Distressed or Deliberately Defiant? Managing challenging student behaviour due to trauma and disorganised attachment

Dr Judith Howard


"She is considered a leader in the field of behaviour management in schools. As a psychologist working across schools in a Regional role, I have seen first hand the positive outcomes for students (and staff) in schools that have benefited from Dr Howard’s practical advice and therefore strongly recommend her book to educators and parents." Lex Bell (Psychologist) Guidance Officer - Intensive Behaviour Support

The runaway bestseller 
for teachers and educators

***** 5 Stars on Amazon reviews - Verified Purchasers

It is not unusual for educators today, whether in the early childhood, primary or secondary sectors, to be confronted with severely challenging student behaviour - students who fly into unexplained violent and oppositional outbursts with little warning; who respond poorly to tried-and-true behaviour management processes. Such behaviour has considerable impact on the delivery of teaching and learning programs and the emotional wellbeing of the teachers themselves as well as raising safety risks for the entire school community.

This book explains the basis for such behaviour as the neurological, physiological and behavioural outcomes of "disorganised attachment" due to prolonged exposure to a traumatic home life and provides practical advice to educators on ways that schools can effectively manage these students. By examining the science behind attachment theory, the neurobiology of behaviour, and the manifestation of disorganised attachment in the school context, this book will help educators:

minimise such challenging behaviour,

manage crises and disciplinary responses such as

suspension and expulsion,

improve student compliance,

enhance education and overall wellbeing, and

deal with parents.

Covers early childhood, primary and secondary settings.

Check out Judith's new book

Trauma-Aware Education


For information on Dr Howard's workshops

go to www.compassaustralia.com.au.

Praise for Distressed or Deliberately Defiant:

" I have read and re-read this book many times and always recommend it to the teachers I work alongside."

"A mind changing book. Every teacher should have a copy."

" I cannot thank Dr Judith Howard enough for giving me the most current educational research to justify my actions and approach to working with these at-risk students."

"Brilliant!!!!!! I cannot recommend this book strongly enough"

"A great read and essential information for anyone working with children."

"Very helpful for teachers. Information that can be used at school for teachers and admin."

"Very cool!!!!!."

"BEST BOOK EVER for education and trauma / attachment issues."

"This a great explanation to parents and therapists working with difficult children. Every Principal should have one!"

"All parents and educators should read."

"Brilliant book. Every teacher and carer of children need to read this."

"Wonderful book! Answers I did not have!"

"Excellent text"

"Great book, very insightful!

"An informative book - one of the best I've read on understanding the messages of behaviour with strategies to support students who become deregulated."

"A must-read for teachers! Wish I had read it ears ago. So sadly applicable to many children."

You might also be interested in these Amazon titles

Trauma-Sensitive Schools:

Learning Communities Transforming Children's Lives, K-5

Help for Billy:

A Beyond Consequences Approach to

Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom

About the Author

Dr Judith Howard is currently a senior lecturer and researcher with the Queensland University of Technology. She has an extensive career history with state schooling in Queensland and commenced working for QUT in 2015.  She has worked as a classroom teacher (primary), school guidance officer and behaviour support specialist.  For a time she worked for the Centre for Behaviour Support – with a team overseeing state policy development and school practice regarding student behaviour.  She has most recently held the role of Regional Manager for Behaviour Support for the North Coast Region of DETE, managing staff and a broad range of programs delivering behaviour support services for over 200 schools. Judith’s teaching interests include child and adolescent development, student behaviour, school and classroom behaviour management behaviour management policy development and inclusive practice in schools. Judith’s main research interest involves the impact of early childhood attachment difficulties and trauma on the developing child and on future (primary and secondary) school behaviours.  Through her research, training seminars and consultancy with educators, she continues to encourage schools to adopt a neuroscience informed approach to the behaviour management of trauma surviving students.


This text is recommended to anyone who works with young people who have experienced trauma due to dysfunctional relationships with their primary carers. Teachers, school executives, special educators, social workers, educational psychologists and school counsellors will find this book a great addition to their professional libraries. The strategies presented are suitable for early childhood through to secondary settings. Moreover, this book would make an excellent and affordable secondary text in postgraduate education subjects focussed on managing challenging behaviours. The information presented in this book could easily be adapted to a valuable staff development session in raising awareness of disorganised attachment and productive intervention strategies that promote inclusion rather than exclusion

 Sue O’Neill - School of Education, University of New South Wales

Dr Howard’s book provides a well-researched insight into the etiology and management of students who present with a trauma history and attachment disordered behaviours. The book considers the latest research on the impact of early trauma on the developing brain and then moves to practical support options for schools to consider. Her ideas on this topic have been shared with many school communities in Australia and overseas and she is considered a leader in the field of behaviour management in schools. As a psychologist working across schools in a Regional role, I have seen first hand the positive outcomes for students (and staff) in schools that have benefited from Dr Howard’s practical advice and therefore strongly recommend her book to educators and parents. 

Lex Bell (Psychologist) Guidance Officer - Intensive Behaviour Support

Have you ever questioned your skills or abilities to manage a student’s complex   behaviour - even after following the usual tried-and-true strategies? Or, perhaps you have felt frustrated by your many seemingly futile attempts to find a trigger or an explanation for the challenging, dangerous or disturbing behaviour which erupts out of nowhere in your classroom or the school playground? Then, this little book by Dr Howard is for you. In simple, easy to read language, this book provides the key for educators to unlock the theory and physiology of Disorganised Attachment due to trauma. It also raises awareness and understanding of the impacts of trauma and abuse. Most importantly, writing from her own professional experience and practice as well as current research, Dr Howard shares hands-on strategies and evidence-based approaches for the classroom teacher, the student support team as well as school management.  Thanks Dr Howard for presenting a fresh lens for educators to view and respond to the behaviour and needs of some of our most needy and vulnerable students.

Cathy O’Connor, Queensland Department of Education, Training and Development


Table of Contents

  • What we believe about managing these students' behaviour?
  • How these students present at school?
  • Rodney
  • Garry
  • Taylor
  • Let's talk about Attachment
  • Bowlby and Ainsworth: Two early theorists with important messages.
  • The neurological and physiological impact of disorganised attachment
  • The nervous system
  • The human brain
  • Neurons and synaptic activity
  • The early childhood brain
  • Fight, flight or freeze
  • Revisiting Rodney, Garry and Taylor
  • Relationships (both the problem and the solution)
  • Emotional self-regulation
  • Six-element model for student support
  • A list of recommended strategies and approaches
  • Preparing for and managing a behaviour crisis
  • Example of a crisis management plan
  • Helping teachers to understand and manage their own reactions and emotions during and after crisis
  • Considerations for school policy
  • Suspension and expulsion
  • Moving a student to a new school
  • Recognise difficulties with compliance for what they are
  • Physiological and social concerns in adolescence
  • A note on working with parents
  • A final word