Behavior Management Tips for Self-Contained Classrooms


Behavior management requires patience, empathy, and a well-rounded toolkit of strategies.  Special education teachers play a crucial role in providing individualized support and education to students with diverse needs. In a self-contained classroom, where students with varying disabilities are brought together, we often encounter a range of challenging behaviors that can impede learning and classroom harmony.

Today on the blog, I want to explore 6 challenging behaviors that might arise in a self-contained classroom and offer practical solutions for you to consider.


What are Challenging Behaviors?

Challenging behaviors are a form of communication, often indicating that a student is struggling to express their needs, emotions, or understanding. Before delving into solutions, it's crucial to understand the underlying reasons behind these behaviors.  Behavior management is key to a successful classroom.



Physical or verbal outbursts can result from frustration, communication difficulties, or sensory overload. Providing alternative communication methods and sensory breaks can help with this.

Some suggested Solutions: 

Establish a Calm Down Corner: Create a designated space with sensory tools to help students self-regulate when they feel overwhelmed.

Teach Emotion Recognition: Use visuals and social stories to help students identify and express their emotions appropriately.



Students might resist tasks due to anxiety, difficulty understanding instructions, or a desire for control. Clear and concise instructions, visual schedules, and choices can promote compliance.

Some Suggested Solutions:

Use First-Then Language: Present tasks in a clear sequence using “First we do this, then we do that” statements to enhance predictability. You can read more about First Then Charts in this blog post.

Offer Choices: Allow students to make choices within limits, empowering them and reducing confrontations. You can grab my visual aids pack in my store for premade visuals to use!


Self-Injurious Behavior

These actions can stem from sensory issues, communication challenges, or emotional distress. Identifying triggers and teaching alternative coping strategies is essential.

Some Suggested Solutions:

Implement Sensory Diets: Develop personalized sensory activities to meet each student's sensory needs and reduce self-injurious behaviors.

Teach Communication: Introduce alternative communication methods such as picture exchange systems or communication apps.



Some students may attempt to leave the classroom due to anxiety, sensory overload, or curiosity. Creating a safe and engaging learning environment, along with supervision, can prevent elopement.

Some Suggested Solutions

Create Structured Transitions: Use visual schedules and countdown timers to signal upcoming transitions, reducing anxiety.

Develop Social Stories: Craft narratives that explain the importance of staying in the classroom and the potential consequences of leaving.



Emotional meltdowns might result from transitions, sensory sensitivities, or feeling overwhelmed. Offering sensory tools and predictable routines can reduce tantrums

Some Suggested Solutions:

Offer Sensory Breaks: Allow students to take short breaks in a sensory-friendly space to prevent sensory overload.

Teach Calming Techniques: Introduce deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness activities to help students manage their emotions.

special-needs-girl-is yelling-in-class

Disruptive Behavior:

Noisy or disruptive actions can stem from boredom, sensory needs, or seeking attention. Offering engaging activities and using positive reinforcement can redirect such behavior.

Some Suggested Solutions:

Use Positive Reinforcement: Implement a token system or rewards chart to encourage positive behavior and engagement.

Offer Clear Expectations: Establish classroom rules and routines, reinforcing them with visual cues and verbal reminders.


Attention-Seeking Behavior

Attention-seeking behavior refers to actions or behaviors that an individual engages in with the primary goal of gaining attention from others. These behaviors are often designed to elicit a response, acknowledgment, or interaction from others, and they can vary widely in their nature and intensity.

Some Suggested Solutions:

Provide Positive Attention: Catch students being good and offer praise for desired behaviors to reduce the need for negative attention-seeking.

Use Proximity: Physically stand or sit near the student to redirect their attention back to the task at hand.


Self- Stimulatory Behaviors (Repetitive Behaviors)

Self-stimulatory behaviors, often referred to as “stimming,” are repetitive and often stereotypical actions or movements that individuals engage in to stimulate their sensory systems.

Some Suggested Solutions:

Redirect to Appropriate Activities: Introduce activities that fulfill the sensory needs associated with stereotypy, while aligning with the classroom environment.

Teach Replacement Behaviors: Gradually replace stereotypy with alternative behaviors that are more socially acceptable.

In a self-contained classroom, special education teachers face an array of challenging behaviors that require sensitivity, creativity, and a willingness to adapt. By understanding the underlying causes of these behaviors and implementing tailored strategies, educators can create a supportive and nurturing environment that enables students to learn, grow, and thrive. Behavior Management can be successful.

Remember, each student is unique, so a combination of these strategies, along with ongoing collaboration with support staff and parents, will contribute to a successful and harmonious classroom experience.

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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