10 Ways to Help a Difficult Child
10 Ways to Help a Difficult Child: Helping students that don’t always “want” our help can seem impossible at times. But when “that kid” is YOUR kid, it changes your point of view in a hurry. If you are unfamiliar with my son, Jack, you can check out this post about Having a Child with Autism. I was reminded about how important these strategies are yesterday after a horrific experience with an attendant at my daughter’s dance recital. I was reminded that not everybody “gets it” and that they don’t necessarily “want” to get it. Not everybody is on board with what we’re trying to do, and I have to do what’s best to protect him from the world and at the same time teach him strategies to help him maneuver through an unpredictable life.
Anyway, I thought since I am working right now on one of my presentations for I Teach 1st!, I’d share some quick strategies to help “that kid” survive school. (If you’d like to check out more about the session, you can find it here: I Teach 1st!).
- Be flexible. As a teacher, it’s easy to get into a management rut, a one-size-fits-all mentality. What works for most kids doesn’t usually work for your most challenging kids. If it did, then they probably wouldn’t be “challenging.” We have to be able to be flexible and willing to try new things. Keep in mind what works today, may or may not work tomorrow.
- Move around. Yes, we should move around the classroom, but so should our students…especially kids who struggle with the regular classroom. I love for my son to have a “safe spot” in the classroom. Not “safe” in the sense of protection necessarily, but an alternative place for him to sit when his desk becomes too much. It’s an agreed upon place that won’t aggravate his teacher when he goes there. Sensory processing issues can cause major problems in the classroom. The good news? There are a million and one resources to help. (I could blog for days on them!) Brain breaks are great, too. BUT it’s important to remember music and commotion may not be what your struggling kids need all the time. See Rule #1.
- Listen. If you give my son a chance to talk, you’ll be surprised at what is going on in his mind. He once refused to enter another teacher’s classroom when his teacher was absent. He didn’t explain or ask for help, he just flat out said, “No.” He said it more than once, to multiple teachers. It appeared that he was being defiant. When someone finally asked him why it was because he was afraid something bad would happen to him and no one (me) would know where he was. Long story short, most kids have a reason for what they do or say. Our job is to listen and/or try to figure out what that reason is. (to obtain or avoid)
- Accentuate the positive. I hear that song in the back of my mind all the time. If all we focus on is the negative, then kids see that as what’s getting the most attention. It can actually INCREASE the negative behaviors in your classroom. Instead of saying “Don’t run!” try saying “Please walk in the hallway.” It isn’t a huge deal, but these minor changes in your focus and what words you choose make a difference. My favorite is, “I love the way so and so is ________” All my students quickly look to see what so and so is doing so they can get a compliment, too. *Oh, and please DO NOT talk negatively about that child in front of them like they’re not there. They are there and they can hear you. It really doesn’t help anything.
- It takes a village. You can’t be the only person that’s helping that “challenging” child. It takes a team. Everyone that comes in contact with the child (especially subs) should be aware of the child’s plan and what has worked…with the reminder that not everything works every day. See Rule #1)
- Don’t lose control. This is easier said than done, at least for me. My son knows how to push my buttons and odds are your challenging students know yours, too. You must keep your emotions in check and not take it personally. I have to remind myself that this child did not get out of bed this morning thinking, “hmmm, I wonder how I can drive Ms. White crazy today.” It may feel like that, but it isn’t. If that child is giving you a hard time, it’s probably because he or she is having a hard time.
- Address issues in private and let them take a walk. Do you like to be called out in front of your colleagues? Me, neither. If you need to talk things over, give the child some privacy. Emotions can come out quickly and no one wants to be the kid who cries in front of the class. Be respectful of your students. Sometimes just a change of location helps diffuse the situation. Sometimes going out in the hallway to get a drink of water helps. Sometimes just taking a walk is enough (or “heavy work” is a great tool). But remember a break is NOT a time out.
- Be proactive rather than reactive. Try to anticipate things that will trigger poor behavior and think of ways to help it before it gets “to the point of no return.” If your student struggles with change or transitions, then be sensitive of that and give them as much notice as you can. If you can’t give them a lot of notice, then be understanding when they have a difficult time because of the change in schedule.
- Don’t lecture. This is probably my #1 issue. I am a Grade A Lecturer. The problem is that most kids that display challenging behaviors do not respond favorably to lectures. They tune it out or resent it. I like to get on their level, engage them in a quick talk about the changes that need to be made (and why) and then we move on. There is no point in asking “Why did you do that?” or “What were you thinking?” -they probably have no idea and even if they did, they probably cannot think quick enough to verbalize it.
- Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff. I cannot emphasize this enough. For many students, the school day is an exhausting experience the resembles basic survival where they are dealing with “fight or flight” responses to everything. If my student needs to keep the same spot all year or spin or bounce in his desk or listen while under the table…you know what? It’s ok. He is dealing with a lot. I can accommodate. I choose to focus on the big stuff, teaching him ways to verbalize his issues or how to work in a group. I can let the little things go.
The above is from Lemon Lime Adventures. If there was a #11, then it would be to love your students. They know if you don’t like them- you’re not fooling anyone. Love them.