How to Prevent Disruptive Behaviour and Maximise Engagement in Learning using Positive Pedagogy

How to Prevent Disruptive Behaviour and Maximise Engagement in Learning using Positive Pedagogy

Every single teacher at some point of their career has experienced at least a few challenging situations when it comes to managing children’s behaviour and dealing with disruptions. Keeping students motivated and dealing with disruptive behaviour as it happens is one of the most challenging aspects of being an educator. However, it is definitely doable and with a change of perspective, some practice and a set of useful strategies at hand it gets easier with time. When you focus on prevention, applying Positive Pedagogy and offering exciting learning environments it may even become one of your favourite aspects!

In this article we are going to explore various tools and approaches that are effective in preventing disruptive behaviour in general. But before we get there…

There is no such thing as misbehaviour

This one may surprise you and especially when the article is supposed to be about disruptive behaviour. A change of perspective will help you understand what we mean and is actually a crucial step to approaching this topic in a more holistic and children-centered manner.

diverse kids painting creative expression arts crafts early childhood
Tuning into children’s perspective may help teachers understand reasons behind their behaviour.

Developmental challenges that affect children’s behaviour

If we forget about teacher’s perspective for a while and tune into children’s world we might discover something very interesting that will help us redefine the way we understand disruptive behaviour and discipline problems in general. 

Children navigate the world and try to understand it according to their constantly developing and expanding capacity. This means that a vast part of it is still unknown to them. They try to figure our how they bodies work, what emotions are, how to communicate, use language, how to make sense of all the information and sensory stimuli that are constantly coming their way. All this may be overwhelming.

With nurturing support and guidance of educators and parents this process may be easier, more holistic and more exciting in general. However, not all children receive such support, which makes the whole process more complicated, sometimes very emotional, lonely and painful.

cosy dens in early years disruptive behaviour
Children may be going through various developmental, physical and emotional challenges which affect their behaviour.

Some children are affected by additional developmental, physical and emotional challenges related to their health, their living conditions, certain traumatic events that happen in their lives, parenting style and many more. In their early years children go through quite a complex process which they need to navigate with still limited (compared to adults) capacity. This naturally affects their behaviour in various ways. Children may become tired quite easily, unfocused, grumpy or particularly attached. They may become agitated, distressed, anxious, unsettled or even aggressive. They may become unusually timid, quiet and distant or very noisy and hyper active.

Usually such behaviour will not be deliberate but rather a subconscious response to various factors and events that affect children in their early years. Sometimes, however certain behaviour may be deliberate, which would mean children have developed certain understanding of cause and effect and realise how they behaviour impacts their immediate environments. In both instances, they are still learning and exploring the world. 

The danger of labels

Such behaviour patterns are often considered, categorised or labelled as misbehaviour or discipline problems or in general as negative. While they can certainly disrupt the flow of pre-planned activities, structured learning sessions or even become too loud or overwhelming for other children to witness they should be treated as part of children’s natural developmental behavioural display. When they become automatically categorised as negative there is a danger that children may start to identify with labels that we attach to their behaviour such as naughty, disruptive, aggressive, cheeky, trouble and it negatively impacts on their self-esteem. As a result children may start to express disruptive behaviour more often and it may become a pattern. 

child led play toddler early childhood
Positive feedback helps children grow and develop to their full potential.

For clarification, for the purpose of this article we use the adjective “disruptive” as the closest to neutral word to describes a range of children’s behaviour that may signal they require support. The word should not be interpreted as a negative label in this context.

Change of perspective matters

Once we understand and are ready to adapt children’s perspective it’s much easier to come to the conclusion that in reality there is no such thing as disruptive behaviour but rather all what manifests is just a spectrum of various behavioural patterns and displays.

These displays may have different impact on the flow of your classes, the structure of your activities, your overall plan for the day, even on your mood. They might certainly influence other children’s behaviour, the classroom and group dynamics, the overall energy level of other children. Such behaviour may trigger other children and this influence may not be neutral. One crying child may easily “inspire” others to join them and you may very soon end up with a team of little ones needing attention and support. 

afro American girl sitting on a tree early years
Children are constantly looking for best ways to express their energy.

At the end of the day, no matter what kind of disruptive behaviour your students display, your priority is to offer them adequate support whether short-term or long-term. Again, we have a change of perspective here – from disrupted lesson flow being a priority to actually a child being in the centre because they behaviour signals they may need your help or guidance. 

With such perspective in mind, our biggest priority as educators would be to recognise, understand children’s behaviour and know:

  • how to deal with it immediately offering the most personalised and adequate support 
  • what kind of long-term strategy to adopt to help an individual child 
  • how to prevent certain type of disruptive behaviour by promoting positive role models, offering enabling and balanced learning environments that supports active holistic and experiential learning and child-led play
  • How to support other children affected by disruptive behaviour patterns displayed by individual members of the group

Why children display disruptive behaviour

Apart from what we have shared so far there will be certain typical reasons why children display certain behaviour patterns which may be considered disruptive and being aware of them will definitely help you navigate wide range of situations. Naturally, there might be individual cases that may require deeper investigation before deciding on the best approach but the following should help you get the bigger picture.

Children display disruptive behaviour because:

  • they need positive attention – Because children thrive on positive feedback to grow harmoniously and to develop to their full potential their disruptive behaviour in your classroom might be a sign that they receive little or not enough positive attention or feedback. If this is the case they may try to ask for whatever attention they may receive.
  • they find it hard to fully express themselves – Children are active by nature and their need to constantly let go of the energy they accumulate during the day. They will do so by finding the best ways to express themselves and channel the energy into something they particularly like. If  the environments does not support them to do so they will need to use whatever means available to regulate their energy.
Children are always ready to work in partnerships
  • they want to be treated as partners – Children instinctively know that their voice should be heard and in harmonious conditions they quickly become aware of their individual needs that they wish to be respected. Too much discipline, authoritative teaching style and lack of consideration for their needs quickly leads to disruptive behaviour. 
  • they are expected to do more than they are ready for – Too much pressure can create fear of failure and frustration which might easily lead to anger, feeling of inadequacy and losing self-confidence, distress and result in disruptive behaviour.
  • they are bored – Children very easily get absorbed in things they are excited about and when they do, they are hardly ever disruptive. It’s when they are bored they will look for things to do and get busy with as this is part of the natural learning process – to be creative, to be curious, to explore 
  • they feel unwell – Many children become disruptive when they are in pain or feel unwell. This may relate to either physical or emotional state. Children may feel physically unwell with our without externally visible symptoms and they may or may not know how to or be willing to share this. They may also be hungry or thirsty. They may be emotionally distressed, grieving, feel lonely or scared. Some may cry, whine, become loud or aggressive and some may try to find a comforting place to hide where they prefer to deal with their emotions or pain. As educators we need to become sensitive towards such behaviour to offer adequate support and reassurance.
example of hands on project that keep children motivated - children playing with model of human body pretending they perform a surgery
Appealing hands-on projects keep children engaged and motivated.
  • neuro-diversity – This one is very often neglected or ignored but is a quite common factor affecting children’s behaviour. In general, children’s nervous system is not yet fully developed and may be sensitive to various stimuli and it applies to neuro-typical children too. Neuro-diverse children will be easier affected by noise, crowd, movement, space, light and various factors that may trigger certain behaviour that on the outside may be considered as disruptive. Educators need to make sure the learning environments is adjusted accordingly to supports such children and certain arrangements are made to address their unique needs.

Addressing and preventing disruptive behaviour

As teachers we have worked with all age ranges starting from early years, through school children, teenagers, university students, adults and the elderly and after more than 20 years of teaching and training our observation is still the same – our students’ misbehaviour means we need to reflect on our teaching and support systems that we offer our students and the kind of learning environments we provide them with.

Yes, there will be individual cases when the misbehaviour is related to personal issues, abuse or other individual circumstances but in general we as educators will still be responsible for making sure we do our best to support such students. This attitude has nothing to do with blaming yourself but rather with being reflective, sensitive and trying to find the most effective ways to appeal to your students’ needs and address them for the individuals and a group as a whole. 

outdoor learning early childhood asian girls gardening
Children get easily absorbed in experiences that excite them.

To be honest with you, there are no magic tricks you can perform to eliminate misbehaviour if you don’t try to understand its nature first and the fact how your own teaching style and attitude in general affects your students’ behaviour. However, assuming you take this on board you can adopt the following techniques and approaches and see how they can positively affect your children:

  1. Positive Pedagogy

This would be one of your main tools to work with. Positive Pedagogy focuses on gentle guidance, emphasising children’s positive behaviour, their strengths and successes in order to encourage them to navigate towards more holistic, balanced and harmonious behavioural patterns. In this approach educators perceives a child as a capable individual, who when offered support, will develop awareness that will help them make more conscious decisions related to their behaviour and regulate their emotions. 

Positive Pedagogy does not ignore disruptive behaviour patters. When they occur children are offered guidance, provided safe and comforting environments that help them soothe their nervous system, understand their behaviour and how it affects others and offered tools to deal with their emotions. 

This approach serves as a foundation to any other approaches you decide to adopt – with Positive Pedagogy your chances of succeeding will be much higher as you will be leading with heart, compassion, understanding, sensitivity but also wisdom that helps establish clear boundaries

2. Build partnerships

Positive relationships built on mutual trust and respect means your children know that you are always on their side trying to understand them instead of just requiring obedience. This way you will become a person to talk to, ask for help and guidance, which opens the door to authentic exchange between you and your students. Be honest, ask for their opinion, encourage discussions, offer choice, don’t be afraid of showing who you are as a person. By doing so your students will be more likely to look for support when they need it and this alone may be enough to help them deal with their emotions and issues in a more balanced way. .

Offer variety of appealing hands-on and multi-sensory experiences and plenty of flexibility for children to decide about the nature of their learning.
Offer variety of appealing hands-on and multi-sensory experiences and plenty of flexibility for children
to decide about the nature of their learning.

3. Offer variety

Work on your classroom/house/group dynamics by introducing various types of activities that promote movement, enWork on your classroom dynamics by offering enabling and balanced learning environments. The easiest way to do this is to adopt Active Holistic Experiential Learning as primary way of working whether indoors or outdoors. This means introducing various types of activities and contexts that promote hands-on interaction including movement, experiments, team work, project work.

This is particularly important in the early years where Experiential Learning should become a base platform trough which you offer variety of exciting activities and contexts that appeal to senses, various interests, children’s energy types and different learning styles. Using Play & Learning Stations will help create a long lasting framework that keeps children continuously busy and additionally it will promote independence, self-discipline and self-discovery. Keeping your students busy and inspired is one of the easiest ways to prevent disruptive behaviour. .

4. Appeal to interests

Know your students and offer them activities, topics, contexts and environments that interest them the most. Observe what types of activities motivate them most and plan to use them more often to cover your specific learning goals. Pick-up cues from your children and offer most appropriate follow-ups to appeal to their interests. If they are musical play background music and incorporate musical theme into your planning. If they are into bugs and insects, make sure you offer enough outdoor play and exploration opportunities. The same applies to other talents. Your students might prefer team work in general, they might be science oriented or extremely active so they need a lot of movement and action. Make sure you offer balanced environments without prioritising specific areas of learning and neglecting others. 

early childhood nursery building blocks diverse children work together
Offer opportunities for collaboration focused on children’s strengths.

5. Introduce rules

Agreeing on basic rules and expected behaviour helps introduce boundaries and might offer sense of security. It also encourages self-discipline and reflection. Remember to discuss the rules with students instead of just imposing them and expect to obey the rules yourself as well. They will soon help you promote positive behaviour and help other children follow the rules too. 

6. Involve children in planning

Discussing learning experiences with students helps you to plan the right types of activities for them, use the most appealing tools and approaches to keep them busy and motivated. Apart from that, it is a great way to empower your students as they will feel trusted to decide about their own learning. 

Dealing with misbahaviour as it happens is a relatively difficult task. It is much easier to prevent disruptive behaviour by knowing what causes it and planning balanced learning experiences and environments for your children. It requires great flexibility, reflection and most of all child-centred observation as there are no fixed rules that will work for every one. Embracing the fact that any disruption is a  just display of behaviour and might mean that your students need more support from you opens the door to the whole new world and new perspective for you as an educator. It may help you step up into a new role where leading by example, being supportive, guiding and understanding your students as individuals is the golden key to success. 


To help you promote positive behaviour and to offer Active Experiential Learning in your setting, Natural Born Leaders has launched a teacher support programme ACTIVE LEARNING BOOSTER. 

It’s a self-paced hands-on online training programme for Early Years and Primary Teachers who are ready to offer Future-Oriented Education based on Active Experiential Holistic Learning and Development.

You can access the first training module for FREE and then continue your journey from as low as $11.99. 

Experiential Learning Future Oriented Education Teacher Training


Magdalena Matulewicz Witold Matulewicz Natural Born Leaders
Authors: Magdalena Matulewicz & Witold Matulewicz – Teacher Trainers, Assessors
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