Therapy Case Study

Helping to Support Staff in School with a Challenging Pupil


A four year old boy in Nursery was reported as a problem by staff who felt unable to cope with his aggressive outbursts and frequent spitting, seemingly targeted at staff. The boy concerned presented with delayed speech and language and his speech pronunciation was severely affected to the point that members of staff could rarely decipher what it was he was trying to communicate. Nursery staff reported that the boy spat at them whenever they went near, spitting in their hair and on their clothes, something the staff reported as ‘disgusting’. The situation had become so bad that the boy’s placement at the nursery setting was in jeopardy as staff did not want to go near this boy.

Following an observation by the psychologist it was decided that a solution focused conversation with the nursery teacher may be helpful. The conversation with the nursery teacher initially highlighted the frustration and negative cycle that staff and the boy had become stuck in.

‘Even the smallest change
can initiate a solution.’


It was fairly quickly established with this nursery teacher who had many years of experience teaching that she had come across many difficult cases before, albeit none of them spitters. After careful and detailed questioning it emerged that there were particular times when this boy spat at staff. It seemed he was very frightened of being approached from behind. It transpired there was some history of domestic violence in the household. Nursery teacher was able to think about this nugget of information in terms of how staff moved about the classroom in relation to this boy. It was also elucidated that this pupil always spat just after he had attempted to speak. Nursery teacher was able to come up with a conclusion about this piece of information in that maybe the boy was being ignored or not understood and getting angry because the staff were not paying him attention or able to understand what he had said.

The nursery teacher was noticeably able to shift her view and perception of this situation after the solution focused interview, as she was able to recall other times in her career when she felt stuck and unable to change things and drew upon her experience of what had helped. Nursery teacher was able to return to her colleagues with a fresh and positive approach of noticing this boy and paying attention whenever he spoke and of passing a comment back to the boy to acknowledge he had spoken, even though it may not be possible to decode his spoken language attempts. Over the course of the next few weeks the spitting incidents diminished and the boy became happier in his nursery setting and so did the staff. As the relationship between the boy and staff improved the spitting stopped altogether.