Categories
anxiety

6 Ways to Help Anxious Children during Coronavirus

We are living in anxious times right now. Some children may be stressed, frazzled and overwhelmed by what is happening and the importance of looking after their mental health is paramount. Telling someone who is feeling anxious not to worry or to forget about it is not an effective solution. What we can do instead is focus on strategies that explicitly strive to reduce anxiety and strategies that are more implicit.

If you have a child who feels anxious, I would suggest you use your judgement based on their personality and interests and select either explicit and direct strategies aimed at promoting well-being or more subtle strategies that will help them settle without even realising it.

Explicit Strategies

Option 1: Breathing/Meditation

Getting your child to try focussing on their breath and striving to be in the moment are great ways to explicitly reduce anxiety. The benefits of these strategies are well known and there is so much content out there to facilitate these kinds of strategies. You might want to choose a physical object like a breathing ball or perhaps you want a youtube video for young children. Older children might enjoy learning about how to do 4-7-8 breathing or engaging in a full-on 5 minute guided meditation aimed at children. There are also apps like Headspace and Calm that provide a certain amount of free content to test out.

Option 2: Journalling

Journalling has a body of evidence to prove it has to power to promote feelings of well-being and happiness making it a great explicit strategy for children feeling anxious who are old enough to write (if your child is young and might enjoy this, they could draw).

Three concrete ways to journal to promote happiness are:

  1. Write seven things you are excited for every morning when you wake up.
  2. Write three things you are grateful for every night before bed.
  3. Write for two minutes about something nice that happened in the past 24 hours.

Some children might like to do all three, some might like to do just one. I would emphasise the key to getting the benefits of this exercise is consistency over a period of two weeks or more for the child to feel the benefits.

For a more detailed explanation of journaling, click here.

Option 3: Yoga

Yoga’s benefits for increasing contentment and reducing anxiety are also well known as the poses, philosophy and breathwork involved all can have a significant impact on a child’s overall sense of well-being. They might like to choose from the wealth of resources at Cosmic Kids Yoga or, perhaps, your child would like to try one of Yoga With Adrienne’s videos for dealing with uncertain times. It’s all about finding something that your child likes and will consistently do.

Implicit Strategies

In some cases, talking about stress and anxiety can amplify it instead of reducing it and giving constant reassurance can actually serve to remind an anxious person that there is, in fact, something to worry about. If this sounds like something that resonates with your child, try more implicit and subtle strategies.

Option 1: Exercise

Getting out and getting active has so many benefits that they go beyond the scope of this article but getting your child out and running, playing playground games, practising a sport, cycling or anything that raises their heart rate will help release those feel-good endorphins that are proven to increase well-being. There is no need to says it’s for their anxiety as the act of doing will be enough to feel the benefits. Actually talking about it might reduce its effects as it may just remind the child how they are feeling. Children should aim for 60 minutes a day and if you have a child who is feeling anxious, getting this hour completed can be doubly important.  

Option 2: Immersive activities

The title of this sounds far fancier than it is. An immersive activity is anything that takes focus or concentration to complete. Engaging in an immersive activity can reduce, prevent or stop thinking about past troubles or future worries as they begin to focus on the task at hand. The joy of this is that most hobbies are immersive. Reading, helping an adult bake, garden work, knitting or sowing, building with lego, painting, playing video games and many other activities require your child to get out of their head an into the task at hand.

Option 3: Reducing the White Noise

We all know social media and the internet has huge benefits but it also has its downsides. Constantly being connected to the world can lead your child to take the world’s worries onto their shoulders. A subtle way to combat this is to ensure that a constant stream of news is not being streamed through the television, radio, tablets and phones in the house. Try to create some space for your child to just exist in their current environment. Avoid constantly talking about world events around your child to prevent unknowingly contributing to their feeling of anxiety through the attention we give a topic.

These six options are a menu. They may seem obvious and you may know their benefits already but remember the difference between knowing and doing. If you are worried about your child and their anxiety levels, experiment with some of these and find what is the formula for success for your child.

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Categories
Homeschool parenting

Homeschooling and Coronavirus: A wonderful opportunity

Depending on what lenses you are wearing, what you think you see changes. If you are wearing sunglasses, the object appears dark. If you are wearing the wrong glasses, the object appears blurry. If you wear the correct prescription lenses, the object appears crystal clear. All the time, the object never changes, it’s just how it appears to you that changes.

The same can be said about how you view life events. If you view the world through a negative lens, life appears scary and worrying. If you view the world through a positive lens, life appears full of opportunity and optimism. All the time, the life event never changes, it’s just how it appears to you that changes.

I believe that we can change the way we view life like we can change our glasses. 

Homeschooling: A world of opportunity

We are not in normal times so parents trying to proceed with normal schooling of their children at home with English, maths and all that goes with it is admirable but perhaps a misguided priority. We are in a time where the environment for learning is unique and skills and attitudes that could stand them in good stead for life could be taught over the coming weeks. I see an abundance of digital resources being circulated which is a commendable effort by teachers to maintain control. We should also encourage parents, however, to model and teach the following three lessons as the top priority. This period of time in a child’s life could prove valuable in the long run if harnessed correctly.

Lesson 1: Altruism

This is a great time to teach our children to be altruistic through modelling it. Altruistic behaviour is any act which is selfless and done out of kindness and generosity for others. Imagine coming out of this crisis and knowing that you taught your child to be altruistic? Teaching this can be completed by modelling it and talking about it aloud. When talking about your shopping, talk about the importance of not stockpiling food as others may need more. Make a phone call to a grandparent or anyone who may be vulnerable and discuss how it is important to check in on those in need. Ask them can they think of anyone that they could ring. Discuss how you might buy a gift card for a local restaurant that you go to often because they may be struggling for business lately. Wonder out loud if any of your neighbours might need help at the minute and demonstrate how in times of crisis, it’s just as important to think of others less well off than yourself.

Lesson 2: Resilience 

I had the equivalent of my sunglasses on viewing life events at the end of last week. Everything seemed dark. I have taught myself strategies and habits that work for me, however, to build resilience and maintain calm in tough times and when I actioned these, I felt a lot better. As we are in the midst of a tough time, we have the opportunity to teach these skills to our children who may be worried also. Perhaps you have your own habits that you find useful to help you be calm and clinical in the face of adversity? Discuss them with your children with age-appropriate language. Talk about how if you’re stressed, there are things you can do to relieve and reset your mood. Depending on your and their tastes, this could be adding in something like exercise, meditation, yoga, journaling, fresh air, practicing a hobby, reading a book or removing something like excessive screen time, oversleeping or bad diet choices. If we could emerge from this stressful time with our children equipped with tools to build and maintain their resilience in tough times, wouldn’t that be a powerful impact for the rest of their lives?

Lesson 3: Critical Thinking

We are in the eye of a social media and general media storm. How many stories and rumours can we read or watch in a day if we wish? An infinite amount. The era of information means that news emerges 24:7 with breaking news and critical updates being circulated every minute. The problem is that not everything we read is true or valuable. A lot of it is fake, harmful and click-bait. We now have the time to teach our children how to think critically and filter between what is useful and reliable and what is rumours and speculation in the next few weeks with a bulk of content to use as examples. Impress on them that circulated text messages might not be the most trusted source but the WHO official social media channels might be better. Try to discuss how you might assess the trustworthiness of the content. The criteria could be: Who wrote it? When did they write it? Are they experts, or quoting experts, in the area that they are discussing? Begin by reading out material and discussing it with them and how you critique it. Then read it out and ask them to critique its worth. By the end, you may have a child enabled to search the internet and use it for the valuable source it can be. 

These are three lessons that we, as teachers, try to model and teach to children on a daily basis in schools. Parents, however, have far more impact in influencing how their children act and view the world. I suggest that you use this time valuably and try these three lessons over the coming weeks and then, watch your child grow into someone who can act generously, cope with adversity and think independently. What a wonderful job you will have done.

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Categories
parenting

5 Strategies Parents Can Use To Be Like Teachers

Some countries and parents have been thrust into a home-schooling situation that allowed for very little planning and forethought in the lead-up. Alas, we are in the middle of it now and many parents may be questioning where to start, what to do and how best to manage their child whilst educating them. Here are five strategies that might be of use to parents over the coming weeks:

Combat uncertainty with structure

In times of anxiety, people seek to control. Adults and children are no different in this regard. A simple way to combat any anxiety that you may see in your child over the coming weeks is to structure the day and explain it to them every morning so they know what to expect. Let the children have some input into the structure of the day to increase compliance. This will help keep your children remain on task and avoid questions about when they will get to do x or play y as it can be pre-scheduled into their day and explained to them so they know it is coming. This could be done verbally over breakfast or you could make a little chart if you had access to a printer, paper or colours. 

App recommendation for this here.

Choice will be your friend

Giving the children some ownership over the activities they engage with will increase the likelihood of a positive experience. Imposition leads to opposition. The trick is to give them a range of choices that you’re happy with and let them pick whichever ones they like so they feel in control. With clever choices, they are still being guided into the desired activities of your choice, however.

Choice can be provided through the timing or sequence of activities or what the activity actually is. This is an amazing chance for your child to get high-personalised learning tailored completely to their interests so depending on the time you can put in and the resources you have, your child could benefit from intensively getting to explore areas of interest to them.

Language will be important

The language parents use to engage their children in an activity will be important. Being a teacher can be like being a salesperson and in this uncomfortable time, I would suggest avoiding using educational language like “work” or “English” or “maths”. Home is a place for children to relax and imposing this school-based language can encourage resistance or disengagement because of its use outside of the school context. 

I would suggest parents just sell the activity. There is no need to mention the learning or objective of it. There are lots of education in everyday home activities that the children will love to get involved in and getting them to work with you will develop their skills without any need for school talk.

Asking them to help you bake some bread is full of learning between reading and following a recipe, the new language used, measuring the ingredients, ensuring the time and temperature is correct without ever having to tell them its educational. 

The same can be said for home improvement indoors, gardening outdoors, watching educational documentaries, putting on fashion shows with adult clothes, painting and drawing, writing up shopping lists, learning new songs, playing board games, following youtube workouts, practising an instrument, exploring some secluded parts of nature in big parks, field or up in the mountains or making something from a cardboard box and some imagination. There is a myriad of simple but creative ideas.

Build Independence

Day-to-day life is so rushed that we often find it is quicker to complete tasks for children than to allow them the extra time to figure it out for themselves. Now is the time to slow down day-to-day life and foster independence that will stand to them when life inevitably resumes at its hectic pace. This could be as simple as teaching them to make their own breakfast, tie their shoelaces and dress themselves if they are young or cook a meal, do their own washing, use the iron or other key life skills if they are older. This is a unique time and providing this kind of learning could stand them in good stead in the long run.

Finally: Screen Time

I would be the first one to say that I don’t love children spending an abundance of time on screens. But firstly, this is the world we live in and technology is irreversibly going that way and secondly, the world and their mother will be spending additional time on their TVs, tablets, phones and games consoles. I would encourage parents to accept this and harness it where possible. Additional screen time could be a useful reward for helping out or engaging in an activity or it also could be used as a calming measure. These are stressful times and having something enjoyable and immersive can help maintain a sense of calm in your child depending on their personality. You know your child best but I would encourage you to not fight the reality that additional screen time is inevitable with added time at home.

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Categories
Behaviour Management

Coronavirus Kids

We are living in a strange time right now. In Ireland and many other countries, we have been thrust into school closures with the advice of keeping children apart to ensure that coronavirus does not spread. This places sudden and sizeable stress on parents and children alike. Although we could see school closures coming, it came quite fast and children may be at home now with no real school guidance on what the best course of action is. Here are a few thoughts below that may be of help to parents or teachers:

Anxious Children

The media sells fear. This is a known principle of how media drives traffic to their websites and purchases of their newspapers. Anxious children do not need to be exposed to a 24-hour newsfeed about a virus they do not fully understand. Adults do not either. Limit the amount of coronavirus related media that children (and yourself) are exposed to. Limit the amount of talk about the coronavirus around children also. There is no need for children to listen to speculation, repeated reporting and scare-mongering which can be sure to contribute to their anxiety. 

Energetic Children

Children are advised not to mix with other children as they can help spread the disease to the more vulnerable. If you have a child with ADHD, ADD or any abundance of energy, this does not mean that you have to lock them inside. The advice seems to suggest being outside is a safe environment. Go to big parks, fields, forests or anywhere in nature where you believe contact with others will be minimal. Teach your child the concept of social distancing like a bubble around other families and explore places that, otherwise, you might not have the chance to explore.

One of the best ways to maintain a calm, positive environment is to make sure a lively child gets an opportunity to burn off some of their energy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise is always a good tip.

Remember: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices!

Educational Activities

As this is an unprecedented event, teachers and parents have been left scrambling at what to do. There has been a noble effort by schools and teachers to direct learning remotely but I believe this is not the way to move forward. 

The teacher may be able to provide some beneficial guidance on applications and websites to utilise or pages in books to complete but this is a wonderful opportunity for your child to experience one-to-one learning that they otherwise would not get.

I would suggest the following list of activities that would be a more beneficial way to spend the bulk of “educational time” while at home:

  • Play board games to teach strategic thinking and problem-solving.
  • Bake or cook dinners together to teach healthy living and weight in maths.
  • Writing out shopping lists for practicing spelling and handwriting.
  • Gardening to teach about science or geography.
  • Paint a fence or a wall to teach about fo
  • Get out into nature for geography and P.E.
  • Play with Lego, mechano or any other construction for science.
  • Get children to dress up in adult clothes for a fashion show for drama.
  • Clean bedrooms and re-organise the house to teach executive functioning skills.
  • Read to your child or have them read to you for English.
  • Listen to podcasts and talk about them for oral language.
  • Bring home a few empty cardboard boxes from the supermarket and let them loose with colours, sellotape and scissors for art.

There is a list of exciting opportunities to entertain, education and enjoy time with your children over the next few weeks. Creativity and energy are needed but the chance to teach your own child should be grasped with both hands. It’s also important to note that the whole world will be spending more time watching television and on screens at the moment and we should reflect this with our children. There is nothing wrong with binge-watching television right now to entertain ourselves in the evening when everyone is tired out.

Control the Controllables

There is very little in our control at the moment regarding the wider world but we can control our actions. The important things we need to impress on our children is that there is no need to panic or worry but there is a need to be careful. We should educate our children to:

  1. Wash their hands with correct technique frequently.
  2. Cough into their elbow.
  3. Practice social distancing.
  4. Avoid mixing with their friends in person (encourage calling their friends on phones).

After these four points, there is very little else we can do right now other than take the positives where we can and enjoy the extra quality time with our loved ones. 

Categories
Behaviour Management

Making a game of Good Behaviour

There are many reward systems and strategies out there that claim to improve classroom behaviour. One system that comes with a bulk of evidence to support its claim is The Good Behaviour Game. This is a system which is proven to increase the desired behaviours and is relatively easy to implement: a win-win for teachers.

How to play

  1.  The teacher displays the list of desired behaviours in the classroom. As per best practice, these are few in number and positively phrased. They might include rules such as raising your hand to speak, eyes on the teacher when they are talking etc. 
  2. The teacher divides the class into groups with an even distribution of personality types (disruptive children, withdrawn children, studious children etc)
  3. The teacher initially plays the game for ten minutes daily for the first week. Teams get a point if they break a rule. If they have 4 points or more, they do not receive the reward. Visibly display the points so children can be reminded of the score and what is and is not acceptable.
  4. The teacher builds the amount of time the game is played for week after week. 
  5. The teacher slowly changes the rewards from immediate rewards – such as jellies, stickers or stationary – to deferred rewards such as additional free time at the end of the week, stickers, extra PE, access to iPads later in the day.

Key Considerations

Ensure that your rule list is small with simple-to-follow instructions. Ensure that the reward on offer is genuinely motivating to the target audience.

Do not overuse the strategy straight away, building up time slowly is essential to its success.

Changing the teams, times and rewards can manipulate the game to maintain interest over the course of a full-term if this is your desired strategy.

The beauty of the strategy is it can be explained in a very short time, does not require huge resources to implement and has research to back its effectiveness. 

Add it to the toolkit and pull it out when required. Enjoy!

Categories
Behaviour Management

How to End the Tale of Telling Tales

Teachers can have an aversion to children telling tales after lunch and break time. Children can feel the need to report every misdemeanour they have ever witnessed on the yard to the class teacher upon their return. Some students can be compelled to do this even after reporting it to the supervising teacher and watching as the teacher dealt with the situation. There are students out there that just love to retell the drama of it all. This is fine to a point and we always encourage children to tell a teacher if something bad has happened. The issue arises where you get every minute detail after every break and the issues are nothing more than minor indiscretions that could be handled by the supervising teacher or even better, sorted out amongst themselves. At times the motivation behind this type of behaviour can be to eat up teaching time as the lesson is side-tracked by sorting the incident or simply just students who love to stir up a bit of trouble.

When you try to prevent the telling of tales by silencing them or by ignoring the undesired behaviour, perhaps it gets worse or the children are too frustrated to concentrate on the next lesson. When you try to sort it out quickly, it can unravel and take ten or fifteen minutes to reach a satisfactory conclusion. What is an alternative strategy that you can incorporate to deal with this issue?

Listen: But on your terms and their time

I had a chronic issue with this type of behaviour with a class I taught before. It stemmed from their hyper-competitive nature (that I loved) but their games on yard often ended in petty disputes that they loved to report back after the bell which ate up precious teaching time. I used a simple solution to decrease this behaviour.

Having tried for weeks with various strategies to prevent their minor disputes with reflective discussions, preventive discussion and positive reinforcements with no success, I simply started to listen.

Whenever the students would come in from the yard and begin to sort out their disputes and tell tales on each other, I would feign the utmost genuine concern. I would ask who was involved and take careful note of the names. I would say that it sounds very important and we should try to get a solution to this issue. I would ensure to attribute no blame or showcase zero frustration. Then, I would tell them their appointment to sort this issue is at the start of the next break.

The children were initially very satisfied with this as I was demonstrating concern and was showing how I was willing to listen so the lesson could instantly begin that I had planned. The next break would come, and I would funnel the rest of the class out to the yard and suddenly, it would dawn on the remaining children that this issue could be resolved surprisingly quickly.

I would move comically slowly to my desk and take out my notepad and pen and begin to ask each child, “How can we solve this problem?”. I would take the spotlight away from the blame and focus it solely on what we could do to ensure it didn’t happen again. The students became antsy at missing their break time and could think of several ways to sort out their problems. It was miraculous how little they wanted to tell tales when it was on their time. When a satisfactory discussion was had (usually 4-5 minutes was enough), I would let them out without an angry word and tell them to enjoy their break.

Sure enough, I had to do this more frequently at the beginning, but very quickly the children realised that talking about many of their issues wasn’t worth five minutes of their own break time. They began to sort the minor issues out amongst themselves or tell the teacher on the yard and the constant telling of tales in my room reduced to zero.

It was a simple strategy that saved a lot of time. Of course, I missed time out of my break while using this intervention at the start, but I saved countless time over the year. If you’re struggling with a group that love to tell tales, I recommend it as a go-to strategy. Let me know if it works!

Disclaimer: Of course, bullying is always dealt with very seriously and students are always taught how bullying behaviour is deliberate, hurtful and repetitive. I trust a teacher will not use this strategy to reduce the reporting of bullying and knows the profile of their students appropriately to judge if this strategy is useful.

Categories
Behaviour Management

ADHD, ODD, ADD: Is labelling our children counter-productive?

One of my favourite thought-provoking articles I have read is a research paper by Nardone and Portelli titled When the diagnosis “invents” the illness. It is a fascinating take on the world we live in and how we classify mental disorders. It proposes a move away from the rigid categorisation of disorders and toward viewing problems as dysfunctional systems of perception and interaction.

Its implication for teaching children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties would be a shift away from trying to fit children into a specific box such as ADHD, ADD, ODD, EBD etc which lead to predetermined strategies and instead focusing on a strategic approach where the problem is viewed on its own very specific merits and interventions are designed to help the student function better in their environment.

The paper makes a great case for this alternative way of thinking. It argues that a diagnosis has the potential to end up causing self-fulfilling prophecy and gives examples where this has been proven.

It gives one extreme example where a patient was admitted to the hospital as a manic depressive and was sedated with tranquillizers. The following day, she was to be moved to an alternative location but refused. The hospital insisted and the patient resisted. As they tried to forcibly move her, she became violent. She screamed. The doctor was called and a further series of injections were used to calm her as every time she woke, she became more violent.

This story may appear unpleasant but perhaps you may think “it was for her own good as she was manically depressed and they wanted to help her.” Your opinion may shift when you discover the police pulled over the ambulance when it was in transit to inform them that they had taken the wrong person. They had been injecting and sedating a “normal” person.

This story blew my mind. The nurses thought she was manically depressed so when she violently protested, they injected her as the diagnosis was there and the behaviour was interpreted as typical of the condition. How is this relevant to the classroom and students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties? The story above is an extreme example but there are takeaways for us as teachers.

Let’s take for example a student with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A teacher who has a student with ADHD in their class may expect certain behaviours. They may expect the child to be disruptive, energetic, and inattentive and may treat them accordingly. The child – if they are aware of the diagnosis – may expect to perform these behaviours too. There is an element of diagnostic prophecy to the condition. 

With this diagnosis, common interventions include behaviour therapy and medication. To pose the question, what if the child has been wrongfully diagnosed and their behaviour was the result of something else and now they are being medicated?

Consider a child who is considered “normal” in your classroom. If a teacher is teaching a lesson and this child is inattentive and disruptive, the teacher might come to different conclusions. The teacher might consider their teaching. Was the child inattentive because the subject matter of the lesson was too difficult? Was the child disruptive because the methodology used was too boring and sedentary? The teacher may change the way they deliver future lessons to try to increase their engagement.

Is it possible that medically categorising our students at a young age might not be the correct way to go? Potentially. If a child with a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it can be accepted as part of their diagnosis. If a child without a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it may be more likely considered as communication.

I would not suggest throwing out all forms of diagnoses in schools, but I would be slower to label children in primary school and treat them a certain way because of their diagnosis. Thinking strategically (as discussed in previous articles) is a way to steer away from pigeon-holing our children and helping them to function more effectively in the classroom. The teacher can observe the problem behaviour specific to its characteristics and context and attempt to intervene to help the child function better in the classroom or wherever the problem may be. Having a diverse range of strategies, interventions and supports available is key to this way of thinking. 

I think this ideology is incredibly thought-provoking, how about you?

Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management

Stop….Have a Debate and Listen!

Have you ever had two kids who are constantly fighting? They just seem to rub each other up the wrong way. They can’t walk past each other without a sly comment, a slight nudge or out on the yard at lunchtime is a free-for-all with fighting, cheating and lots of other undesirable behaviours? These types of situations can be quite common in schools as children can find it difficult to cope when they believe they don’t like someone who is constantly in the same area as them. Learning to be civil around someone you loathe is a life skill.

There are common strategies to try to cope with these scenarios. Perhaps a reward chart might be incorporated and kind words, kind hands and kind feet are positively reinforced. The teacher might use a punishment strategy to try to decrease the undesired behaviour where the children lose privileges if they engage in negative behaviour. The teacher might read social stories, use the zones of regulation or try discussing their issues with them separately to try to calm them down. They might even use the I-ASSIST model or Letters of Anger. These are all good strategies which might bear fruit, but what if they don’t?

As I have constantly parroted on this blog, anger is an emotion like any other and it is okay to feel. It is how the anger is communicated that needs to change in these situations. An unorthodox strategy that may be worth keeping in your toolkit for these instances is organizing face-to-face debates.

Face-to-face Debating

Often, children who are furious will only settle when they feel the situation is resolved to their satisfaction or their point is heard. Organising a face-to-face debate facilitates this as they get uninterrupted time to voice their grievances without fear of interruption of reprimand. There are several ways that this could be successfully implemented.

If the two children are fighting daily, religiously schedule a debate for after lunchtime where each gets five-ten minutes (depending on the context) to air their opinions and not a minute longer than the teacher prescribed. The other child must sit and listen for the full five minutes before he can speak for five minutes also. On the following day, the child who went second in the debate gets to start it. Once this is made a routine fixture, the pair should reduce their number of arguments outside of the designated debate time as they realise they will get their chance to argue later. It is, therefore, a great tool for de-escalating out on yard as the teacher can remind them to wait for the debate time.

There are other benefits to this method such as the building of a positive relationship with the teacher who is clearly impartial and no longer must seek who is to blame or reprimand negative behaviour. As the children have a full five-ten minutes to speak, apparent misunderstandings will appear, and the children will listen to how the other perceived what was happening which can help prevent future incidents. Finally, on the days that there are no issues, having to sit opposite each other as if to start a debate can provide a spark of humour and demonstrate the progress made. Perhaps make them just talk that day and see how a rapport may flourish that could even become a friendship.

Concerns

I am sure that there will be teachers reading this horrified. How can you organize the very situation that we want to avoid? Where will I get this time for a debate? What if it escalates the situation further?

To these teachers I would say, this strategy is great when other strategies are not bearing success and alternative logic is needed. It is apparently time-consuming, but the chances are if you are using this strategy, you were losing teaching time anyway having to deal with these negative situations. This is a method that gives the teacher control over a tricky situation. I would encourage the teacher to set firm minimal rules for the debate such as no swearing and having to remain in your seat. Otherwise, the teacher must sit in stony silence and allow the venting to occur.

What do you think? Could it work? Let me know your thoughts!

Thanks to Papantuono, Portelli, and Gibson’s book “Winning without Fighting” for the idea.

Categories
Behaviour Management

I’ll be brief.

As social, emotional and behavioural difficulties are considered to be a complex issue, many theoretical perspectives have emerged to attempt to explain their formation and guide intervention. No single method is bulletproof, however, and I would encourage teachers to build a diverse toolkit of strategies and theories to help empower them to successfully manage any kind of a difficulty a child may be experiencing in their care.

A theory that is relatively unheard of that may be a beneficial tool to teachers is the Brief Strategic Approach. Here are four key concepts to this theory below that are simple to understand and may give some food for thought:

· Brief Strategic Interventions are based on the concept that problems are considered to be a result of the environment the child is interacting with as opposed to pathology. They move away from focusing on a label such as ADHD, ADD or ODD.

  • Brief Strategic Interventions focus on how things work as opposed to whyThey want to make them work as effectively as possible. They argue that we can intervene in the persistence of the problem, not the formation of it.
  • Interventions and solutions are based on the very specific characteristics of the individual problem rather than the problem having to fit into a rigid theory.
  • The Brief Strategic approach is based on a circular model of interaction. It believes behaviour is cyclical as opposed to linear. As opposed to believing one behaviour causes another in a straight line, it believes in focusing on disrupting the cycle of interaction with some kind of change to alter the problem behaviour. 

How can it help?

Brief strategic interventions and thinking are very useful when you are finding that ordinary logic and common solutions aren’t working. Lots of theories have rigid pre-determined strategies like behaviourism and the strategy of reinforcing positive behaviour but, what happens when these strategies aren’t working? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is where a brief strategic approach can come into play. This approach throws out labels and pre-decided interventions regardless of the issue and starts with defining the problem as it appears in the “now”. 

A very quick-guide of a brief strategic approach looks like this:

  1. Define the problem clearly.
  2. Identify what the failed attempted solutions so far are. (tip: discontinue these)
  3. Identify when the clearly defined problem does not occur. (tip: use these as clues)
  4. Ask yourself how you would make the problem worse. (tip: important to know what not to do)
  5. Set a clear objective.
  6. Formulate an action plan that uses the above steps to help guide the process.

This approach is a great one to use if you feel overwhelmed or frustrated at the lack of success. If you feel unqualified to deal with labels such as ADHD, ODD or ADD, this approach can empower you by locating the specific problem which can seem far more changeable than a medical label.

I will add more depth to this topic in the coming weeks with examples and a detailed step-by-step model which can aid you in taking a brief strategic approach if it is something that appeals to you.

Thanks to Papantuono, Portelli and Gibson’s book Winning without fighting and Nardone’s Knowing Through Changing for the literature that guides this article.

Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management

“Dear Donald, I’m f*cking furious…”

Children who struggle to manage their anger can be quite intimidating. Outbursts can be violent, self-harming, loud and laden with profanities. Tantrums and outbursts can lead to other parents coming in complaining about their child being the victim of violence or having to witness/listen to inappropriate behaviour. It is only natural that a teacher wants to shut down these forms of angry behaviour as quickly as possible for everyone’s sake – not excluding the angry child themselves who can become very stressed and upset. The question is how?

There are a couple of fundamentals that can help. Allowing anger is an important concept. Everybody gets angry and this is a normal emotion like happiness, sadness and fear. Trying to suppress anger can lead to a volcanic eruption when it becomes too much. I have often found that children who struggle with anger find it hard to comprehend that anger is okay. Once they are calmed down and a discussion occurs, they might make a wild promise like “I’ll never get angry again”. It’s important to separate the behaviour and emotion. It’s fine to get angry but to hit or swear or scream is not okay in a school setting. The Zones of Regulation program, social stories and SPHE lessons are great ways to discuss anger and explicitly teach this depending on the age group you are teaching.

If you are trying to reduce certain behaviour, it’s important that you are trying to replace it. If you’re telling a child that anger is okay but the way they are demonstrating it is not, then you must teach them a way that is appropriate.

Letters of Anger

Letters of anger is a strategy that I found beneficial over the past few years with children old enough to write. It’s a very simple and empowering strategy. The premise is that if a child who struggles to contain his anger has a forum to express his anger in any way they wantThe child can write a letter to the individual they are angry at, to the teacher to explain why they are so angry or a diary-style entry to vent their frustrations. They can swear and speak their mind in their writing without fear of reprimand. They can show the teacher at the end if they wish or they can put it away once finished. They are not allowed to show it to other pupils, of course.

The benefits of this exercise are the implied message that anger is acceptable when projected in the right way and the expression of anger is encouraged in a child who struggles to manage it instead of attempting to push it down. Writing a letter is like slowly releasing the lid on an over-fizzed bottle of Coca-Cola. Releasing the lid too quickly can result in a mess. 

There are also the benefits that writing a letter takes time which will help the child gradually self-regulate their emotions while if the teacher is allowed to read the letter, they will learn to understand the child’s perspective which could build rapport and help prevent further similar outbursts. In my experience, the children wanted me to read their letters and there was an instantaneous improvement when I introduced the strategy as if they were relieved that their anger was being accepted.

Give it a go if you have a child in your care who struggles to contain their anger and let me know if you find it as beneficial as I have. This is one tool to add to your behaviour management toolkit which could come in handy one day.

Hat tip to Winning without Fighting by Papantuono, Portelli and Gibson where I found this strategy.