One of the most common questions parents ask teachers of elementary school children is how do you get your class to behave?

Of course, parents are often shocked to find that not all elementary school teachers have the answers. If you’re struggling to keep the unruliest of your elementary pupils under control, you might want to consider these five handy tips to help you achieve the most well-behaved class in your school.

1. Use specific positive reinforcement

Prevention can often be better than cure. As a teacher, you’ll have likely heard this phrase before: positive reinforcement is important. It can come in a variety of flavors, too: sharing, smiling, offering praise or simply high fiving a student.

You should be wary of simply spouting praise without giving thought to what you’re saying though.

The most effective praise is:

  • Specific
  • Selective
  • Positive, and
  • Encouraging

You should avoid creating competition or making comparisons when offering positive reinforcement. Elementary school children are a lot more socially savvy than we often give them credit for, and they’ll fully aware when you’re simply placating them with an insincere well done. Try to avoid mediocre phrases like good job and instead be more specific about the observed action of good behavior – for example, you’ve done really well tidying those books away.

2. Model the correct behavior

In addition to positive reinforcement, you should also be an appropriate role model for the behavior you want to see. Try not to display any bad habits as this gives a signal to your class that these things are completely fine to do. For example, one teacher regaled us with a story about how he used to have a habit of sitting on furniture while teaching his class. It wasn’t until one day he realized he was having a conversation with a toddler who had scaled the desk to sit next to him that he was being a poor role model. While climbing is important for motor development, I’m sure we’re all in agreement that encouraging children to climb on furniture by doing it ourselves is not ideal!

3. Always explain your reasoning

When guiding elementary school students, you should always be as direct as possible. Offer explanations and reasons for any rules you impose – but keep it as simple as possible. Your instructions, requests, and directions should always be positive, too. Tell your class what to do, as opposed to what not to do. For example, say walk with your feet instead of saying don’t run, while explaining that walking prevents them from getting hurt.

4. Be supportive and organized

Always try to be personal and close when addressing a child. Don’t shout at them from the opposite end of the classroom or playground. It’s easier for children to ignore you, or simply not hear you, which can result in confusion and other unnecessary issues.

Instead, you should discipline elementary school children in a calm manner, on a one-to-one basis without showing signs of aggression. In many cases, it helps to simply explain why certain behavior is unacceptable in as rational and simple a way as possible while offering support to the child in question by offering positive reinforcement techniques later on in the day (as per step 1).

5. Understand that discipline isn’t about punishment

The word discipline has its roots in a Latin phrase “disciplinare”, which means “teach”. Elementary school discipline that truly works is never about punishing a child. Instead, it’s about managing and guiding the behaviors of your students. Sometimes this can mean adjusting your expectations of certain students instead of dishing out punishments.

Remember, your students are all on a journey of development, and patience can actually be more beneficial than outright discipline in the strictest sense.