Managing Disruptive Behavior Referrals

Read Time:  min |  Behavior, Parents, Teachers


Managing behavior referrals often fall under the realm of school counseling.  However, most school counseling programs have few, if any, behavior management components. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!  Confident Counselor authors are ready to share their best practices for managing behavior referrals. Heather will cover the details we need to know first when presented with a behavior.  Carla has some tips for clarifying the problem with the teacher.  Finally, Robyn has some solid advice on how to engage the parents. 


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The Helpful CounselorHey there! I’m Heather from The Helpful Counselor Blog & Counseling Resources. Over the past two decades, I’ve worked as a therapist, school counselor, and special education teacher for students with emotional impairments. I pride myself on my ability to develop rapport and engage the tougher “hard to help” students. There’s just something about watching them grow into their full potential!

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Has a teacher ever referred a student to you for being disruptive but you were unsure about how to help? Sometimes, uncertainty can leave counselors feeling less than the helpful superstar they are.

The term “disruptive behavior” is extremely broad. It can mean anything that interrupts the classroom. Sometimes teachers will give you a broad description like a student is “angry”. But unless we know the details, we won’t be able to pinpoint what’s behind their anger. In order to help, we need to clarify the problem.

Managing Behavior referrals - Understanding the behavior

Understanding the Behavior

  • Description of disruptive behaviors.
  • When does it occur (e.g., time of day, day of the week, subject)?
  • When did the behavior first begin?
  • How frequently does the behavior occur?
  • How long the behavior lasts?
  • What happened right before the disruptive behavior?

Gathering all of these details will help you narrow down the behavior AND the cause of the disruptive behavior.

Example: A student is extremely argumentative and off-task for most of the day every Friday. Upon speaking with the student, we learn he started visiting his father over the weekend. Although it’s not 100% conclusive, there could be a connection and it certainly warrants further exploration!

Another Example: A student talks to the student around him whenever the teacher uses the overhead projector. While speaking with the student, they admit that they can’t read what’s being projected. The words are blurry.   The two examples both contained disruptive behavior, but one of them might be helped with a pair of glasses while the other student may need counseling to learn some coping or anger management skills to help process the changes in his home life.


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The DIY CounselorHello, I’m Carla Christian, the DIY Counselor. I am a wife to Bill, Mom to three daughters, and Nanna to four grands with one on the way. Spending time with family and advocating for my profession are two things that I am very passionate about. My twenty plus years of experience as an educator have enabled me to create resources for teachers and school counselors. I especially enjoy developing no prep lessons for middle level school counselors

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Working with Teachers

Sometimes it seems my colleagues are saying, “Here, fix this!” When this happens, it is difficult to know how to support the teacher and help the student right at that moment. How does one handle these impromptu encounters? I have found that consultation and collaboration are essential in managing behavioral referrals and helping teachers manage disruptive behaviors in the classroom.

Managing behavior referrals: working with teachers

Strategies for those spur of the moment behavior referral conversations

  • Ask the teacher specific questions: “Where are you in your discipline plan with this student?” “Have you contacted the parent?” “What are the most disruptive behaviors?” The answers provide a starting point to determine how to proceed. (Our school has a uniform discipline plan that teachers are to follow. Parent contact is the first step.) If there has been no parent contact, the teacher should inform the parents of student behavior. After there has been parent contact, consult with the teacher and move to the next step.
  • Request the teacher fill out a referral form. (This form documents all that the teacher has done prior to the referral and is vital in determining a plan of action.)
  • Observe the student in different settings. (include classroom, cafeteria, hallway, gym)
  • Meet with the teacher to discuss information from the referral and observations.
  • Work with the teacher to develop strategies for addressing student behavior, including behavior goals, behavior tracking charts, positive rewards, seating arrangement, classroom management, etc.
  • After a designated time, evaluate strategies to determine effectiveness.
  • If there is no improvement in student behavior, follow-up may include a conference with the parent, referral to a counselor for individual counseling, conference with admin, or a functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention plan.

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Mental Fills on TPTHello, I am Robyn from the TPT store Mental Fills. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California with close to 20 years of experience in the field of Mental Health. I have worked with a broad range of children, teens, and adults in inpatient psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment facilities, and outpatient mental health clinics providing individual and group therapy. Currently, I work full-time in The Department of Mental Health at a military hospital and part-time in private practice. Although I specialize in evidenced based treatment for anxiety, depression, and interpersonal relationships, it is my experience as a parent of a child with special needs in elementary school that has inspired both my TPT resources and my tips on engaging parents of disruptive children.

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Managing behavior referrals: engage parents

Engaging Parents

Reach out to parents early on to share your interest and good intentions of working together. After speaking to a parent in person or over the phone, an online partnership might be a good next step. To promote parent reception and eliminate defensiveness, consider scheduled weekly or biweekly emails:

  • Review specific goal(s). Keep the email focused on the specific goal that is being worked on. This will help eliminate child blame and focus on strategies that are working or need tweaking. For example, instead of “I am emailing you about David’s anger problem,” try “I am emailing you today regarding our goal of anger management.” 
  • Use language that demonstrates partnership, such as “us, we, our, let’s.” Although this may show a looseness of boundaries,  we want parents to understand we are equally invested in their child’s goals and progress; and this avoids blaming statements.  A helpful example of positive language is, “let’s  work on helping David with coping skills this week.”
  • Invite parent expertise. A newbie mistake is assuming parents are at fault for their child’s behaviors. Regularly ask the parent/s for their advice. Ask what has worked for their child before, what is working for the child at home, and what reasonable suggestions the school could try to help their child’s behavior. This will not only provide strategies you may not have considered before but helps to improve the parent’s feeling of value and connection.
  • Include positive behaviors and progress towards goals. Similar to children, parents need to feel encouraged and supported. Parents need to hear their children are moving in a positive direction and although there may be a temporary regression, reminders of the steps made forward are necessary to sustain hope. Although this may be a challenge, it will be a critical piece of gaining parent investment.  
  • When sharing updates that include negative behaviors, avoid language that shows judgment or criticism. Simply state the facts. Instead of  “David lost control again and rudely threw his pencil. He can’t seem to control his anger,” try, “David struggled with impulse control today and threw his pencil.” Sticking to facts prevents emotional and finger-pointing responses.
  • Avoid reviewing the negative consequences to their child’s behaviors, such as “the teacher and the classmates are tired of his behavior.”  This will only promote shame and resistance. Instead, focus on the positive consequences that include the both of you working together. For example, “I plan to review coping skills with David this week. I will send home a list of the skills he prefers to practice at home.”
  • Offer help.  Even the best of parents feel helpless and inadequate. Instead of imposing recommendations, when appropriate, gently offer solutions. For example, “If you are interested, I have found some useful tips that may work at home, I would be happy to email you.” Other suggestions that help support the parent include collaborating with the student’s outside therapist and providing updates as needed.

Lastly, although parents can have a negative influence at times, we do not want to take for granted the positive influences they have on your student’s success. These emails may seem like a chore at first, but once you create a trusting connection with a parent, the fewer details need to be provided and most importantly, the alliance built aids in improved behaviors. Finally, when writing your email, always put yourself in the parent’s shoes and ask yourself, what would I want to read if this was my child?

Managing Behavior Referrals

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