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Behaviour Management parenting

Top Quality Reward Systems

Top quality reward systems can be a great way to start the year and establish the standard of behaviour you want in your classroom. They can be fantastic for intervening if a class is particularly challenging to work with. They can be a wonderful way to motivate children or an individual child to apply themselves to a task. 

By committing to a reward system, you are taking a primarily positive approach that will objectively show you if the desired behaviour is increasing and if you are rewarding it regularly. 

This article explains what the key elements are, what the steps involve and common reasons that they may not work.

Four Keys to an Effective Reward System

Lock in these four keys before creating your system. All successful reward system have these four elements in common.

  1. The students must find the reward desirable. If they don’t, the system will be doomed to fail. Provide choice and pick suitable rewards that you both can agree on. Beware of “reinforcer satiation”. This is where a once desirable reward has lost its novelty. Keep it fresh and change it up.
  2. Ensure the behaviour is defined, explained and practised. Choosing between one and four behaviours for a whole class will keep it extremely clear what is expected. Instead of rewarding “being good”, reward “listening when another is speaking”. Reward the specific behaviour you want to increase. Spend time practising what it looks like as you introduce the system. Ensure the behaviour is within their ability.
  3. Decide how often the children will need to be rewarded. When you set up the system first, reward frequently and overtly. This makes it crystal clear what you are rewarding. Pair your rewards with very specific positive language. “Excellent Caleb, I noticed you were looking at Ellen when she was talking, I have to reward that”. Watch as that behaviour spreads through the room. As the days pass, gradually reduce the frequency at which you reward the behaviours but still intermittently reward and praise them. Wait until break time to reward them. Delay it until the end of the day when they are ready. Finally, the end of the week. If the standard of behaviour drops, increase the frequency you reward again. Find the sweet spot and gradually reduce.
  4. If the behaviour is not forthcoming, do not give them the rewards but equally, do not complain. The attention and rewards are solely for the students who are performing the behaviour. This provides consistency in your approach and will harness children who love any attention to your advantage. If they want your attention, they must play by the rules the teacher and students have agreed.

Five Steps to Implementing a Reward System

Whatever you do, spend time working through steps one to three. Think of it like building a house. Build solid foundations and your house will stand the test of time and stormy weather. If you skip the foundations and start by creating a lovely display, you are building on sand and it is sure to decrease the chances of success.

  1. Write and explain clear definitions of the behaviour you want to increase. Actions that can be seen and heard and cannot be argued.
  2. Establish how often the defined behaviour occurs before implementing the system. This helps you decide how often you need to reward it. Raise the standard and increase the time between behaviour and reward as they improve.
  3. List a menu of rewards that they can choose from. Let them have a say in this step to increase compliance.
  4. Create an attractive display. This will maximise buy-in from the kids.
  5. Explain the system clearly.  Taking the time to do this reduces ambiguity and creates excitement as the children can see clearly what they have to do to be rewarded.

Four Reasons It’s Not Working

There is no magic strategy that will solve all problems. Maybe a reward system is not suited to your context. However, there are four common reasons why reward systems fail. Consider these issues and how you might fix them if this ever applies to you.

  1. The students may not clearly understand the expectations or the behaviour may not be within their ability. Put more time into explaining and practising the behaviour you want to increase.
  2. You moved too fast from continuously rewarding the behaviour to infrequently rewarding it. Return to immediately rewarding the specific behaviour you want to increase.
  3. Reinforcer satiation has occurred. The once amazing reward that was on offer has lost its shine. Change the system and rewards to freshen things up.
  4. There are inconsistencies. The child knows that the reward will be given to them anyway. Maybe, they are getting negative attention which they find rewarding. Once the system is set, finetuned and explained, it needs to be executed consistently by all adults in the room to maximise its impact.

Giving children rewards for positive actions and behaviour creates a rapport between teacher and student. If the four keys are secure and the five steps have been taken in the correct order, you will slowly be able to reduce the reliance on your reward systems as the children habitually perform the behaviour. Reward systems are a valuable part of a teacher’s toolkit. Ensure that you use them correctly.

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Categories
Behaviour Management

3 Questions and 2 Strategies for Defiance

Defiance is a common challenge for teachers. Being honest, it’s a downright pain. You’ve planned out what you want to do and now they’re not cooperating. Maybe, you have an immediate need to complete a task and they’re refusing. It is excruciatingly frustrating. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to defiance. Behaviour can be the result of a myriad of reasons and emotions. However, there are three questions you can ask yourself and two strategies to consider that can help you get to the bottom of their defiance and win without fighting.

Three Questions

What are they defying?

This is a great place to start. Clearly defining a problem is an essential first step in solving a problem. Defiance isn’t necessarily the problem. If a teacher asks a child to jump out the window and the child defies them, that’s an intelligent decision. 

I would advise the teacher to create a physical or mental record of instructions the child is defying. If a teacher can see a high volume of defied instructions, it could be a sign that they are over-instructing the child. Is there a need to have so many direct instructions? Think of your direct instructions as a finite resource for the day. Keep them to a small number so they’re more likely to be followed. Alternatively, the child might be refusing to engage with a certain subject or type of work? This will give the teacher crucial feedback when it comes to choosing a strategy. Perhaps it’s too difficult or doesn’t interest them. Search for patterns.

Why are they defying?

I like viewing behaviour through the lens of emotion. There’s a theoretical perspective that states behaviour is the result of pleasure, pain, fear or anger. I love this view as it is easy for teachers to grasp without extensive training. When the child is defying an instruction, are they defying because they get pleasure from the attention? Are they afraid of failing? Are they angry at not having their opinion listened to? Do they feel the pain of being unable to do the work in front of their peers?

Depending on what the underlying emotion is, the strategy will be very different. It is critical to be curious when faced with challenging behaviour as opposed to judgemental.

Is the instruction worth it?

If you are teaching an extremely defiant child, this question should be your go-to. The answer may be yes, but the answer is often no. I often do this, I bring an interaction close to a full-scale confrontation and then realise it’s over where they stand in a line or picking up a crayon they claim isn’t theirs. From reflecting on my teaching, I have come to realise that a lot of direct defiances can come from me trying to assert my authority needlessly, micromanage a child’s actions or providing minimal choice in their day.

Two Strategies

Choice and the language you use to instruct children prone to defiance are your best friends as they limit the situations where a child has only two options of yes and no. 

Choice

Distracting a child with simple choices can create win-win interactions where they are so preoccupied with choosing the seat they sit in and the colour pen you’ve offered them whether they respond to a topic with a poem, comic strip or comprehension that they are achieving the main objective you want them to. Here are three areas you can provide choice.

How they learn: The learning objectives are the core of the lesson. How they learn them isn’t. If you give a defiant child choice over how they achieve these objectives, there is less room for defiance. For example, let the child choose how they learn facts about a country. They could research online, they could read books from the library, they could watch videoes, they could listen to audio about the country. The only limit is the amount of choice you are willing to prepare.

Where they learn: If you are unable or unwilling to change the task, let them choose the location. Allow them to choose from a variety of locations. Perhaps they want to sit beside a friend. Maybe they want to sit at the teacher’s desk. Could they sit at a table alone? The key is to build the trust that by allowing them this choice, they are agreeing to engage with the task. You are allowing them control over the less important things so you control the most important: what they learn.

What they learn: This can be great for topics such as history where the topic is the Vikings, for example, and you allow them to choose what area they focus on. They could choose from weapons, food, clothes, day-to-day life. You set the framework that they must learn five new facts, but they are controlling what the topic they learn about is within that framework.

Language

The way you “sell” a task is crucial when working with an oppositional child. Everything needs to appear attractive, optional and fun (even if it isn’t). It takes a lot of practice to change the way you instruct a class but it can prevent problems before they arise. I taught a defiant child who would immediately engage in a full tantrum at the instruction of desk work. It was incredibly frustrating as I used to go to huge lengths to ensure the work was fun and within their ability. I overcame this through learning they needed to see some fun on the horizon. I started to preface all deskwork with a question to the general room, “Would anyone like to do P.E (or whatever was deemed fun) today?” to which all the hands would shoot up. I would then follow it with “Ok, we’ll get this quick task completed and then we can head straight down”. That small tweak in language made a huge difference as they saw the light at the end of the tunnel and were fully motivated. If I ever slipped back to direct instruction of desk work, defiance crept back in. Reflecting on and improving how you sell your instructions can improve compliance.

I’ll be the first to admit that defiance rubs me up the wrong way. Obedience is far easier to deal with. However, if we reduce the situation to the point that the child is not changing their ways and the teacher is not changing their ways, nobody is going to win. Making changes and incorporating choice is extra work and there can be an underlying urge to go toe-to-toe with a defiant child and try to assert your authority. I believe that winning without fighting is always a better solution, however, and the three questions and suggestions above can help you achieve this goal.

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Behaviour Management Special Education

What Toltec Wisdom Can Teach Us About Behaviour

Building relationships is a complex business. When we talk about teaching, behaviour and students, we are talking about a relationship. There are theoretical perspectives and strategies recommended to maximise the productivity of this relationship. Teachers may decide to take a behaviourist approach and incorporate rewards systems or may decide to take a more humanistic route and develop self-esteem. These approaches work for the majority of students when implemented effectively and the relationship between the two thrives.

When a relationship is unproductive, however, things get even more complex. Negative cycles of behaviour can emerge and patterns can stagnate. A repetitive format of the teacher intervening ineffectively and the student behaving undesirably appears fixed. Neither will change but only one party is being cited as difficult.

If a surgeon came out of a theatre and informed us that the operation was a success but the patient died, we might have a query about their rationale. Similarly, teachers (including myself) can get stuck in a rut of claiming their strategies and interventions are the “right” ones even though they are blatantly ineffective.

An effective behavioural strategy is one which causes the behavioural change it is seeking to achieve. Do I have to include that it also needs to be within obvious ethical parameters? Probably, as this is the internet.

There is a need to have a diverse range of strategies and theories to draw from when seeking to change a dysfunctional relationship into a functional one. Marrying yourself to one theory is comparable to only having a hammer in your toolbox. When all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail. You can descend into trying to fit the child into the strategy as opposed to fitting the strategy to the child. To demonstrate this point, we can take heed of the Toltecs.

The Six Images of A Relationship

According to Toltec wisdom, everyone has an outer image. This is the image we try to project to the world. We also have an inner image that we have of ourselves. Teachers have this outer and inner image. A student similarly has an outer image they try to project and an inner image that teachers and others cannot see. We then have to introduce the image that the teacher has of the student from their point of view and the student’s image of the teacher from their perspective. If you have managed to keep count, that is six different images involved in the relationship between teacher and student. Let’s not even start considering the rest of the class.

The first thing I love about this analogy is I find it relatable. I certainly have an image I try to project as a teacher. I try to project a level of confidence and certainty in my actions. I also have an inner image that differs greatly. My inner image has far more doubts than my outer image ever displays.

The second thing I love is the simplistic way that it conveys the complexity of a relationship. There are so many factors that remain unseen in a relationship between two people. How can we ever say with absolute certainty that we “know” a student and it’s not the intervention being used that is the issue, but the child? How can your favourite three strategies for supporting a child with complex social, emotional or behavioural needs ever be considered sufficient?

This interpretation of a relationship would jar with a fixed mindset that there is one or two theories or strategies for success. I’m sure if the Toltecs were in charge of behaviour policies in schools, they would recommend that schools and teachers strive to build their knowledge base with a diverse range of theories and strategies so when they meet a child that needs the support, there will be a deep well to draw from. A strategy’s use is defined by the behavioural change it causes. The more strategies we have, the greater the chance of success.

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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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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.

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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.