What to Do with a “Bad Kid” in the Classroom?

Shannon Sensei,
I have this really bad kid in my class. Let’s call him Johnny. He’s not interested in learning at all. If he’s not running around the classroom and tearing things off of the walls, he’s annoying the other kids in the class. I’m constantly spending time yelling at him, but nothing seems to do the trick.
I really dread going to school each day. I just don’t know what to do with him.
Help!!
Peter
PS This is a class of three year olds.

Peter,
This is something that all teachers face at some point or another. You are not alone.
The first thing that you need to do is get rid of the idea that he is a “bad kid”. This is one of the hardest things to do, I know. But the more that you think he is a bad kid, the more he becomes the bad kid. He’s responding to the idea that you have of him. He knows that he can get your attention by being a bad kid, so that’s what he becomes.
Think about it. You work with three year olds, so you know that they have’t quite mastered control over their bodies. Sometimes they lose their balance and bump into another child. This isn’t really their fault, but it upsets and hurts that child. If you didn’t see it, and a child comes up to you and says “Kevin pushed me!”, you probably know that Kevin is not very coordinated and it was likely an accident.

But what do you do if that same child says, “Johnny pushed me!”?

You probably start yelling at Johnny for pushing, make him say “I’m sorry.” and dole out your usual punishment. Is this fair? Your perception of Johnny as a “bad kid” makes you immediately assume the worst. (Alternatively, your perception of Kevin as a “good kid” means that you assume the best of him, even if he did indeed push the child.)

The key is to first change your mind. Remind yourself every day that all of your students are great kids who deserve your (positive) attention. I’m personally a big fan of positive reinforcement techniques and always try them first. For example, Johnny is acting out because he wants to receive your attention. Don’t give it to him for bad behavior. If Johnny is playing with toys while all of the other kids are paying attention during lesson time, start to praise all of the other kids in the class. Comment on how nicely Lisa is sitting or how well Doug answered the last question. I guarantee that once Johnny starts hearing everybody except him getting attention, he’s going to come join the lesson. Make sure that you praise Johnny when he does good things.
This may take a few tries, so please be patient.
It’s also a good idea to set up a daily reward system. I use a smile system. If those fail, try talking to his parents to see what type of discipline systems they use at home. You may find that those are effective in the classroom as well. You can also put him in the corner (though with very young kids, they don’t always know at first that this is a bad thing), or take away certain privileges.

I hope that these techniques work for you. If not, please let me know and I’ll see what other ideas I can come up with.

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