21 Proven Middle School Behavior Management Strategies to Address Disrespectful Behavior

middle school behavior management strategies
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Middle school is that awkward, stormy stage in a child's life where hormones rage and eye-rolling become an art form. If you're a parent of middle or high schoolers, you're probably no stranger to the challenges that come with it. 

Middle school behavior management can be chaotic and unpredictable. It's a time when your sweet child suddenly morphs into a swirling vortex of emotions and attitude. You might even wonder if you've accidentally adopted a tiny alien with a penchant for backtalk and door-slamming.

Parents know too well the seriousness of this issue. Disrespectful behavior in middle school can wreak havoc not only in your home but also in the classroom. It can drastically affect student learning.

The Impact of Disrespectful Behavior on the Classroom Environment

The classroom is supposed to be a place of enlightenment. But when disrespectful behavior infiltrates this space, the whole learning environment goes haywire. Disruptive behavior in the classroom doesn't just affect the teacher but also has a domino effect on the entire class. 

Such inappropriate behavior interrupts the learning process as it steals precious minutes from the already limited class time and hinders the teacher's ability to cover essential material. When lessons are frequently interrupted, students might miss out on critical information, ultimately affecting the students' academic achievement.

Furthermore, the tension created by disruptive students can make the classroom feel like a battleground rather than a place of growth and enlightenment. This hostile atmosphere can make it challenging for students to engage in learning, express their thoughts, or ask questions.

When students are disrespectful during group work, effective collaboration doesn’t happen. The hampered flow of ideas can lead to frustration and conflict among group members. As a result, the learning objectives of the activity may be compromised, and students may miss out on the benefits of cooperative learning.

Additionally, the emotional toll on classroom teachers can be immense. They may feel frustrated, stressed, or even helpless when faced with chronic disrespectful behavior. This emotional strain can affect their overall job satisfaction, potentially leading to burnout or a decline in the quality of their teaching.

When a teacher is met with defiance or disrespect, it can strain teacher-student relationships and differentiated instruction may not be achieved. Building relationships with your students through trust is essential for productive learning. However, it may be compromised when students become reluctant to seek help or guidance from a teacher they perceive as an adversary rather than an ally.

Common Middle School Behavior Management Challenges

Parents and educators encounter a myriad of challenges unique to this pivotal stage of adolescence. Here are the common middle school behavior management challenges so you can have better insights to help you tame your child during this transformative period.


Sudden Independence 

Your child goes from being your little buddy to a fiercely independent creature who believes they know everything. This newfound independence can lead to clashes when you try to set boundaries.

Sudden independence is characterized by a relatively quick and noticeable change in a child's attitude and behavior. Parents may have been used to their child being more dependent and compliant in the earlier years, but suddenly, they begin to assert their desire for freedom and autonomy.

The “I Know Better” Attitude 

Middle schoolers are convinced that they have life figured out. They might question your advice and insist on doing things their way, even if it's a recipe for disaster. However, it’s also important to recognize that this attitude is a developmental milestone. It signifies that your child is progressing toward greater cognitive and emotional maturity

They are learning to think critically, form their opinions, and make choices. But while this attitude can be challenging for parents and teachers, it's also a sign that the child is striving to become self-sufficient. They want to demonstrate that they can handle responsibility and make decisions independently, which is a crucial step toward becoming a responsible adult.

Peer Pressure

Friends become the center of the universe, and the desire to fit in can lead to questionable decisions and behaviors (Farrell et al., 2016). Peer pressure and the desire to fit in with friends play a significant role in the emergence of sudden independence. 

Middle schoolers are heavily influenced by their peers, and they may adopt behaviors or attitudes that align with their social group, even if those behaviors clash with their parent's expectations.

Hormonal Roller Coaster

The term “Hormonal Roller Coaster” refers to the often unpredictable changes in hormones that young adolescents experience, particularly during the middle school years. Such a surge of hormones can turn even the sweetest kid into an emotional tornado.  These hormonal fluctuations can have significant effects on a child's mood, behavior, and overall emotional well-being.

Communication Breakdown

They say you're not cool anymore, and suddenly, your attempts at communication fall on deaf ears. It's like trying to have a conversation with a brick wall. Studies show that parenting factors are linked to adolescent problem behaviors (Griffin et al., 2000). So, it’s important to foster open communication with your kids.

Proactive Strategies for Preventing Disrespectful Behavior

So, how do you prevent disrespectful behavior in middle schoolers? The answer lies in a mix of natural solutions and positive parenting. Let’s embark on a journey that empowers parents and educators to steer the course toward respect and understanding.

1. Build Positive Relationships

Middle schoolers may act like they don't want you around, but deep down, they still crave your love and attention. Make an effort to build and maintain a strong, positive relationship with your child.

2. Set Clear Expectations

Lay down the law nicely by setting clear expectations. From day one, make your expectations crystal clear. Research shows that have found that when people with developmental disabilities learn better ways to talk and express themselves, it can make their behavior improve in the best way. So, if your child is sometimes acting out or having a difficult time, teaching them how to communicate better can make things easier for them (Frea et al., 2001). 

3. Be a Good Role Model

Being a good role model is a crucial concept in parenting, especially during the middle school years when children are developing their sense of identity and values. Remember that kids learn by example. Show them respect, and they're more likely to reciprocate.

4. Encourage Healthy Habits

Promote and support positive behaviors and lifestyle choices that contribute to your child's physical, emotional, and mental well-being. A well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper sleep can improve your child's mood and bad behavior.

5. Limit Screen Time

Set restrictions on the amount of time children spend in front of screens, such as computers, smartphones, tablets, and televisions. Excessive screen time can contribute to a student’s behavior issues. Encourage outdoor play and face-to-face interactions.

6. Practice Mindful Parenting

Mindful parenting is an approach that involves being fully present, attentive, and aware in your interactions with your child. It's about cultivating a deep understanding of your child's thoughts, feelings, and negative behaviors while managing your own emotions and responses in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. 

So, practice mindfulness and patience. Don’t forget to take a deep breath before responding to a sarcastic comment. Remember, these kids are still learning how to navigate this confusing world.

Effective Classroom Management Strategies for Establishing Rules and Clear Expectations

For teachers, the battle against disrespectful behavior in middle grade can feel like a never-ending tug of war. But fret not, for there are effective classroom instructional strategies that can turn the tide in your favor.

7. Communicate Expected Behaviors

Setting clear expectations means defining what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior. These classroom rules should be explicit and easy to understand. For example, instead of a vague rule like “Be respectful,” you can specify, “Use polite language when speaking to others.”

8. Practice Consistency 

Be consistent when you set rules. Elementary school students are quick to spot any inconsistencies, and they'll exploit them if given the chance. Maintain a steady and predictable approach in your interactions, rules, and expectations for your child. Consistency is essential because it provides a stable and reliable environment for your child's growth and development.

9. Involve Middle School Students in Goal Setting

Involve your child in setting behavior goals. Ask them what good behavior means to them and what rewards they find motivating. It gives them a sense of ownership over their behavior and also increases their commitment to achieving their goals.

10. Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a psychological concept rooted in the idea that rewarding desired behaviors increases the likelihood of those behaviors recurring. In the context of middle school behavior management, it means acknowledging and rewarding your child when they exhibit respectful behavior. Such reinforcement can come in various forms, from verbal praises to tangible reward like raffle tickets. 

11. Keep It Engaging

Middle schoolers, as many other young students regardless of grade level, can get restless quickly. Use engaging and interactive teaching methods to keep them focused and interested. Engaging experiences capture your child's attention, foster curiosity, and make the learning process enjoyable.

Effective Communication Strategies for Addressing Disrespectful Behavior

Communication is key, both at home and in the classroom. Here are some effective communication and behavior management techniques that can help:

12. Practice Active Listening

Effective communication begins with active listening. It's about more than just hearing words. You also have to stop talking and genuinely understand the thoughts and feelings of your child. When a middle schooler exhibits disrespectful behavior, taking the time to listen attentively to their perspective is essential. This not only shows that you respect their viewpoint but also allows them to feel heard and valued.

13. Stay Calm

It's easy to become emotionally charged when faced with disrespectful behavior, but maintaining a calm demeanor is crucial. Responding with anger or frustration often escalates the situation. Take a deep breath and choose your words carefully. Modeling calm and respectful communication sets a positive example.

14. Use “I” Statements

When addressing disrespectful behavior, avoid accusatory language. Use “I” statements instead. For example, say, “I feel hurt when you speak to me that way.” Using “you” statements can put the other person on the defensive. On the other hand, “I” statements express your feelings without assigning blame.

15. Promote Open Dialogue

Encourage open and honest dialogues. Let your child know that they can come to you with their concerns, questions, or problems without fear of harsh judgment or punishment. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.

16. Encourage Problem-Solving

Behavior management strategies for disrespectful behavior


Instead of resorting to punitive measures, involve your kids in problem-solving. Discuss disrespectful behavior as a challenge to overcome together. Ask questions like, “Why do you think this happened?” and “What can we do differently next time?” Using this approach promotes critical thinking and accountability.

17. Show Empathy and Understanding

Middle school is a time of rapid behavior change, physically and emotionally. Empathizing with the challenges your child is facing can go a long way in fostering better communication. Acknowledge their feelings and struggles without judgment. Let them know that you understand how challenging this phase can be.

18. Set Boundaries and Expectations

While promoting open communication, it's equally important to set clear boundaries and classroom expectations. Make sure your child or student understands the consequences of disrespectful behavior. It provides a framework for acceptable behavior while allowing room for discussion when those boundaries are crossed.

19. Strike a Balance

As a parent, it can be challenging to navigate sudden independence. It's essential to strike a balance between allowing your child more independence while providing necessary guidance and setting appropriate boundaries. Such balance ensures that they have room to make decisions and learn from their experiences while still being safe and responsible.

20. Give Immediate Feedback

Whenever possible, provide immediate feedback and rewards. Doing so reinforces the link between the behavior and the positive outcome, making it more likely that the behavior will be repeated in the future.

21. Celebrate Progress

Celebrate even small steps toward respectful behavior. Recognizing and praising students for incremental improvements should be customary. Acknowledge your child's achievements, milestones, and efforts. Doing so encourages continued growth.

Middle school can be a tumultuous time for parents and kids, but it's also a period of growth and self-discovery for young minds. It's always a good ideal to understand our children’s challenges and empathizing with them. Then, follow the first steps in  implementing these strategies. 

All these can help greatly in navigating the turbulent waters of middle school with greater confidence and success. Strive to create a positive learning environment where respect, emphaty, and positive behavior flourish.

Never lose sight of the hope that comes with every small victory in managing middle school behavior. Your child's future is bright, and with your guidance, they'll emerge from this agitated period stronger, wiser, and ready to conquer the world.

Parent Action Steps

☐ Be informed of your child's middle school experiences through open communication.
☐ Foster empathy in your child by teaching them to consider others' feelings.
☐ Recognize our child's growing independence while setting appropriate boundaries
☐ Strengthen your parent-child relationship through quality time and bonding activities.
☐ Establish clear classroom routines, ground rules, and expectations.
☐ Practice active listening to genuinely understand your child's perspective.
☐ Use positive behavioral interventions when addressing disrespectful behavior.
☐ Praise and acknowledge your child's respectful behavior to reinforce positive actions.
☐ Consider implementing a reward system at home for consistently respectful behavior.
☐ Ensure consequences for disrespectful behavior are consistent and fair.
☐ Collaborate closely with your child's teachers to create a positive classroom culture.
☐ Celebrate your child's progress in managing disrespectful behavior, no matter how small.
☐ Monitor student misbehavior throughout their middle school years.
☐ Download your copy of 147 Therapist-Endorsed Self-Regulation Strategies for Children.
☐ Take our Solutions Matcher to get personalized treatment for your kid.



Farrell, A. D., Thompson, E. L., & Mehari, K. R. (2016). Dimensions of Peer Influences and Their Relationship to Adolescents’ Aggression, Other Problem Behaviors and Prosocial Behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(6), 1351–1369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0601-4

Frea, W. D., Arnold, C. L., & Vittimberga, G. L. (2001). A Demonstration of the Effects of Augmentative Communication on the Extreme Aggressive Behavior of a Child With Autism Within an Integrated Preschool Setting. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 3(4), 194–198. https://doi.org/10.1177/109830070100300401

Griffin, K. W., Botvin, G. J., Scheier, L. M., Diaz, T., & Miller, N. L. (2000). Parenting practices as predictors of substance use, delinquency, and aggression among urban minority youth: Moderating effects of family structure and gender. Psycnet.apa.org. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2000-03674-009

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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”

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She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

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