

  • Why Children Cling To Teachers or Are Very Needy

  • Why Children Are Clumsy

  • Why Some Children Make Inappropriate Comments

  • Why Children Have Trouble Grasping Concepts

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Issue #6

  • Why Children Defy Authority

  • Why Children Become Depressed

  • Why Children Destroy Their Work

  • Why Children Have Difficulty Following Written Directions

  • Why Some Children Have Difficulty Following Verbal Directions

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Issue #7

  • Why Children Are Followers

  • Why Children Lose Focus Early In the Morning

  • Why Children Lose Focus after Lunch

  • Why Children Are Forgetful

  • Why Children Have No Friends

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Issue #8

  • Why Children Are Controlling

  • Why Children Are Critical Of Others

  • Why Children Are Critical Of Themselves

  • Why Children Are Distractible

  • Why Children Make Excuses

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Issue #9

  • Why Children Fail Tests

  • Why Children Can Not Handle Constructive Criticism

  • Why Children Cry Easily

  • Why Children Destroy the Property of Others

  • Why Children Daydream

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Issue #10

  • Why Some Children Are Never Chosen for Games

  • Why Children Are Hesitant

  • Why Children Take Too Many Hours to Do Homework

  • Why Children Fight with Other Students

  • Why Children Make Frequent Trips to the Bathroom

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Issue #11

  • Why Children Blame Others for Their Problems

  • Why Children Suffer From Fatigue

  • Why Children Are Fearful Of Adults

  • Why Children Are Fearful Of New Situations

  • Why Children Are Impulsive

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Issue #12 

  • Why Children Tune Out

  • Why Children Exhibit Twitches and Tics

  • Why Some Children are Always Victimized by Other Children

  • Why Some Children Tattle on Other Children

  • Why Children Make up Stories

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Issue #13 

  • Why Some Children Need to Please the Teacher all the Time

  • Why Some Children do not Participate in Classroom Activities

  • Why Some Children Are Very Popular

  • Why Children Exhibit Poor Judgment

  • Why Children are Chronically Late to School

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Issue #14 

  • Why Children Are Unpopular

  • Why Children Procrastinate

  • Why Children Exhibit Risky Behavior

  • Why Children Are Shy

  • Why Are Some Children Slow Starters

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Issue #15 

  • Why Children Ask A Great Deal Of Questions

  • Why Some Children Cannot Remain Seated

  • Why Children Have Problems With Sharing

  • Why Children Steal

  • Why Children Make Up Stories

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 Issue #16

  • Why Children Never Seem To Listen To The Teacher

  • Why Children Lie

  • Why Children Are Not Motivated In School

  • Why Children Frequently Squint

  • Why Children Are Stubborn

 Issue #17

  • Why Some Children Make Unnecessary or Inappropriate Noises or Sounds

  • Why Children Write and Pass Notes In Class

  • Why Children Make Frequent Visits To The Nurse

  • Why Children Threaten To Hurt or Kill Themselves

  • Why Some Children Tease Other Children

Issue #18

  • Why Children Are Disorganized

  • Why Children Overreact

  • Why Children Panic Easily

  • Why Children Are Inflexible

  • Why Children Are Insecure

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