The 7 Rules Of Handling Difficult Students

The 7 Rules of Handling Difficult StudentsIf you’re like most teachers, two or three students take up most of your time.

On the days when they’re absent, or pulled from your class, everything goes smoothly.

Teaching is more fun. You’re more relaxed. And you can cruise through your lessons without interruption.


But when they’re sitting in class, which seems like all the time, they can make you want to pull your hair out.

Unfortunately, the frustrations you feel dealing with difficult students can cause you to make mistakes.

The following is a list of 7 rules–all don’ts–that will help you avoid the most common pitfalls, and turn your most difficult students into valued members of your classroom.

Rule #1: Don’t question.

It’s normal for teachers to force explanations from difficult students as a form of accountability. But asking why and demanding a response from them almost always ends in resentment. And angry students who dislike their teacher never improve their classroom behavior.

Rule #2: Don’t argue.

When you argue with difficult students, it puts them on equal footing with you, creating a “your word against theirs” situation. This negates the effects of accountability. It also opens the floodgates: everybody will be arguing with you.

Rule #3: Don’t lecture, scold, or yell.

Lecturing, scolding, and yelling will cause all students to dislike you, but when you direct your diatribe toward one particular student, it can be especially damaging. Creating friction between you and your most challenging students virtually guarantees that their behavior will worsen.

Rule #4: Don’t give false praise.

Teachers often shower difficult students with praise for doing what is minimally expected. But because these students can look around at their fellow classmates and know that it’s a sham, false praise doesn’t work. Instead, give only meaningful, heartfelt praise based on true accomplishment.

Rule #5: Don’t hold a grudge.

“Every day is a new day” should be your mantra with difficult students. They need to know that they have a clean slate to start each day–and so do you. To that end, say hello, smile, and let them know you’re happy to see them first thing every morning.

Rule #6: Don’t lose your cool.

When you let students get under your skin and you lose emotional control, even if it’s just a sigh and an eye roll, you become less effective. Your likeability drops. Classroom tension rises. And when difficult students discover they can push your buttons, they’ll try as often as they can.

Rule #7: Don’t ignore misbehavior.

Given that there is an audience of other students, ignoring misbehavior will not make it go away. It will only make it worse. Instead, follow your classroom management plan as it’s written. If a difficult student breaks a rule, no matter how trivial, enforce it immediately.

It’s About Relationships

What if the two or three (or more) difficult students in your classroom admired you? What if they looked up to you, respected you, trusted you, and liked being in your company?

What if they embraced whatever you had to say to them?

Your success in helping them change their behavior would go through the roof, and you’d have peace in your classroom. The fact is, everything hinges on your ability to build relationships with your students.

Your classroom management plan merely nudges them in the right direction. Done correctly, it gets students to look inward, to self-evaluate, and to feel the weight of their transgressions. But by itself, it can only do so much.

It’s your relationship with your students that makes the greatest difference.

When you build trusting rapport with them, which anyone can do, you then possess a tidal wave of influence that can change their behavior, improve their academic performance, and profoundly impact their lives.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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53 Responses to The 7 Rules Of Handling Difficult Students

  1. aunttammie February 25, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    I see a lot of don’ts, but nothing that will really help in these situations. Our hands are already pretty much tied by “don’ts,” so I’d appreciate some “do” suggestions–besides just “enforce consequences.” What kind of consequences don’t give extra attention to difficult students–those who are constantly clowning, arguing, and disrupting?

    • Michael Linsin February 25, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      Hi anttammie,

      Read through the Difficult Students category of the archive. The articles therein explain exactly what I recommend.


    • Mark E March 29, 2016 at 6:21 am #

      Finding something you have in common with a student can go a long long way.

  2. Mrs. B September 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Help. I need to turn around my relationship with one student that I started out a bad beginning in arguing and losing my cool. I have 34 kids in my classroom this year and about 7 of them are still figuring out how to act.

    • Michael Linsin September 8, 2012 at 6:42 am #

      Hi Mrs. B.,

      The Difficult Students category of the archive is a great place to start. Also, stay tuned. How to repair broken/distrustful relationships with students will be an upcoming article topic.


  3. Cindy October 14, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    I’ve read through your articles, and still have some questions about one particular 3rd grade boy I have this year. I am using your behavior plan, but he is often removed from the classroom because he gets out of control. Upon removal, he goes limp or bolts. Psycologists have come to observe, and now a behavior specialist will also be involved soon; he is very intelligent, he is in counseling, and he continues to take up a great deal of time and energy. Suggestions?

    • Michael Linsin October 14, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Cindy,

      Have you read through the entirety of the Difficult Student category? I’ve written about this extensively, including my specific recommendations and philosophy regarding such students.


  4. Help! November 14, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    I have several VERY difficult students. Today especially I almost lost the plot at them. I see alot of don’ts here… and it seems to let them ‘get away’ with their behaviour.
    I dont want the rest of my class seeing that what these students are doing/saying is appropriate.

    What do I do? Its the first time that I’ve ever thought that maybe teaching is not the place for me.

    • Michael Linsin November 15, 2012 at 10:49 am #


      Check out the Difficult Student category of the archive. You’ll find your questions answered there. 🙂


  5. agapelove November 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    hello. i have been working at a primary school for 8 months now. i have to be dealing with students that are arrogant,flirty and disrespectful towards me, sometimes i think its because im petite or have the face of a teenager why they think im on the same level with them. i try to put on a serious face and try to get even with them as a result. what are some things i can do to earn their respect

    • Michael Linsin November 16, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      Hi Agapelove,

      Here is an article that should help: 3 Ways . . .


  6. Mike December 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Any suggestions as to how to handle repetitive disruptions with talking in class. I did role model and I am using timeout. I have 8 out of 30 kids that continue to disrupt. I already gave them a warning, timeout and a letter. I am not sure how what to do once they know they already have the 3rd and final consequence. They know what else are you going to do? This is self contained 4th grade class.

    • Michael Linsin December 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

      Hi Mike,

      You’re essentially asking the question this entire website answers. It isn’t just one thing. It’s many things. The good news is that virtually all of the strategies you find in the archive work pretty much as written for fourth grade (I taught 4th grade for many years). I would start in the Rapport & Influence category and then go from there. There is a lot to read, but in a short amount of time you’ll get a feel for the philosophy of SCM and how it can completely eliminate those disruptions. Also, check out the About Michael Linsin page. It gives a quick overview of the philosophy and is a good place to start. Finally, after working your way through the archive, if you have any questions, email me. I’m happy to help.


  7. Valerie February 12, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    How do you handle students that are constantly unprepared with homework? Students that always leave work home?

  8. Isaac G. Kerkulah, Jr. April 15, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    I love your website. Please partner with us as we endeavor to help students in our country, Liberia. You are indeed passionate about developing young people for better future. This is what we stand for in our organization- Youth Aid Ministries (YAM) Inc- giving hope and future to young Liberians for national development. We need your partnership. Thanks, Isaac, Executive Director

  9. Amanda April 23, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    I am a long-term sub with a pre-school aged child who will NOT listen, period. he throws temper tantrums and destroys the classroom at least twice a day. if I tell him he loses time for recess, he runs and plays anyway. If I try to enforce any consequence he tells me no. or he destroys the classroom. What can I do then?

    • Michael Linsin April 24, 2013 at 9:32 am #

      Hi Amanda,

      The entire website is the answer to your question. It isn’t just one thing. I encourage you to first read through the Difficult Student and Classroom Management Plan categories of the archive, and then go from there. If you then have any questions regarding the philosophy of SCM or any of the strategies, email me. I’m happy to help!


  10. Educate those to understand May 27, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

    I can certainly say without a doubt that the major of your rules don’t work! I worked with tons of students of all ages and even with special needs. These rules don’t work.

    The only rule I can agree with is Rule #5 “Every day is a new day” should be your mantra with difficult students. They need to know that they have a clean slate to start each day–and so do you. To that end, say hello, smile, and let them know you’re happy to see them first thing every morning.

    Rule #5 does work!
    What your failing to awknowledge is your part! A student is difficult unless you make them out to be difficult maybe it’s something your doing or not doing that is causing the student to be difficult! Every student is different and everyone responds differently what may work for one student may not work for another and that is what a lot of Teachers are not cluing into! Teachers need to stop looking for the easy way out of things! Get to know your students look at their facial expressions while you are speaking to them use a soft approach. The saying goes you catch more bees with honey then you do with sour milk. Try be understanding remember they are children and don’t have the same comprehension as an adult does because children’s brains are not fully developed until they are 21. Fact think before you speak think before you do think about what you part was when the student became difficult. More then 90% of the time it was the teachers fault. The teacher got upset lost their cool used a harsh approach or was just narrow minded into only wanting to believe what they wanted to hear instead of the truth. These things are all factors that play a role in the outcome of a students behaviour. If a child is upset angry or frustrated don’t taunt don’t badger, don’t yell and especially don’t get mad or lose your cool remain calm and allow the child to calm down and once a child has calmed down then try have a calm soft toned conversation with them ask them what’s wrong how they are feeling what happened and etc. What I find most frustrating is Teachers lacking the education when it comes to socialization with others. Teachers need to be educated and should be required to have to attend manadorty meetings that provide these stradegies and etc.

    • Barry Nutsackle October 19, 2016 at 8:05 pm #

      You must not work with difficult children or I’m guessing you don’t work with students at all.

  11. Marlene May 27, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    Dear Michael
    My Grade 8 class has “checked out.” I mean that most of them are coasting because there are only 3 weeks of classes left. I have a habit of ignoring misbehaviour, and it has gotten out of hand. I feel like showing movies the rest of the year. Help, please.

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    • Michael Linsin July 16, 2013 at 6:33 am #

      There are a ton of resources you can find online for how to get started, which is the easy part. The hard part for many bloggers is writing and maintenance.

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  13. A disturbed student's opinion October 9, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    A good teacher should be able to break-down information into an understandable set of points. A good teacher should be knowledgeable in their subject and beyond. A good teacher should like kids, and hopefully know how to work with them. A good teacher should be respected by their students. And most of all, a good teacher should NOT be a saint. A saint should stick to being a saint.
    As a student, I am fed up with the public education system. Teachers (usually unlikable to begin with) are walked on because they are not allowed to berate a disruptive student for the sake of such a student’s ‘delicate constitution’. Nope. If a student’s life can be ruined by a teacher who holds them accountable, then they should stop going to school and immediately start a titillating career of getting babysat by diapers.
    No teacher should ever 1. use physical violence 2. needlessly shame a student 3. embarrass a student based on academic progress/achievement 4. act gross, chaotic or undisciplined. That being said, I think necessary heat is a good thing. We don’t have many good teachers to begin with, let alone saints. Acting ‘adult’ is not an operative term for acting ‘cool’. Acting adult means you have more power than the twerp, so make it useful.
    AND PARENTS. Teachers do not cater to a parent’s need. Education is a requirement for every student of the united states, it is not a service.

    If you think the government is a service, then it is probably going in the Hostess direction.

    So to the Buddha who wrote this cute seven-point mantra:
    Rule #2
    Rule #3
    and Rule #6
    should be left in the monastery.
    Many regards, a 10th grade ninja

  14. robert J Cardenas October 17, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Wow, what an eye-opener on some of these key points. Good advice and very much appreciated!

    • Michael Linsin October 17, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      You’re welcome, Robert!


  15. Nancy January 22, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    I’m having difficulty with the necessity of “enforcing consequences.” My most difficult students won’t change seats, won’t go outside for a timeout, etc. To avoid a confrontation, I have to be satisfied with having told them what they should be doing, but not being able to carry out consequences. They are wearing me out. Most times I simply walk away. Other times I will stand next to them until they do what I ask, but this wastes so much time! I prefer not to spend so much class time enforcing consquences.

    • Michael Linsin January 23, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      Hi Nancy,

      We have several articles that address this problem. Here is a good place to start: What To Do When . . .


  16. Sam January 26, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    I am a new teacher teaching at an elementary class in with one difficult student at, at 7th grade, he does the very barest of work in so much as he will write in his book the first item of the first topic, then nothing, I think he just doesn’t get any of what I am teaching, the only student who appears not to be even trying, as a result he skips days & I hear of his visits to the headmaster only when he arrives in class late. The other difficult student is in primary school at 5th grade, his problem is very different, he is hyperactive, I am new at this school and have heard of him being sent home as he is so disruptive, he pushes other kids out of the way in his attempts for attention. I am looking for help in trying to handle these children as they have a disruptive affect in their respective classes.

    • Michael Linsin January 26, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

      Hi Sam,

      I think you’ve come to the right place. Please read through our archive, starting in the Difficult Students and Classroom Management Plan categories and going from there. You should find your answers. Also, I encourage you to sign up for our weekly newsletter.


  17. ld ralte kawlni June 9, 2014 at 4:15 am #

    Hi,I just started working in a High school where the students are mostly from their previous schools due to behavioural or educational weaknesses,I would love to have a suggestion from you have to manage them without any bias.

    • Michael Linsin June 9, 2014 at 6:13 am #

      Hi Id ralte Kawini,

      I will put it on the list of future topics.


  18. James Gbala July 25, 2014 at 9:41 am #


    I used to be a primary school teacher. I have not been in the classroom for years. Currently, I am trying to volunteer for teacher assistant position. Your 7 rules refresh my mind.

    • Michael Linsin July 25, 2014 at 10:15 am #

      Excellent, James! Good luck.


  19. Kendall White August 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    These articles were really good and gave me additional resources in helping difficult students. Many of these students are difficult because they come from such different environments.

  20. JAN DELENA August 20, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Dear Mr. Michael Linsin,

    I find your articles on classroom managements very interesting. I find it very effective and pretty much applicable to our students here in Bahrain.

    You’re such an inspiration to us as educator. Your articles are worth sharing. 🙂



    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2014 at 7:49 am #

      Thanks Jan! I appreciate your kind words and am glad you find the articles helpful.


  21. Ramona Tucker November 20, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    I’ve used building relationships….finding things we have in common such as favorite color, favorite dessert etc.
    I’ve also used planned ignoring. If what the child is doing is not bothering anyone else and then later I attempt to bring the child back to what he/she should be doing.

  22. Eliz February 8, 2015 at 11:18 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I just discovered your articles and I find them very helpful. I’m a newbie at teaching and I’ve found myself to be too soft with my teen students in terms of discipline, which I’m looking forward to change; also I’d like to create/ encourage a good environment in class and I think that I could get pretty good tools for that here!

    • Michael Linsin February 9, 2015 at 7:46 am #

      Hi Eliz,

      I think you’ve come to the right place. 🙂


  23. katie November 12, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Thank you for the great resources! I’m trying to investigate why afternoon classes can be more difficult than morning classes and I’m having quite a time finding relevant information online. Wondering if you have some ideas here? Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin November 12, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

      Hi Katie,

      I don’t have an article addressing this question, but I’ll put it on the list of future topics.


  24. midou January 24, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Hi sir, I’m from Algeria .I teach English in the middle school .I can’t control my classes while teaching.Most pupils don’t care about me ,neither the lesson.What shall i do heeeeeeeeeeeelp me please

    • Michael Linsin January 24, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Midou,

      I recommend spending time in our archive, which you’ll find everything you need to get control of your class.


  25. savith September 12, 2016 at 8:08 am #

    I need some more hints to handle kg kids.