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Behavior Intervention Strategies for Anxiety in the Classroom

If you’ve been teaching for 2+ years, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen disruptive behavior in the classroom and one of these:

  1. Work refusal

  2. Eloping

  3. Off task behavior

These disruptive behaviors are all a part of refusing to follow expectations, right? You give a demand and the student flat out refuses.

It all goes back to the word, “no.”

We teachers are the most frustrated and lost when kids simply dig in their heels and refuse to do what they need to.

Or maybe it’s just me that gets frustrated? 😝

We all want a quick fix for these disruptive student management behaviors. And of course I’m going to give you a place to start so you can have work refusal strategies, student disruptive behavior interventions, and how to get students to listen and follow expectations.

Now, here’s a list of very basic things that you can do as your first line of defense for these behaviors.

  1. Use your relationship with the student to talk to them and get on their level

  2. Create incentives and use individual student goals for target behaviors

  3. Teacher replacement skills

These strategies are amazing and very effective.

But when dealing with really difficult behaviors, those strategies may not be enough.

We need to know why it’s happening in the first place and what the lagging skills are.

Lagging skills are skills students do not currently have in a given area. They could be academic, social, emotional, behavioral, executive functioning, etc.

Now, in my experience, these behaviors tend to be a manifestation of anxiety.

Not to say every student exhibiting these behaviors has anxiety, but hear me out.

Being nervous, overthinking and entering into a state of dysregulation can all be traced back to anxious thoughts.

When we physically see students refusing to start or finish their work, we can ask, “what’s making them feel anxious about this assignment?”

When we physically see students running away, we can ask, “what’s making them feel anxious in that environment?”

These guiding questions change the game in how we respond.

The answers may not be perfectly clear every time, but as you keep asking, and responding with targeted interventions, you’ll get closer and closer.

Let's fix it.


Some targeted interventions that support anxiety in the classroom with the manifestations of work refusal and eloping:

Intervention #1

Rating how difficult the work was/is for the student before and after the assignment so the student can see monitor how hard the assignment might feel before they start and see how much easier it was after they've completed it

Intervention #2

Starting a tough assignment with the teacher earlier in the day so the student knows exactly what to expect later when you give the assignment to the whole class.

Intervention #3

Taking a cognitive break when the student starts to feel overwhelmed and engage in something that stimulates their mind that is NOT academic

By implementing targeted behavior intervention strategies that get to the root of the student disruptive behavior, we’re more likely to shape that behavior in a positive way.

This means less work refusal, more engagement.

Less running around the school, more following expectations.

Want more tips for handling student refusal and disruptive behavior, and getting disruptive behavior interventions?

Register for my upcoming free class, How to Get Your Students to Stop Saying “No!”

Click here to save your spot!

It’s a totally free class and the replay will be sent out if you can’t make it live!

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