Tips to manage a behaviorally-challenged student and avoid emotional burnout

Published on 17th August, 2020 by Dr. Zainab Shaukat

Tips to manage a behaviorally-challenged  student and avoid emotional burnout

Teaching an inclusive classroom can be quite demanding, especially with behaviorally challenged students. Disruptions during lesson, walking out, using offensive language and not following instructions, are behaviors which prevent the teachers from effectively delivering their lesson. Several researchers have studied the relationship of students’ challenging behavior with teacher burnout, the largest effect on teacher’s emotional exhaustion. (Aloe, Shisler, Norris, Nickerson & Rinker, 2014) By taking following simple measures, they can efficiently manage such students, without emotionally and physically draining themselves.


Getting to know the student on a deep personal level and gaining their trust goes a long way in managing their behavior and achieving the desired outcome efficiently and less stressfully.

  • Be aware of their preferences for peers, seating space, play area, lessons, books and movies and use them to achieve better class involvement.
  • A quick daily check on their emotions, present stresses and goal for the day helps them to take ownership of their day and feel their teacher’s concern, which they deeply crave.
  • Keep a code word. It helps personalize the bond and is useful and less stimulating in stressful situations.
  • Give your student the benefit of doubt. A chance to explain the events, commonly environmental factors, unwanted peer involvement, emotional stress, which led them to behave undesirably. Consequently, next time they might share their feelings of increasing anxiety with their teacher, whom they trust, before losing control.


Running away, hiding in a corner, pushing peers and leaving the classroom are some of the student behaviors commonly witnessed by teachers from early childhood to secondary. It disrupts a teacher’s classroom and can be quite stressful physically and emotionally. Behaviorally challenged students, especially struggling with other neurological challenges, often experience the subconscious desire to isolate to emotionally regulate themselves. Give them a chance to take a break and assign a designated SAFE SPACE to avoid chasing them or looking for them all over the school.

  • Set up a tepee in the class for Early Childhood and Lower Primary
  • Keep a couch in class
  • A safe room or a corner in the library for older students
  • Effective communication within the department to avoid confusion
Tips to manage a behaviorally-challenged  student and avoid emotional burnout


Behaviorally challenged students have a deep-rooted desire to gain visibility in the classroom, usually causing lesson interruptions. Such actions emotionally exhaust the teachers. However, repeated verbal prompts and pointing out cause a sensory overload and a dent in their self-esteem, worsening the day as it proceeds. Setting up clear boundaries and using black and white instructions about the big NOs, help in keeping the main goal in focus. Also, making it easier for the teacher to let go of the behaviors that are either not harmful, or inevitable for the student. Using minimum verbal prompts in class and replacing them with visual or gestural prompts, in my personal experience, is greatly impactful. It safeguards the student’s self-esteem and the teacher’s emotional threshold.


Having an in-class and personalized reward system works really well for these students. A pompom/marble jar, sticker chart, daily/weekly achievement checklist, teacher response booklet with daily successes and struggles are some resources that can be used. Design the system with 3-5 components, addressing desirable (or undesirable) behavior, 1-2 desired academic goals, social/ emotional skill, and one overarching goal, depending upon the student’s needs and struggles. Keep the approach multi-sensory (visual, auditory, tactile) and goals S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound), with gradual increase in difficulty level. Seeing the teacher’s excitement, the student actually looks forward to putting a tick or a marble. Accumulating the rewards to get a bigger reward helps in sustaining the motivation throughout the we

Tips to manage a behaviorally-challenged  student and avoid emotional burnout


Behaviorally-challenged students tend to get bored and tired easily in a lesson. Use light humor to ease the mood and develop interest, for instance, using riddles to start a new lesson. Use the student’s favorite book to introduce a literary paragraph for language arts class. Give frequent chances to shine by giving a job the student is capable of doing, like a group leader. Spotting waning interest, ask the student to help out as an assistant teacher, indirectly ensuring participation.


Behaviorally-challenged students are limited by their low self-esteem. Trying a new assignment or learning a subject they are not good at, is particularly difficult. Giving them small achievable goals and complementing even minute successes, boosts their self-esteem and encourages them to accomplish more. ADHD or ASD students have impaired executive functions especially higher order thinking skills causing them to give up a task or not attempt at all. Breaking down instructions helps them to organize their thoughts and reach the goal productively. Scaffolding leads to automaticity and independence.


A collaborative multi-disciplinary approach always helps in effectively managing a behaviorally-challenged student and prevents teacher burnout. Teamwork with parents, school counsellor, psychologist/educational therapist and other caregivers, helps in ensuring a consistent approach. Getting the parents on board empowers them to implement same instructions at home, ensuring continuity. Keeping colleagues in the loop adds a helping hand and also prevents the student from being misunderstood by other students and teachers.

Tips to manage a behaviorally-challenged  student and avoid emotional burnout
Dr. Zainab Shaukat

About the Author - Dr. Zainab Shaukat

Dr. Shaukat is an experienced and registered Educational Therapist in Singapore, providing therapy and Shadow Support to students with Specific Learning Differences. She recognizes the educational stresses that students face and is passionately committed to nurturing their self-esteem and commending the request for help hence ensuring their sustainable future. Dr. Shaukat takes great pleasure in her work and watching her students become independent and empowered is her greatest reward.

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