How do teachers deal with calm children

“Don't Be Authoritarian, Show Authority”: How Teachers Should Handle Difficult Students

BERLIN. Klaus Seifried worked as a teacher and counseling teacher for twelve years before becoming a school psychologist. In the course of his 25 years of activity, he looked after around 3,000 schoolchildren with learning or behavioral problems. He recently retired. In an interview, Seifried reports on his experiences. The interview first appeared in the magazine “Grundschule”.

As a school psychologist, you have worked with suspicious students for years. When is a student considered difficult?

Klaus Seifried: Raising children and young people is a difficult task for parents and teachers. Often you come up against your personal limits. Which pupil and which behavior a teacher finds difficult is very different. It depends on the teacher and the conditions of the school. What is the personal relationship between teacher and student? What support does the teacher receive from educators, special educators, school social workers or school psychologists? Are there temporary study groups or a school station at the school? But it is also important that teachers know their own strengths and weaknesses and develop their social skills in dealing with aggression, provocations and conflicts. This includes teamwork, advice, coaching and supervision.

And what role do school psychologists play?

Seifried: School psychologists support teachers, educators, school social workers and school principals with advice, coaching or supervision. We also work with the parents and the child, make diagnostics and advise. We look for the cause of student behavior. Is it the teacher-student relationship or is it a conflict with classmates? Are there any learning difficulties? Or is the cause in the family? We have to find out and, based on this, we give a recommendation on how to proceed.

What problems did you face most often as a school psychologist?


Primary School Magazine: What Makes Children Tyrants?

The interview with Klaus Seifried is taken from the 10/2016 issue of "Elementary School" - title: "Always anger with the 'tyrant children'".

Here you can download the articles in the magazine (for a fee).


Children of tyrants - the bad word has not just appeared in the world since the book of the same name by the Viennese psychotherapist Prof. Martina Leibovici-Mühlberger was published. And yet: The discussion is boiling. “More children than ever before do not even have sufficient self-management to be able to follow a lesson when they enter the so-called school leaving certificate, so they are difficult to attend school,” says Leibovici-Mühlberger - and this is caused by a failure of many parents to bring up their children out. The “elementary school” examines the questions of what actually makes pupils “difficult”, which factors have a negative impact on behavior - and what teachers can do about it.


Seifried: With learning problems such as reading and spelling weaknesses, arithmetic weaknesses or special needs learning, with behavior problems such as ADHD with restricted concentration, impulse control and aggression, with incidents of violence, bullying, school distance and mentally ill students, also with many forms of performance and exam fears, social withdrawal up to towards manifest social phobias. Children who do not experience limits in the family can develop big problems in school, as can children who are not released into independence by their parents and are overprotected. Excessive performance expectations from parents can also put children and young people under great pressure

With her book, the Viennese psychotherapist Martina Leibovici-Mühlberger has sparked a new discussion on the subject of "tyrant children", which gives the impression that the number of conspicuous children has increased. Can you confirm that?

Seifried: There is a large study by the Robert Koch Institute, KiGGS (Study on the health of children and adolescents in Germany; Note d. Red.) called, from 2007, which is currently being updated. At that time, the proportion of schoolchildren with mental health problems was 18 percent; now it is 20 percent. That is not a dramatic increase, but I have noticed that children and young people are increasingly lacking social support. Half of the marriages in big cities get divorced. Every year it affects over 100,000 children who suffer from separation and family conflicts.

Another aspect is anonymity in big cities. The school can only partially compensate for the lack of upbringing of the children. However, it is often one of the most important supports and orientation points for students in socially disadvantaged areas, for example. The mostly unregulated media consumption, computer games, social networks and films have an increasing influence on the behavior of children and adolescents. Many parents are helpless in the face of this and often do not know what their child is doing on the computer.

In addition, the performance requirements are increasing: in large cities such as Hamburg or Berlin, half of the students go to high school, and the high school graduation rate has multiplied. The pressure to perform in the workplace is increasing and this is what parents convey to their children. Some students cannot withstand the pressure. Some don't care. In Germany, we have eight percent school failures who literally drop out, skip school and fail to graduate because they notice that they cannot do it and are not supported at home either.

What ways do teachers have to deal with difficult students?

Seifried: Teachers should ensure that they structure their lessons clearly and that clear rules apply, which are agreed by the teaching staff, so that the team of teachers who teach the class behaves as uniformly as possible. It's not about being authoritarian, it's about showing authority - that's a big difference. Authority gives the children support and orientation. Too little structure, rules and authority can lead to "normal" students becoming conspicuous. At the same time, it is important that teachers develop personal and trusting relationships with their students. These are the most important prerequisites for preventing classroom disruptions and conspicuous behavior. However, there are very difficult pupils who cause even experienced teachers great problems and who need support from school helpers, psychotherapy or lessons in small groups. The inclusive school of the future needs a significantly improved system of advice and support.

What are the characteristics of these very difficult students?

Seifried: That's a whole spectrum. Some suffer from massive symptoms of anxiety, for example from bullying. You don't dare to walk across the schoolyard alone or even to say a sentence in class. Then there are highly aggressive children who beat and harass others during breaks. In part, it is mixed up: Former victims become followers who participate in the bullying. Many have significant learning and performance difficulties. Schools have fewer problems with difficult students if they value a good class and school climate.

Of course, the learning and behavior problems of children from well-protected, educated families and from socially disadvantaged schools are completely different. In the latter case, there is often a lack of contact with school, help with homework, breakfast in the morning or the parents' interest in the child's problems at school. No German is spoken at home. You don't come to parents' evenings. Many children go to bed late, are restless and unable to concentrate in class.

The school can only work successfully in educational terms if an educational partnership is developed and established with the parents. Many schools manage to get parents to cooperate. The children have to feel that school is important for their parents and that they support the educational goals of the teachers. Many parents are unsure about parenting issues and need advice, for example at an information evening: How much time should my child spend at the computer? When should my child go to bed? How can I enforce rules and boundaries at home?

In addition, the students need a sense of achievement. Success creates motivation and strengthens self-esteem. “I can do something, I am useful for something. This applies to the entire spectrum of pupils, both for gifted children and for those with special educational needs. This is why individualization and differentiation in the classroom are so important. Success in school can also be achieved over the whole day if the offer includes music, sports, theater or workshop work. A rhythmic all-day program can better accommodate and integrate students with learning and behavioral problems.

And what problems are faced with schools whose pupils mainly come from educational backgrounds?

Seifried: With the expectations of the parents, which often overwhelmed children. Some parents care too much and find it difficult to let go of their child. But children have to learn to take responsibility for themselves according to their age. Other children are used to always being the center of attention. Every wish is granted to them. You have to learn to be considerate of other children.

Can children at school learn social behavior?

Seifried: Social learning is a central topic in every school. The school basically has an educational mandate, this is especially true for elementary schools. In the first grade, the children learn to let go of mom's hand, to take responsibility for the way to school and homework, to respect other children, to work with them and to adapt to group rules. It is crucial that the school consciously controls the social interaction of the children. This can be a "courtesy day" at school, the class council, in which the children can tell what burdens them, or a project for interaction training and social learning.

Which case of a conspicuous student do you particularly remember from your time as a school psychologist?

Seifried: I remember a boy who hadn't gone to school for over a year, had massive fears and didn't leave the apartment without his father. With the help of one-to-one tuition, counseling and psychotherapy, he was gradually able to be reintegrated into school and graduated from school. If it succeeds - to stabilize a student again - it is a great sense of achievement. But there are always cases in which we fail because the resources in the school are insufficient or the parents refuse to cooperate with school psychology or the youth welfare office.

Where do you see a need for action in the field of school psychology in Germany?

Seifried: In a European comparison, Germany has the worst school psychological care. In Copenhagen a school psychologist is responsible for 800 pupils, in Zurich for 1000, but in Berlin for 5000. This means that a school psychologist has to look after ten to twelve schools. On average, a school psychologist even looks after 8,900 students in Germany. The international standard is 1,000 to 2,000. Every school needs school psychologists in a team with school social workers and special educators. German schools are clearly undersupplied. This means that students, teachers and parents are too often left alone with learning and behavioral problems. The education journalistAnna Hückelheim conducted the interview.

Here you can download the articles from the 10/2016 edition of the “Elementary School” (for a fee).


Klaus Seifried managed a counseling center in Berlin for 13 years until he retired. In addition to advising schoolchildren, his tasks also included advising school administrators as well as giving lectures and training. He is the deputy chairman of the School Psychology Section in the Professional Association of German Psychologists.