Working with children who are conduct disordered and violent

The most challenging behaviours encountered in schools are exhibited by violent, out of control, conduct disordered children. Conduct Disorder (CD) affects a small percentage of children and is typically diagnosed between 10 and 16 years of age. [1]

Conduct disordered behaviour frequently creates crisis situations in schools. The following examples illustrate the seriousness of the problem and the need for an immediate, considered response from the school.

  1. With no warning, shards of window glass smash onto the principal’s desk. A Year 5/6 student outside the office building is taking out his frustration and anger using a wooden bat. Next, window glass smashes onto the acting deputy principal’s classroom desk. This student has directed his anger at the two most senior staff in the school. Both were working at their respective desks and were showered by broken glass.
  2. After repeated requests to stop, the assistant principal eventually restrains a very aggressive student who was punching and kicking several students, before turning on him.
  3. Teachers put knives and sharp instruments out of reach as an out-of-control student with a history of aggression and property damage bursts through the staffroom door yelling obscenities and using threatening language.

Incidents such as these generally result in lockdowns, 000 being called, and often four or more uniformed police attending. Many such incidents are investigated by the relevant department of education, and in most cases the actions of school employees involved in managing extreme behaviours are vindicated.

Teachers and other school staff can experience a sense of loss of control and safety with aggressive students. Staff need time to practise responding as individuals, in pairs, teams and as a whole-school staff to unplanned critical incidents of aggression and violence. Mental preparation helps to mitigate possible trauma reaction to an unexpected incident, and can promote coping skills and recovery. Without time to practise, constant critical incidents can lead to high stress levels due to lack of time to recover and engage in coping strategies between each event.

This new Psych4Schools ebooklet, Working with children who are conduct disordered provides an overview of Conduct Disorder (CD) and the issues associated with children who exhibit violent, out of control behaviour. It provides a range of strategies that teachers and other school professionals can use to assist the child with CD in the classroom and at school, along with suggestions to help manage and prevent crisis situations that may arise.

Strategies are designed for use with students in primary and junior secondary schools.

Relevant strategies can also be easily adapted to be included in Individual Learning Plans and in the recommendations section of psychologist reports. The ebooklet includes the following topics:

  • Learning and wellbeing plans
  • Safety, risk of harm and care plans
  • Behaviour support plans and wellbeing strategies
  • Looking after yourself
  • Working with parents/carers and other professionals
  • Effective teaching practice
  • Building hope, understanding and belonging
  • Using aides and support teachers effectively
  • Reducing anger and building self-regulation
  • Getting along with others

The ebooklet is also supported by the Psych4Schools Calm Card. This pocket-sized card is designed to be carried by the student for use each day to learn and practice ways to get on with people and practise calming techniques. In addition, the Psych4Schools Return to school care plan aims to assist a student to make a successful return to school after being suspended or sent home for a short period for disciplinary reasons. It outlines the arrangements senior staff and teachers will make and the expectations of parents/carers and the student to support successful school return.

Psych4Schools members can download these resources now.

  • Working with children who are conduct disordered and violent.
  • Calm Card (in the Member’s Area under the heading, For the classroom)
  • Return to school care plan (in the Member’s Area under the heading, Communicating with parents)

Non-members can read an excerpt of the ebooklet in the Free Resources section or purchase the ebooket from the Psych4Schools shop.

Not a member? Click here to join now.

Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologist/Guidance Officer

[1] Victoria State Government, Better Health Channel (2020). Conduct disorder. Retrieved 27 May 2020. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/conduct-disorder

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