Classroom Disruption and Externalized Behaviors

Disrupting behavior in the classroom can lead to a variety of problems for children, but it may be especially troublesome for girls. Children and teens respond to environmental pressures in Disruptive Classroom Behaviordifferent ways, and many externalize these behaviors in such a way as to create classroom disruptions. More often than not, however, boys are responsible for acting out in school much more than girls. When girls direct their emotions outward, they tend to express them as hostile responses that are incredibly negative, hurtful and destructive. If your daughter is often disruptive in the classroom, it’s critical to discover the reasons.

What is Externalizing Behavior?

At its most basic, externalizing behavior means that a child or teen directs her emotions outward. She tends to convert normally acceptable emotions like anger, frustration or anxiety into aggressive or delinquent behavior. These behaviors, often described as acting out, include cheating in school, setting fires, swearing, stealing, truancy, lying, vandalism and behavioral problems in the classroom. Hyperactivity and impulsivity are also types of externalizing behavior.

Why Kids Externalize

Externalized behaviors may be the result of early maternal and environmental factors. When a mother is pregnant and is malnourished, smokes, uses drugs or alcohol, is ill during pregnancy or has significant birth complications, her child develops a high level of risk for developing externalizing behaviors. Genetic factors may also be to blame. If a child has a mother or father prone to externalizing, the child becomes significantly more at risk for developing this tendency herself.

Developmental Challenges

Most children will occasionally display externalizing behavior during development, but these behaviors normally peak in toddlerhood and drop off sharply thereafter. By the time they enter school, externalizing behaviors should have declined enough to be able to navigate the classroom setting successfully. If a child fails to outgrow this behavior, he or she will be disruptive in the classroom. Boys are expected to externalize during the early years of school, but by the time girls reach school age, they have almost always outgrown the problem. When they don’t, they are likely to be singled out much more than their male peers.

Likewise, although boys often accept a peer who acts out, girls are not so understanding. A girl who displays externalizing behaviors is likely to be shunned by both sexes. At school, these behaviors have an immediate impact on the child’s academic standing and often lead to teacher reprimands, punishment or isolation of the child. The long-term impact of externalizing behaviors is more serious for girls as well. While many boys do manage to get past their tendency to act out, girls who engage in these behaviors both in and out of school are at greater risk of juvenile delinquency, violence and adult criminal behavior.


Treatment interventions for externalizing behavior include drug therapies, behavior management, psychotherapy and parenting effectiveness programs in order to help manage the behaviors. By seeking treatment now, you can reduce the chance of negative future consequences for your daughter’s behavior. Experiential therapy is used successfully to promote behavioral change, as it helps the child open up and communicate. In so doing, the therapist may be able to get to the root of the problem that inspires acting out in the child. Family therapy is also important, as families and caregivers need to be engaged in therapy with the child as well.

If your daughter or another young woman in your care exhibits behaviors like these, know that help is out there. Havenwood Academy can help your family understand, address and overcome externalized behaviors and acting out. Contact them today to learn more about helping your child deal with her tendency for classroom disruption.


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