Respond to challenging behaviour

This page includes strategies for addressing behaviour concerns or if a student has a chronic pattern of challenging behaviour.

Immediate actions if a situation is escalating

If a student is becoming agitated, but their behaviour is not placing them or others in harm, use the restraint and seclusion de-escalation tactics. These tactics are useful even if restraint or seclusion is not required.

Follow up with a longer term intervention plan to prevent inappropriate behaviour in the future.

If student behaviour is posing a risk to sa​fety, follow incident and emergency guidelines.

Successful interventions

Successful interventions require:

  • strong staff-student relationships
  • an understanding of the underlying factors influencing behaviour
  • an understanding of the immediate triggers for its occurrence.

For example, issuing a detention might be an appropriate response to a student who is being highly disruptive in a class. The teacher or staff member should also identify the reasons and triggers for the behaviour and address these where possible to reduce future problems.

The type of disciplinary measure used for challenging behaviour will depend on the nature and severity of the incident.

Any decisions made about addressing challenging behaviours should be clearly documented and discussed with the student’s parent or guardian.

Intervention strategies

Where students repeatedly demonstrate challenging behaviour, schools should implement more structured intervention strategies as part of a staged response to address the behaviour. Strategies can include:

  • Asses the behaviour, focus on its influences, triggers and function (ie what purpose it serves). This should involve observation and talking with the student, their family and relevant wellbeing professionals.
  • Develop a behaviour support plan and/or individual education plan.
  • Consider if any environmental changes need to be made, for example changing the classroom set up.
  • Explicit teaching of replacement behaviours (recognise students will need time to practice these before they become habit).
  • Engage appropriate support services, such as a student welfare coordinator, student support services or community agencies to undertake assessments and/or provide specialist support.
  • Establish a student support group to establish the student’s needs and supports required.
  • Implement appropriate disciplinary measures that are proportionate to problem behaviours.
  • Consider alternative learning or behaviour management options such as student development centres or re-engagement programs.
  • Use the staged response checklist as a guide to consider, implement and document your responses to incidents of challenging behaviour.
  • Some restraint and seclusion prevention strategies may also be useful (even if actual restraint or seclusion is not needed).

For available supports and programs from the Department, see:

Who responds to challenging behaviour

Teachers spend the most time with students, therefore support and discipline responses should always involve the classroom teacher.

Where there are ongoing behaviour issues, teachers should work with school leadership and/or school wellbeing staff to get specialist support for the student. For serious behavioural issues where suspension or expulsion is being considered, the principal must be directly involved in decision-making.

Challenging behaviour training

We offer a managing challenging behaviours training course

The program:

  • enhances understanding of the factors influencing behaviour
  • builds skills in promoting positive behaviour
  • builds skills in responding to challenging behaviour.

Record keeping

Schools should keep detailed records of instances of challenging behaviour and management responses reported by students, teachers, non-school based staff and the school community.

Records of behaviour incidents should focus on the facts of a situation and not include vague or unsubstantiated claims or value judgements.

CASES21 has a section to record disciplinary action taken and sanctions imposed on a student involved in a behavioural incident.

In addition, the Student Online Case System (SOCS) is a referral and data system for case management of students referred to student support services.

More serious situations involving violent or dangerous student behaviours may constitute a critical incident, and need to be reported to the Security Services Unit (phone: 03 9589 6266).

The purpose of good record keeping practice is to:

  • allow staff to monitor the behaviour and wellbeing of individual students
  • ensure student behaviour is being responded to in a consistent and staged manner
  • monitor the effectiveness of strategies used
  • support principals in their decision-making process concerning suspensions and expulsions.

Training for extreme behaviour associated with a disability

We offer a professional learning program for school leadership teams, teachers and education support officers working with students who display extreme and challenging behaviour associated with a disability.

For more information on this professional learning program, see: