8 Ways to Handle Naughty Student Behavior in Online Classes


Teaching in a virtual class is already challenging, let alone getting your students’ attention and keeping them engaged. But things can be even more difficult when you have to handle bad student behavior. 

The bad news is that you cannot control how your students behave. And more often than not, when you try to restrict your students, you might feel helpless and frustrated. 

But the good news is that you can influence them through evidence-based strategies and make them change their own behavior. 

When students behave well in the online classroom, you are more likely to enjoy teaching, and all of the students will no doubt benefit from the class. 

To handle troublesome student behavior properly, it helps if you understand why it exists. By knowing the root cause of the behavior, you can learn how to interact with them positively.

[Related: How To Maintain Strict Classroom Guidelines In Online Classes]

Table of Contents

Why Students Misbehave


There’s no one right answer to why students misbehave as there are tons of factors to consider. One thing is for sure; students behave differently. 

Some students find it difficult to express their feelings verbally

Remember, human behavior is a form of communication. For example, a child who cannot express his frustrations verbally may instead throw or break his things, or turn off the computer. A kid who feels socially excluded may not respond or participate in your class.

Family problems

A student who is acting up may have family problems at home. For instance, their parents may have separated or divorced, or the family may be having financial difficulties and are likely to move to another place. 

The need to impress others

Plus, peer pressure can also result in bad student behavior. Many students feel obligated to impress others, and this typically causes them to act out. 

What you can do

As an educator, what can you do?

As much as you like to help, you really cannot get into their personal lives. The best thing you can do is identify the root causes of their troublesome student behavior and then create systems that promote self-awareness and self-control. 

You may also use your class to talk about real-life examples of how acting out in class is not the solution to any problem. Encourage your students to open up to their confidants, and explain how acting out can have negative effects. 

[Related: 15 Resources To Boost Teacher ICT Skills For Better Learning]

8 Ways to Handle Bad Student Behavior in Online Class

Set your expectations clear

Troublesome students feel more in control when they know what is expected of them. So, before beginning your class, it helps if you establish clear behavioral expectations. Create a set of rules, or better yet, ask your students to devise rules on how they should behave. 

And once you have set the rules, make sure to state them positively. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t unmute your mic unless you’re called on,” you can say, “Raise your hand and wait to be called on before turning on your mic.”

[Must read: Tips For Supporting Parents In Managing Distance Learning]

Give better instructions

While you’re establishing proper student behavior in your class, use this time to give a clear set of instructions. 

Giving clear instructions on how to complete a specific tasks can help students focus on the assignment.

Difficult students are more likely to follow directions when you do these:

  • Make eye contact. We know you cannot possibly make eye contact with 25 students, especially not on a videoconferencing app. But what you can do instead is to make a quick scan of the virtual room to make sure each student is looking at you before you start giving instructions. Make eye contact with students who struggle to focus.
  • Break tasks into chunks. Some troublesome students cannot retain their focus because they have difficulty understanding what they are being told. One way to control bad student behavior is to break tasks into smaller chunks that your students can easily digest. 

It also helps if you create visual aids that explain or show how they can complete their assignments. 

  • Ask your students to restate. Check if your students really understand what you said by asking them to repeat what is expected of them. When kids repeat the directions in their own words, they are more likely to understand—and follow—them.  

[Must read: Five Doable Tips To Boost Student Participation In An Online Class]

Talk to them in private

If one kid shows bad student behavior, it’s best to talk to him privately instead of calling him out in front of the class. Doing so can only result in the kid feeling resentful, embarrassed, and angry. And when that happens, he may likely misbehave more in your class. 

Talking to your student privately to know the reason behind their behavior is the best thing to do. Remember, as we discussed earlier, there are many reasons why a student misbehaves. They could be having family problems or other personal issues. 

When you understand your student’s behavior, it allows you to adjust your behavior towards them and your teaching methods.

[Interesting: 9 Tips In Creating A Learning Environment From Home]

Bring difficult students close to you

This can be challenging, especially in the online environment. In the classroom setting, noisemakers usually sit at the back of the classroom. You can sit them somewhere near your desk to deter them from making noise. 

In your virtual classroom, ask each student to turn on their cameras so you can see them. Encourage your students to use the chatbox feature not as an instant messaging but a place where they can ask questions so that you won’t get distracted during lectures. 

[Interesting: 7 Reasons Why Parent Engagement Is Important In Online Student Learning]

Create daily schedules

You can handle bad student behavior if you create clear and easy-to-follow daily schedules. This can help students feel in control, especially when they know what to expect throughout the day. 

For young students, create a schedule with photos and stickers. For teens, the schedule may include specific homework and student learning outcomes. 

[Related: Student Learning Outcomes: Why You’re Not Achieving Them Well Online]

Whenever an item is completed, you must tick that item off the list. It can help students, especially those with ADHD, prepare for the upcoming transition, which usually triggers bad student behavior. 

Help them understand right from wrong

More often than not, especially when dealing with young learners, they do not exactly know the proper class behavior and what is not. For example, in an online class, a student might go to the kitchen to grab some snacks while you’re giving a lesson. Or, a student might be on his phone playing video games instead of listening to your class. 

They might think what they’re doing is okay, so long as they don’t log out from the online classroom. 

Help your students understand what’s right and wrong. Don’t forget to reward students that behave well in the online classroom. And as an educator, do your best to make your class engaging that your students don’t want to disrupt your lesson.

[Must read: Ultimate Guide To Homeschooling High School Students]

Be a role model

And lastly, be a role model. Remember, implementing rules in the classroom is difficult when you don’t follow them yourself. As the famous saying goes, “practice what you preach.” Take note that your students are inclined to follow your example.  

Also, be more understanding of your students. Always understand the root of the matter before labeling an action as a bad student behavior. 

In some instances, students only follow a cultural tradition instead of being rude. For example, a student who grew up in a tradition where making eye contact with adults is rude may always look at the ground when spoken to. And when you ask them to look you in the eye when speaking, you may be asking them to do something contrary to what they believe is right and proper. 

[Read: How To Be More Supportive Of Your Kids With Online Learning]

You Can’t Fix Everything

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find it challenging to handle bad student behavior. The goals are to help students act better and design a healthy learning environment for them. 

Sometimes, a student’s bad behavior is beyond your ability to fix. If a student continues to show bad and harmful behavior, talk to their parents, and encourage them to seek professional help.

Speak to your student’s parents and discuss how their kid is behaving in your class.

Related Questions

What makes a successful online student?

Online learners need technical skills to succeed. They must be able to create documents, organize files, surf the internet for research, and download and use different software. But more importantly, they need excellent communication skills—that includes listening and participating in class. 

What are some of the disadvantages of online learning?

Distance learning has a lot of benefits. The most prominent one is that it allows students to continue their education despite being isolated at home. The drawbacks, however, are plenty. For example, student feedback is limited in the online setting. Distance learning can also cause social isolation.

How do you handle difficult student behavior?

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