In the first part of this series we saw how and why the behaviour management systems of rewards and consequences so common in schools can fall short of the mark for some children.

In Part 2, Rebecca Brooks shares more extracts from her book, The Trauma and Attachment Aware Classroom, this time focusing on a different way of thinking about children’s behaviour and some practical ideas.

Maintaining high standards of behaviour in school is important for every member of the school community. If behaviour is poor, nobody is learning, including traumatised children. In fact, routine, structure and predictability are crucial for these most challenged and challenging children. However, approaches which prioritise relationships, safety and nurture, which take into account the sometimes complex drivers of poor behaviour, and which respond accordingly, are likely to have better results long term than applying a tick list of consequences regardless of the circumstances.

The idea that behaviour is communication is gaining currency among educators, but how does this theory help us in a busy classroom where there are 30 different sets of, sometimes competing, needs and communications? In some ways it does not help. Classroom strategies will only go so far if they are not supported by whole-school approaches. If Keiran is about to throw a chair, then the safety of the other people in the vicinity must be paramount. While the teacher may well be aware that Keiran’s chair throwing is communication, it’s not always possible to stop everything and listen to what he is saying. This is where the systems surrounding the class teacher become so important. Keiran must be stopped, for his own sake and for the sake of others. But understanding what happened before that incident, and the decision about what will happen after, will be crucial to determining whether Keiran will end up on a fast track to exclusion, or be able to remain in school, and eventually thrive.

Approaches to try:

  • Ensure that disciplinary policies balance accountability with an understanding of behaviours rooted in trauma, and that there is a clear, supported pathway to enable struggling children to reach desired standards.
  • Liaise with parents and carers to build up a picture of the child’s strengths, difficulties and triggers, and ensure that this is shared with relevant staff to give them the information they need to head off challenging behaviour before it begins if possible.
  • Use natural consequences wherever possible as these will support development of cause-and-effect thinking.
  • Review any behaviour or pastoral plans to ensure that they offer more than a list of required behaviours and consequences for infraction. Each child’s plan should take account of their particular needs and offer a clear, supported path towards achieving the progress that is hoped for.
  • For individual children with particular and intractable difficulties, create a personalised plan that is not focused on the behaviour, but on recognising when the child uses a taught strategy to avoid the unwanted behaviour, for example recognising when a child raises their hand instead of calling out, or when they use a fiddle object instead of fidgeting and disrupting others.
  • Key adults can work with children to support them in understanding the impact of their behaviour on other children, and to explore alternative ways of expressing their needs and emotions.
  • Focus on immediate responses that prioritise relationships – a two-minute conversation at the end of the class is likely to be more effective than a one-hour detention a week later.
  • As far as possible, seek to correct behaviour and apply consequences in private.
  • Pick your battles. It is better (and less draining for everyone) to make real progress with one or two serious difficulties than to make little or no progress in every single thing.
  • Have a safe place, or safe person a child can access if they are escalating and need to leave the classroom. This is not a sterile ‘inclusion room’ but a genuine calm-down zone or nurture room, staffed by key adults who are pro-active in supporting children with strategies to become regulated so that they can return to learning at the earliest opportunity.

Moving towards a system that is more trauma and attachment aware and focuses on supporting children towards acceptable behaviour within the context of trusting relationships, does not mean abandoning boundaries and encouraging a free-for-all. Boundaries must be secure and steadfast, but the methods by which we ensure children stay within them should be flexible, compassionate and designed to build them up, not shame and humiliate them.


The Trauma and Attachment Aware Classroom, by Rebecca Brooks, is available to purchase here: The Trauma and Attachment-Aware Classroom: A Practical Guide to Supporting Children Who Have Encountered Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences : Rebecca Brooks: Books


Read Part 1 of ‘The Consequences of Consequences’