Behavior issues in the classroom can be so difficult to deal with. Sometimes children act out, disrupt class, fight, act tough, refuse to cooperate in class, refuse to do their work – and more. At times, it seems that children do things that, from our point of view, makes life harder for them!
Believe it or not, most children don’t misbehave because they are “bad” kids. Most often, there are underlying emotions that they just don’t have the tools to cope with. Here are some feelings underlying bad behavior at school:
1. I don’t understand my work, I am getting behind, and kids are going to notice and make fun of me. In order to avoid this happening, I am going to act tough and act like while I could do my work, I won’t because I don’t care.
2. I don’t know how to do these problems and everybody around me knows what to do. I must be stupid. I don’t want people to think I am stupid. I would rather be sent to the office than have people think I am stupid.
3. Every time I take a spelling test I fail. If I take this test, I will have to pass it up the row and everyone will see that I failed, and I can’t have that happen! I am going to refuse to take the test. I would rather be in trouble than have people see I can’t do this work.
4. I can’t read. Everything I have to do in school every single day is something I have to read. I am sick of coming to school only to be reminded that I can’t read. If I haven’t learned to read by now, I won’t ever, so why keep on coming to school? I can have plenty of jobs when I grow up that won’t require me to be able to read.
5. Nothing I do in school has anything to do with my life and it is boring.
6. I study and study and two days later I can’t remember it, so what is the point of trying?
7. I am in special ed. This means I am stupid. What’s the point in trying?
The list could go on and on. A different reason for every child who is misbehaving. In general, however, misbehavior signals a sense of failure, fear of being exposed, discouragement, a need to avoid ridicule, and underlying pain the child is trying to cover up.
None of us as adults would choose to continue to participate in an activity that left us feeling incapable, ashamed, and lacking in intelligence. We would just stop and go do something else. Children don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to school, and sadly, when they fail in school, they believe they are the problem. They are the broken ones.
It takes dedication and caring to crack the nut that is the child with behavior issues. Knee-jerk reaction most of the time is to deal with the behavior at face value. If a child is disruptive, we punish that behavior. If a child punches a kid on the playground, we punish that behavior. If a child refuses to do his work in the classroom, we punish that behavior by holding him in from recess. Does this ultimately help? No. It rarely does.
Here are some ideas that might be worth trying before simply punishing the bad behavior:
1. Allow time. Draw the child aside, but don’t deal with the specific behavior first.
2. Mine for gold. Take time to get to know the child even if it takes time. Under the behaviors is a child who wants to do well.
3. Discover his talents. Rather than focusing on what he is failing at, showcase his talents. Engage him in helping another student in an area in which he excels.
4. Research her. Figure out what is hard for her. Usually, a child can do far better than we think once roadblocks to learning are smoothed away. Once she knows you are on her side, get her to help you understand what she finds to be hard at school.
5. Support him. Once you have figured out what is hardest for him, find the resources and aids that will provide the most help. Often children that struggle are kinesthetic learners (approximately 89% of children in special ed classes are kinesthetic learners). They don’t learn the same way as their left-brained, sequential classmates.
6. Ensure success. Once you feel you understand the child better, what he is good at, what is hard for her, and have identified materials and resources that will help the most, start small and ensure that the first tasks are ones at which he will succeed. For example, if reading is the issue, rather than tackling phonics rules, try using sight words in pictures (SnapWords®) because they tend to produce success very quickly. When the child sees he/she is able to quickly master some reading tasks, this success will fuel and supply energy for tackling the next topics.
If you have a child that is at this point – having just shut down – forget schoolwork for a minute. You have to do whatever it takes to find the child’s deeply-buried passion. It will take some doing to get the child to remember he had a passion at one time – a dream of what his life would contain – but it is in there somewhere. She may not want to recall it because she has already given up on it.
If you persist, if you continue to gently pry, you may be lucky enough to hit pay dirt. Once you find out what their dream future would be, lay plans to make sure the child starts on that path.
Sometimes it will mean going back and regaining some basic skills. Take heart. No matter how badly or for how long the child has been failing, progress can be very rapid once they have some hope, and once they have someone caring for them where they are, and once they have resources that make sense to them and make it possible for them to learn how they learn!