5 children holding a paper with emojis in front of their face - happy, sad, anxious, angry, worried
5 children holding a paper with emojis in front of their face - happy, sad, anxious, angry, worried

Why is my child lashing out at school?

Getting a phone call from your child’s school informing you that your child has hurt someone or has destroyed property can be incredibly distressing.

Need to know

Getting a phone call from your child’s school informing you that your child has hurt someone or has destroyed property can be incredibly distressing. More often than not, the teachers don’t really know what has led to the incident and sometimes only have other student’s accounts of what has happened.

Although your child has done something that is hurtful and damaging, they need your help uncovering what is setting the destructive behaviour in motion. Dr Ross Greene, renowned child clinical psychologist, author of The Explosive Child and creator of Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, sees behaviour as communication – kids do well if they can, and if they don’t then there is something getting in their way. 

Why it’s important

There are many reasons why your child lashes out and depending on your child’s age they may not be able to articulate them. The ability to understand one’s feelings, sensory sensitivities and physiological changes comes with experience and age. But if your child has underlying neurodevelopmental differences then these skills can be far behind those of their peers and at the root of many of the issues at school.

Finding what is triggering your child is the pathway to:

  • Identifying learning differences – dysgraphia, dyslexia and dyscalculia can often go undiagnosed especially if a child is bright or gifted. Although a gifted child has high potential, they can also become disruptive when bored
  • Diagnosing underlying neurodevelopmental differences – autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, etc, are hidden but not silent. Many concerning behaviours can be symptoms of how a child responds to an environment that is demanding or stressing without the right accommodations
  • Understanding lagging skills – a school and class environment requires children to have well developed fine and gross motor skills, the ability to understand and navigate social constructs, a high tolerance for frustration and the cognitive maturity to problem solve. These demands may prove too much for your child
  • Recognising mental health issues – anxiety disorders don’t always present as the typical avoidant, clingy and overwhelmed child. In many kids, their anxiety can often manifest as anger, aggression and defiance 
  • Uncovering bullying – friendship issues are common in school circles, but repeated abuse is a serious and a dangerous problem that needs the involvement of the parents and the school

Tips & strategies

As parents, we need to peel back the layers that cause our children to behave in a way that hurts themselves and others.

Let your child tell their story – the first and most important step is to talk to your child without judgement. You want to do this when you are both calm. Be empathetic and curious by asking them to give you their version of events. They might hold back in fear that you might punish them. It’s important to make your child feel safe. Reflective listening, where you echo back someone’s words, is usually helpful in getting kids to open up. 

Talk to the teacher – talking to the teacher in person can help you dig further into what happened leading up to the incident. Request information on the time, day, activities prior to the event, people involved and what steps were taken to help your child regulate. This information is important because it can give you clues as to what triggers your child to lash out.

Put the pieces together – if this is an isolated incident you might want to wait and see, but if this is part of a larger set of concerning behaviours, it is best to make an appointment with the following health professionals:

  • a psychologist to test for learning disabilities and if necessary start therapy
  • occupational therapist to assess sensory processing, fine motor, visual motor and gross motor skills
  • developmental paediatrician to rule out ADHD/Autism/Anxiety and other conditions

If nothing else you will be able to cross them off your list, but if you find that there is something else at play, you are now in the best position to get your child the right support.

Partner with your child – this is a long term strategy that includes: 

  • Engaging your child in solving the problems raised by them and by you
  • Helping them to recognise the situations that cause them to lose control
  • Giving them a vocabulary of emotions that they can use to express how they feel
  • Agreeing on an alternative way to express negative feelings 
  • Practising self-calming strategies (like slow breathing or counting backwards from ten) and mindfulness
  • Identifying how the body changes when intense emotions are triggered

Make a plan – Once you have a better understanding of the issues at play you can meet with the teacher/principal to implement the right support for your child at school. Adoption of Dr Ross Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model is well accepted and can have school wide benefits for supporting students with challenging behaviour


  1. Angry Kids: Dealing With Explosive Behavior
  2. Disruptive Behavior: Why It’s Often Misdiagnosed
  3. Disciplining Your Child at Home for School Misbehavior
  4. ADHD and Disruptive Behavior Disorders
  5. Lagging skills contribute to challenging behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder without intellectual disability
  6. Influencing Teacher Self-Efficacy: Integrating Coaching in School-Based Behavioral Consultation

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