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Anger Management

The 5 Stages of the Assault Cycle

Kaplan and Wheeler created a helpful graph to detail the five stages involved in an episode of violence, assault or physical aggression. Become aware of the five stages to inform how you act in each phase, what to expect to happen and how you might reduce the frequency of it occurring again. Each section of the cycle requires distinct action from the adults involved and this post aims to equip you in part to deal with whatever may come your way.

Stage One: The Trigger Phase

As a rule, there is always a trigger (For 7 Common Triggers: click here). It can be anything. It can occur over a split second like a particular noise, word or action. It could alternatively be a slow-burning trigger such as over-instruction, lack of attention or an internal issue like lack of sleep. If violence is frequent behaviour in your context, it will serve you well to be open and curious to identify the trigger. Keep a log of incidents where you detail what was happening leading up the outburst. Search for clues, patterns and commonalities in the situations and seek out the trigger. Intervening as early as possible through removing or resolving the trigger can prevent reaching the later phases of the cycle.

Stage Two: The Escalation Phase

If an intervention doesn’t occur after the trigger has taken place, the child’s behaviour may start to escalate. Escalation may be prevalent through physical signs such as clenched fists, slight shaking or shallow breathing. It may present through how the child speaks or acts out. As behaviour is escalating, adults should start to intervene. Interventions depend on resources and context. The SCARF model gives us five areas to consider when de-escalating conflict. Outside of these areas, remember to appear calm, use positive language, allow them personal space, offer to help them and seek to divert and distract their attention.

Stage Three: Crisis Phase 

Unfortunately, if the child has reached stage three, they have entered a state of fight-or-flight where they are acting irrationally. The limbic system has taken over from the frontal lobe. Reasoning and logic are of little use at this point. Stage Three is about crisis management. Ask yourself three questions: Can I reduce the audience? What do I want them to do? Is someone in immediate harm?

Avoid actions and statements that will escalate violence further. Do not stare or use excessive instruction, give them two metres of personal space and aim to guide them to a quieter environment away from prying eyes. You may have to remove the other children from the area as opposed to moving the child at crisis point.

Choose your words carefully and keep instruction to a minimum. Deliver short directive statements calmly with only the essential information. For example, calmly stating to put down the scissors.

Secondly, provide directive choices. Calmly ask them to go next door and take a break or have a seat. Non-confrontational tone and calm are a priority. Calm is contagious. If you are being ignored, you can add in a time-limit. Inform them if they do not choose in the next ten seconds, you will escort them next door to (insert suitable teacher/adult) who will let them take a break and calm down.

If there is imminent danger to other children in the room or yourself and all other interventions have been exhausted, physical intervention is needed. The ins and outs of this are beyond the scope of this article. One tip that has stood me well is the concept of fixing. If a child has grabbed or bitten any skin, hair or something which can be damaged, you can support their hand or head gently in place. Your gut reaction can be to pull them apart. Do not. This reaction could hurt someone more than necessary. Fixing the two things together will prevent further damage. The child will most likely release what they are clamping onto when you hold them in place.

Stage Four: Recovery Phase

Although called the recovery phase, there is still potential for further violence in stage four. This potential is why there are spikes on the graph in this section. De-escalation can occur quickly. Calming down, however, takes a prolonged period. If a child has hit a crisis point, it can take ninety minutes to return to baseline behaviour. Reducing the demands of the child is recommended at this point. The curriculum can wait. If there is a calm space for the child to go, this would be wonderful to aid a safe recovery phase where further violence is prevented. The calming process may be most effective by utilising predictability, engaging in special interests, being around people that make them feel safe or calming music, sensory objects and comfortable space. 

As they reached a crisis point where the irrational part of their brain took over, I would advocate for no punishment as they did not have full control over their actions. Even though you feel that the child has fully calmed down, remain alert to the chances of further violence – especially with those first ninety minutes.

Stage Five: Post-Crisis Depression

The final stage of the cycle is the post-crisis depression where feelings of guilt and shame kick in. Only 1% of people do not experience these emotions. The opportunity to talk to the child about the incident should only occur once they have navigated their way through this final phase.

As a team supporting a child through these five phases, there should be a debrief after any major incident. This debrief involves listening to the adult or adults who handled the situation and allowing them to talk. Keep this confidential and use it as a means to process the incident.

A supporting belief to hold is that the child did not have full control over their actions. They entered a state of fight-or-flight that leads to irrational words and actions. Remain positive with and forgive the child and offer them a clean slate to work off for the following day. Design and implement a crisis management plan if this is a frequent situation.

Finally, remember to forgive yourself. It is natural to experience your own negative emotions after dealing with a traumatic event. Prioritise your own self-care. You cannot pour from an empty cup and the need to recharge your own batteries is of paramount importance.

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Anger Management parenting

How a SCARF can de-escalate conflict

Dr. David Rock created a catchy acronym to bear in mind when faced with potentially aggressive and violent scenarios. It is intended for use as early as possible when faced with a situation that could potentially become violent. These situations always emerge from a trigger and escalate to a crisis point where violence and aggressive behaviour may occur. Using Dr. Rock’s SCARF model will give you five practical areas to guide your actions to de-escalate the situation and protect yourself and those around you from harm.

The SCARF Model

The SCARF acronym stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. These five areas require little to no expertise to understand which makes it a practical model to adopt across a whole team dealing with a child prone to violence.

Status

Protecting and promoting a child’s status will reduce the chances of escalated behaviour. When faced with conflict, neither party wants to lose face. If there is an audience, this is doubly true. As the first port of call, try and isolate the situation so there is less chance of the child feeling their status is being diminished. Find a quiet place to calm and de-escalate away from prying eyes. Never put them down in public or in private. As an adult, be aware of your feelings about status. Be conscious of trying to assert your authority in front of others to prove you have control of the situation or prove your status. Status in conflict works both ways and it can pay dividends to adopt a perceived “one-down” position to achieve your primary goal: de-escalation. Don’t be afraid to back down and reduce your demands.

Certainty

When a child’s behaviour is escalating towards violence, their fight or flight system starts to take over and they are on the lookout for threats. Establishing as much certainty in the situation as possible to aid the de-escalation process. Be clear and consistent in the approach you take. Slow down your movements. If this is a regular situation, consider a pre-agreed script amongst all key staff so the child is familiar with what is happening. Create a de-escalation script so adults have a process to calmly follow instead of making up each step as they go along. A script can be as simple as using their name, acknowledging their feelings and offering some pre-agreed positive options as to what they can do next. A script also avoids all the different adults taking different approaches and erratic changes of tactics that increase uncertainty.

Autonomy

A simple way to explain this is imposition leads to opposition. Over-instructing a child who is already upset will aggravate them further. Reduce the amount of direction and language being used and offer them some ownership over what they do next. Provide a small number of options that they can choose from. You may invite them to decide whether they would like to go out for an accompanied walk, take a break in the calm corner at the back of the class or select a different activity to engage with. The activities will depend on the age and context.

Relatedness

Displaying compassion and empathy for a child is a basic way to escalate. If they are becoming distressed, getting down to their level and conveying that you are there to help will aid de-escalation. Children feel safer around people they relate to and establishing rapport and positive relationships with them will pay dividends during conflict when they truly believe you want what’s best for them. 

Fairness

We are aware of the infuriating effects of perceived injustice. When you feel that someone has prejudged you, it can trigger extreme negative feelings. This is how riots start. Acknowledge the word feel. As de-escalation is the goal, the child must believe you are being just. Think of the child who always accuses you in a rage that you always pick on them. Even if it isn’t true, the belief still escalates their behaviour to a tantrum. Make an effort to display your fairness. Ask them their point of view. Repeat it back to them to establish you understand and are listening to them. Avoid making unfounded accusations or sweeping statements. Be fair.

Are you supporting a child prone to violence or physical aggression? Are you aware of how your actions measure up in these five areas? Take time to reflect on how you intervene in the triggering and escalation phase of the situation and ask yourself how you could change your approach to reduce the likelihood of hitting that crisis point. Preventing violence is superior to trying to stop it. The SCARF model provides a great framework to support you doing this.

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Behaviour Management

2 Styles: How Do You Communicate With Kids?

Paul Watzlawick was a family therapist and communication theorist. As part of his work, he detailed five principles of communication to consider. One of these was the idea that there are two types of interactions between people. Relationships and interactions can be symmetrical or complementary. I find this to be interesting when contemplating which one works best for children with emotional or behavioural needs.

A symmetrical relationship interaction involves two individuals mirroring each other’s behaviour or emotions. The two parties minimise the differences between each other. A practical example would be when a student gets angry, the teacher responds by getting angry or vice versa. Alternatively, a teacher may be indifferent about a topic of conversation and a child mimics this indifference. When this is the prevalent dynamic of a relationship, behaviour and emotions can escalate. Have you ever had a symmetrical relationship with a child in your class? What about a colleague or friend?

A complementary relationship or interaction results in the two parties having two distinct roles. One person is in the “one-up” position and one person is in the “one-down” position. In a complementary relationship, one person’s persistent aggression would lead to the other’s constant withdrawal. Equally, one person’s habitual negativity could lead to the other’s consistent positive outlook. 

Is symmetrical or complementary better?

Naturally, a teacher may feel that a complementary relationship is best where they are in an assertive “one-up” position while the student is in the compliant “one-down” position. However, neither a symmetrical or complementary relationship is productive all the time. Different children and different teachers require different interactions and relationships dependent on the context. Problems can arise when a relationship becomes stuck in one style of interaction.

For example, if a child has persistent aggressive, angry tendencies and a teacher is habitually meeting this with a symmetrical response of mirroring the emotions through confrontation and reprimanding, it may be time to consider a complementary approach. Take the “one-down” role when they get angry and adopt a calm demeanour and style of interaction. Will this de-escalate the situation?

Equally, a parent may be passive about a child’s behaviour which is being mirrored by the teacher. The relationship may be positive but are the changes that need to occur happened? It could be the perfect opportunity to switch up the style of interactions to complementary and inject some urgency.

The answer nobody wants

If there were black-and-white answers to supporting children with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties, they wouldn’t exist. Like everything we consider, it is trial-and-error and a reflective process. If you’re supporting a child, working with a parent or just interested in communication, consider which of the two relationships you have and contemplate whether it is productively serving you or in need of a change.

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anxiety

Banking on Anxiety: Free eBook

With children having missed a significant portion of the year in school and coronavirus dominating the media and household conversations, there is a chance that children may be feeling anxious about returning to the classroom.

Valuable content is abundant out there for teacher, parents and children to support them in their return and I’ve written my own contribution to this cause.

My eBook Banking on Anxiety includes a lens through which to view anxiety alongside strategies that may help teachers and parents prevent minor anxieties from becoming bigger ones with early intervention.

Click the link below to download and please share far and wide or let me know what you think!

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Teacher Mindset

5 Quotes For Teachers & Free eBook

A teacher’s best asset is their mind. Stress, anxiety, negativity and all the other things that inhibit our happiness naturally inhibit the quality of our teaching also. I’ve written before about two ways I deal with stress. I think it’s important to talk about this subject as the statistics are so damning.

To maintain a tidy classroom, we develop daily, weekly and yearly habits. One-off fixes are insufficient. I have found maintaining a stress-free and resilient mind is much the same. I have had to develop daily, weekly and yearly habits that help me maintain equilibrium. This isn’t to say my mind is squeaky clean. Much like the classroom, every so often someone bursts open one of those yoghurt tubes (don’t get me started) and makes a huge mess. Thanks to productive habits, however, the mess doesn’t last forever.

Reading and listening to philosophy has been one of my cornerstones. It keeps the principles and practices I value at the forefront of my mind and consuming them prevents me from slipping into old habits. Reading is great but it is my holy grail. I love a podcast, audiobook and youtube clips too as I can listen as I carry out mundane tasks. 

A short book I loved recently and which gave me perspective was Seneca: On the Shortness of Life. It includes three letters: one to Paulinus, one to his mother and one to Serenus. The whole book is 100 short pages and I was the full cliché highlighting quote after quote. I’m going to let the quotes speak for themselves. If you like the book but you’re still not sure, I’m going to include a link to get the first letter for free below.  

My 5 Favourite Quotes that Teachers May Find Thought-Provoking

“You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life! People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

“It is generally agreed that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. Living is the least desirable activity of the preoccupied man.”

“One person who has achieved the badge of office they coveted longs to lay it aside, and keeps repeating ‘Will this year never end?’

“But nobody works out the value of time: people use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But if death threatens these same people, you will see them praying to their doctors; if they are in fear of capital punishment, you will see them prepared to spend their all to stay alive. So inconsistent are they in their feelings. But if each of us could have the tally of their future years set before him, as we can of our past years, how alarmed would be those who saw only a few years ahead, and how carefully would they use them.”

“It is no use pouring any amount of liquid into a container without a bottom to catch and hold it, so it does not matter how much time we are given if there is nowhere for it to settle; it escapes through the cracks and holes of the mind.”

Reading books like this one remind me that the day-to-day things that are inclined to stress me are generally meaningless in the wider scheme of things. They help me discard the frivolous thinking and time-wasting I can fall into when I’m not exposing myself to these habitual reminders.

I’d recommend downloading his first letter for free below. You can view this file as a PDF or put it on your kindle to see if it’s for you. You can also take the plunge and buy the full book here. If you want to receive a weekly email from me every Monday that includes a strategy for behaviour and inclusion alongside a thought that links in with topics like stress and mental health, you can subscribe below.

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Behaviour Management

8 Ways to Motivate Children Without Rewards

Different strokes for different folks is becoming my new behaviour policy. What works for me as a teacher, might not work for you. Ditto if your parent. Definitely, if you’re a child. The more I have studied behaviour, the more I have come to wonder why would you marry a single philosophy when there are so many options out there? Handcuffing yourself to a single set of beliefs just limits your options. Develop preferences for sure. But if your strategies aren’t serving you, the adult you’re trying to advise or the child, it’s time to change it up and try something new. As long as the approach abides by obvious ethical parameters, its an option.

Reward systems usually evoke strong opinions. Adults can love or hate them. They can rely heavily on them or avoid them like the plague. The truth, as always, lies in the middle. I wrote a piece about developing top-quality reward systems but I acknowledge they are not for everyone and different strategies are needed. But how do we motivate children to behave and learn without rewards? Here are eight different options:

  1. Providing Choice is a strong motivator. It gives ownership to students over their learning and behaviour. Depending on the situation, you can offer them a choice over what they learn, how they learn and where they learn. (More on choice here)
  2. Providing Competition motivates students. The teacher can set a challenge for the child to overcome. They can challenge a child to beat their own personal best. In the appropriate contexts, they can even pit children against their peers. Healthy competition is part of life and should be harnessed positively.
  3. Technology always is appealing to students. They will jump at the chance to achieve learning objectives using technology instead of using pen and paper. Creating their work digitally, photographically or through video will inspire them to apply themselves.
  4. Art should never be underestimated. Whether it is creating work using new and colourful stationery or reacting to a stimulus through clay or painting, children are often motivated by presenting their work artistically.
  5. Drama stirs children’s imagination. A topic such as the Vikings can be very uninspiring in a textbook, but if it is brought to life through role-play, freeze frames and conscience alleys, it suddenly becomes a world of fun and motivation to get involved.
  6. Mysteries that need solving stoke a child’s curiosity. Give them clues and the resources and support to solve them and they will work like detectives to scratch the itch and find out what the answer is. 
  7. Surprises aren’t for everyone. Some children who are anxious need predictability. Depending on your class, however, inserting novelty and surprise activities can shake off the funk children fall into if they find routine monotonous. Variety is the spice of life and it adds motivation to the mixture too.
  8. Deadlines are simple and effective. Whether you introduce a short term deadline with a radial timer or a longer-term deadline, these can motivate children to achieve task completion before the deadline runs out.

Each of these eight options provides effective motivation on their own or paired with a reward system. Incorporating them into your daily routine will prevent misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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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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Anger Management

Before, During and After Physical Aggression

As teachers, physical aggression and violence are two behaviours that we never want to have to deal with. It’s not nice to see a child that upset. It is stressful and there may not be much time to react. There is no definitive way to respond but there are strategies that will help guide you before it is about to escalate, when it is happening or after it has occurred. This article looks to support teachers by providing strategies for whatever stage they find themselves at.

Before 

The Low Arousal Approach focuses on reducing and preventing arousal which will reduce the likelihood of physical aggression. There is a window of opportunity before aggressive behaviour occurs where a teacher’s intervention can de-escalate the situation. There are six simple ways teachers can implement some of the Low Arousal Approach principles:

Appear Calm

Even if you are not calm, focus on presenting yourself as calm. Be aware of what you are saying, how you are saying it and your body language. 

Avoid Staring

Prolonged eye contact and staring can appear confrontational and heighten arousal further. Keep eye contact fleeting when talking to the child.

Limit Touch

Physical touch can increase arousal further. Allow the child personal space if possible. One metre is recommended but some children may need more.

Divert and Distract

Avoiding and escaping the situation that is causing arousal, if it is known, will aid deescalation. Distracting the child with their interests, hobbies and favourite people can help them calm themselves before becoming overwhelmed.

Reduce Demands

Excessive instructions and demands can overload a child who is becoming increasingly aroused. Limiting your verbal instructions and demands can prevent arousal from rising further.

During

If you have reached a point where physical aggression is already occurring, you will need to act swiftly to mitigate the damage to the child, other people and the environment. As I mentioned at the start of the article, there is no single solution, but there are three things to consider:

Can you reduce the audience?

Removing the child from an environment where they are being watched can help them come down from their heightened state faster. Reducing the number of people also lessens the chance of others getting hurt. You may be able to do this by guiding the child to a more isolated environment or by removing the other children themselves.

What do I want them to do?

Choose your language carefully as we are aiming to keep instructions to a minimum. Short directive statements will be processed easier than a constant barrage of language. Calmly direct them to do what is essential. “Put down the scissors” is more effective than telling them “Do not hurt anyone with the scissors”. Secondly, provide directive choices. Calmly ask them to “Go next door and take a break or have a seat”. Non-confrontational tone and calm are key. If you are being ignored, you can add in a time-limit. “If you do not choose in the next ten seconds, I will escort you next door to (insert suitable teacher/adult) who will let you take a break and calm down”.

Is someone in immediate harm?

If there is imminent danger to other children in the room and all other interventions have been exhausted, physical intervention may be required. The ins and outs of this are beyond the scope of this article. One tip that has stood me well, however, is the concept of “fixing.” If a child has grabbed or bitten any skin, hair or something which can be damaged, you can support their hand or head gently in place. Your gut reaction can be to pull them apart. Do not. This could hurt someone. Fixing the two things together will prevent further damage and the child will most likely release what they are clamping onto.

After

If you have navigated your way through a crisis, you may be emotionally exhausted. It is a highly stressful event. Keep these four steps in mind for dealing with the aftermath:

Debrief

Talking about what happened will help you process it. If you are debriefing with someone who was handling the situation, just listen and allow them to talk. Ensure that everyone knows the conversation is confidential and a means to process the incident.

Maintain Positive Relationships

A key belief to hold is that the child may not have total control of their actions. They may have entered a fight-or-flight state where rationalising and reasoning with them just isn’t going to work. It is important to remain positive with the child and remember that the behaviour was negative a negative experience for you but the behaviour is not the child.

Forgive

After something so stressful, ensure you forgive yourself for any negative thoughts or feelings you have about the incident or child. It is natural to experience negativity after something traumatic to deal with. Equally, forgiving the child and providing them with a clean slate will prevent self-fulfilling prophecy causing this to be a needless repetitive cycle.

Consider a Crisis Management Plan

If this is a recurring event, identifying the trigger (Read: 7 Most Common Triggers) will help effectively intervene before reaching the point of physical aggression and violence. Creating a crisis management plan will also support teachers and adults to handle the situation effectively and cohesively. Having the plan laid out and automatic will prevent mishandling the situation or hesitation.

Physical aggression and violence are possibly the most challenging behaviours a teacher can deal with. Having an idea of what to do before, during and after it has occurred can help you react effectively at each point and hopefully, reduce the frequency at which you have to.

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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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Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

4 Key Questions Before Using Break Cards

Using break cards can be a fantastic strategy if a child is having a true meltdown when faced with work or a situation that they feel is challenging, new or too demanding. The Break Card is a simple, easy-to-use strategy that allows a child to opt-out of a task for a short time before reengaging with the situation afterwards.

Although the concept sounds simple, I have made numerous mistakes over the years trying to implement it successfully. It is easy to fall into the trap of designing an attractive card, laminating and displaying it without ever really putting in the groundwork to ensure it is a success.

To avoid the mistakes I made, here are four questions you need to answer clearly before using a Break Card successfully:

Who will supervise their break?

A fundamental principle of a break card is that the teacher has to honour it as soon as the child asks for it. If the child is opting to take a break, the teacher cannot tell them to wait for five minutes or that they “may” get it later when someone returns to take them. The teacher cannot decide that the child does not need it. Ensure that a break is granted instantly if you are implementing this strategy. If you do not have an extra pair of hands in the room, create an area inside the classroom for taking a break.

What will they do on their break?

Distractions techniques work best as a break. This can be engaging with one of their special interests. It can be breathwork. Their break can entail some light or intense exercise. The idea of the break card is that it is a true break. Make it engaging and take their mind off the task that was agitating them so when they return, they have rid themselves of any negative emotions.

What changes after their break?

This is an area that needs attention also. The work that was presented before the break was a trigger. It will still be a trigger after the break so teachers need to make a change. We can reduce the difficulty of the task. We can reduce the quantity of work. We can change how it is presented. Perhaps a worksheet could be changed to a similar task on an iPad? We can make it look less scary. A good rule to keep in mind is the 80/20 rule for children who find task completion difficult. Keep the first 80% of the task easy and achievable before having the final 20% as the challenge.

How will I implement the Break Card?

Take the time to explicitly teach how to deal with a task or situation that is new, challenging or too demanding. Teach them to:

  1. Try a little.
  2. Ask to watch someone else do it or ask for help.
  3. Take a break.
  4. Try again.
  5. Make a deal or negotiate how much has to be done.

We need to teach this repeatedly. Remind the child of it. Before assigning them a task, ask them how they are going to try it. Reward them when they follow the steps. It is so important to teach this skillset and then constantly remind them and reinforce it before they become stressed at a task. We do not let them tantrum to get their break. We ensure they ask for it calmly. Constantly reinforcing them for attempting difficult tasks despite whether they get the right or wrong answers will help them overcome their trigger point. The break card can be a key step in this process if harnessed correctly.

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