Categories
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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Categories
Behaviour Management Inclusion Special Education

Long Read: A Critical Analysis of a Controversial Issue in Applied Behaviour Analysis

           As an Irish primary school teacher who has been working in a special education context for the past number of years, the subject of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) was of interest to me. While reading about the principles of ABA, the topic of punishment emerged as a controversial issue. In this article, the emergence of the issue is discussed alongside a critical reflection on the controversy noting three main observations. Furthermore, I suggest some ways that the issue could progress most productively. As a teacher, the topic of punishment is one of importance as there is a growing debate over how to meet the growing social, emotional and behavioural needs that are in our classrooms. The area of punishment is considered a controversial strategy so I enjoyed reading into the issue in the context of ABA. 

The Issue

ABA could be considered as having lived through a series of controversies, criticisms and debates since its inception. Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan (1997) wrote that there have been incidences where negative views may have been warranted whereas more may have been unjustified. These issues have led to ABA presiding through periods of acceptance and rejection along with spells of crisis. They believed at the time of writing their book that applied behaviour analysis still had not gained widespread acceptance and put forward seven hypotheses for this opinion. One such hypothesis was that ABA’s connections with punishment had led to much controversy over the years. Leslie (2002) subscribes to this theory stating that the use of punishment with individuals who have developmental disabilities had resulted in a controversy lasting over a decade. Central characters championing this view strongly were McGee et. al. (1987) in their writing and public speaking engagements (Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan, 1997). 

McGee et. al. (1987) could be considered scathing in their criticism of applied behaviour analysis and the controversy regarding ABA’s links to punishment could be viewed to peak when their book, Gentle Teaching, was published. In their work, they cite ABA as a practice that is to be viewed as evil and controlling. Their central argument appeared to be that ABA encouraged only contingently valuing an individual if the rules are followed and that behaviour is managed through restraining and restriction. Jones and McCaughey (1992) wrote that in McGee et. al.’s (1987) work, they even compared ABA to a methodology that condones torture. Baker and Allen (2012) remarked that the wider community could be seen to share these concerns as punishment was being increasingly used with examples including electric shocks, forced body positions and the removal of possessions or opportunities to engage in desirable activities.

The impact of these criticisms and how they were portrayed had a tangible impact on ABA’s popularity as Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan (1997) discussed particularly in the context of Irish psychology practice. McGee presented his thoughts at the Mental Handicap Group of the Psychological Society of Ireland Annual Easter Workshop in 1989 where he spoke of behaviourism as an evil practice based on punishment and one which would never benefit individuals with learning disabilities. The effects of this presentation were compounded over the next two years by Brandon and Lovett who shared McGee’s views and thus led to Irish psychologists listening for three years to anti-behaviourist views which inevitably affected its adoption rate. The same impact could be viewed in America where parent support groups began to take a stand against the use of punishment while several states banned punishment techniques in treatment (Leslie, 2002). It is clear from reading the literature that this is a keenly contested debate with both sides having their merits.

Critical Analysis

Reflecting on this controversial debate between the side led by McGee et. al. (1987) and applied behaviour analysts bring three key observations to mind regarding the dangers of marrying oneself to an ideology, ambiguity and the value of seeing both sides.

The dangers of marrying oneself to an ideology

Charlie Munger (Kaufman, 2005, cited in Clear, 2019) said that “this business of not drifting into extreme ideology is very, very important in life. If you want to end up wise, heavy ideology is very likely to prevent that outcome.” This piece of advice from a man who has ties to the finance world as opposed to the world of psychology came to mind when reading about the debate that occurred around punishment in the 1980s and 1990s. There were numerous descriptions of this ongoing debate that presented it as one which became rather unsavoury. Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan (1997, p. 94) described the debate as ‘acrimonious and divisive’ as well as featuring misinformation and objectivity while Baker and Allen (2012) also noted the presence of vitriol. One could consider that when tempers flare in debate and discussion turns into attack, reason and objectivity can go out the window leaving the quality of the exchange to be compromised. 

Munger’s quote may be relevant in viewing this controversial debate as Jones and McCaughey (1992) remark on the strength of the language used in the work of McGee et. al. (1987) while also, unfortunately, noting that there was wrongful reporting in their book regarding the use of ammonia spray as a punishment when it was, in fact, water. This could appear as a key point as the idea of spraying water mist in an individual’s face could evoke a different reaction than that of spraying ammonia. Interestingly, when McGee wrote his rebuttal, rather than acknowledging any mistake on their part, he stated that “whether involving water, ammonia, contingent electric shock, or any other aversive procedure, the point was to question critically any practice that might offend human dignity” (1992, p. 870). It could appear that the discussion had become so fraught that facts should not stand in the way of winning the debate. 

There is a shared responsibility between both sides, however, as Jones and McCaughey (1992) conclude that even though gentle teaching and applied behaviour analysis framed themselves as polarising sides which argued vehemently against the other, there are actually a number of overlapping principles that have not been observed mainly due to a misreading of each other’s philosophy. Proponents of the ABA methods who criticised gentle teaching may have been surprised to find that Jones (1990) and Mudford (1985) noted there were many procedural similarities between the two methods such as stimulus control and shaping while the differences existed mainly in the philosophical realm. One could speculate having reflected on this element of the debate that if both parties were less rigid in their devotion to their respective ideology and willing to unbiasedly review the other side’s principles and practices at the time, a less emotive and more valuable discussion may have taken place leading to improved wisdom and practice on all sides.

Defining Punishment

The debate may have been so heated that what was being debated may not have been so clear. Jones and McCaughey (1992, p. 862) believed that a core issue at the centre of the debate was defining the word punishment. This was a view that was mentioned elsewhere in the literature (Leslie, 2002; Alberto and Troutman, 2013). Leslie (2002) elaborated further saying that punishment in colloquial language can refer to an aversive stimulus delivered in no relation to behaviour or contingent to a response. Taking this into consideration, one’s opinion on punishment may differ greatly depending on which type of punishment one is referring to. If people believed that ABA condoned punishment in no relation to behaviour, it would be of no surprise that ABA would gain a poor reputation and people should rightly be vocal in their disdain and Leslie (2002) goes on to confirm that some believed punishment was used in the context of revenge, harm or cruelty.

Alternatively, Fisher, Piazza and Roane (2011, p. 348) present their view of punishment in terms of ABA. They discuss the two contrasting types of punishment: positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment refers to the contingent presentation of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour and negative punishment refers to the contingent removal of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour. Negative punishment typically refers to response cost and time-out. This definition of punishment appears far more reasonable and clearer as punishment is utilised to decrease a target behaviour and if harnessed appropriately, would have many advantages. 

Jones and McCaughey (1992, p. 862) put forward the thought-provoking view that depending on your perspective, many strategies can be considered punishment and cite O’Brien’s (1989) theory that any treatment that results in decreasing a target behaviour may be considered punishment regardless of how else an individual may describe it. Building on this point, Iwata (1987, p. 363) discusses how it can even be difficult to distinguish between positive and negative. If a stimulus is removed like in negative punishment, a stimulus must take its place which could be considered positive punishment. This discussion can result in a debate comparable to “is the glass half full or half empty?” where neither answer is correct or incorrect and could be considered dependent on your outlook on life. 

With all these different interpretations of the word punishment and the terminology surrounding it during such an important and worthwhile discussion, it would be difficult to ensure a coherent discussion. Agreeing a single definition of the word may have provided the most productive first step to an agreement as to how appropriate it is to use punishment as a strategy.

A Debate Worth Having

Bearing in mind the tone of the debate and the ambiguity surrounding the content, there is an apparent consensus that the nucleus of the discussion is one worth having as even within ABA, there are polarizing views regarding punishment as some applied behaviour analysts acknowledge that using punishment can be aversive and repressive – as can many therapeutic approaches (Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan, 1997). Jones and McCaughey (1992) reinforce this view stating that there have been cases where behavioural principles have been applied in aversive and undesirable circumstances. To demonstrate how truly divisive the use of punishment concerning ABA is, one needs only to read that Skinner – a founding father of behaviourism – believed that punishment should ideally not be used at all because he believed that it does not work (Staddon, 2014).

Leslie (2002) endorsed the view that critiquing the validity of using punishment was important. Acknowledging that there were controversies attached to its use, the case was made that ABA had learned from these and had developed a set of principles that could aid the prevention of such circumstances occurring again. Best practice was developed through the guise of six fundamental rights (Van Houten et. al., 1988) for the individual being treated including the right to the best treatment available. The use of punishment was discouraged unless considered the best intervention to cause a significant behavioural change. This could be considered an important step in the right direction as ABA had acknowledged the need to mitigate the overuse of punishment or its inappropriate use. Of course, writing down a principle is very different from applying a principle and whether this principle is consistently used remains to be seen, as the literature states. Fisher, Piazza and Roane (2011) pointed to thirty-five years of applied research related to the use of punishment which divulged there were advantages and disadvantages to its uses. Whilst many applied behaviour analysts noted these disadvantages and the need to use punishment sparingly, Jarmolowicz and Tetreault (2015) note that in large-scale program reviews, punishment is still used more regularly than should be expected. They also provide an alternative view to that of Fisher, Piazza and Roane (2011) stating that punishment is underexplored in applied research and therefore, it is hard to advocate the use of punishment as an evidence-based approach of any value. Taking both sides of the debate into consideration, there are some ways that applied behaviour analysts could decide to progress this issue to a fruitful conclusion. 

Moving Forward

Throughout this article, there have been minor suggestions to move this controversy to a satisfactory conclusion or at least, facilitate a productive debate. These suggestions include being open to alternative and conflicting views along with defining punishment clearly for anyone outside of the applied behaviour analysis realm so they may better understand what is being discussed. Furthermore, I would also suggest that more comprehensive applied research be conducted around punishment procedures whilst always ensuring that punishment is only used in alignment with Van Houten et. al.’s (1988) principle that people receive the most effective treatment available.

Although Donnellan and LaVigna (1990) believe that there is no need for further research in the area of punishment because alternative methods such as extinction and reinforcement exist, one would agree with Vollmer’s (2002) assertion that there is no benefit to be gained from ignoring punishment as it is something that happens in everyday life. With this in mind, applied behaviour analysts have a responsibility to understand these procedures and their impact on behaviour change. As Jarmolowicz and Tetreault (2015) stated that punishment was an under-researched area, there are also concerns over the quality of the research that does exist. Research around the area of punishment can be difficult to interpret as it is often confused by its unwitting combination with extinction or verbal reprimands (Lerman and Vorndran, 2002). 

Regarding what specific elements of the punishment should be researched, there are many suggestions. Horner (2002) warns against over-specific and narrow analyses and instead points in the direction of analysing the most common and complex uses of punishment to ensure a more effective technology of applied behaviour change. Lerman and Vorndran (2002) alternatively recommend focusing on less intrusive punishment procedures and how to fade them out. I believe combining the two suggestions by analysing the most common punishment procedures and how to fade them out successfully would provide the most benefit at this time as this is an area of interest to all people – not just behaviour analysts. Indeed, Iwata et. al. (1997) experienced some success moving from a continuous schedule to an intermittent schedule of punishment and broadening this type of research would be of great intrigue.

It is worth noting that this article does not seek to unequivocally condone the use of punishment but merely cite the need to research its use. Vollmer (2002) believed that punishment should be avoided until avoiding it would be of greater cost than engaging with it which appears a reasonable view. Iwata et. al. (1997) were also wary of punishment and the ethical issues surrounding it but believed that it may be necessary when the reinforcers that maintain a behaviour cannot be identified or controlled.

Punishment should always be used in adherence to the principle of being the best practice available and when used be in line with Lerman and Vorndran’s (2002) guidelines. They recommend “the least amount of punishment that is effective (i.e lowest intensity, shortest duration) should be used” (p. 441). As a relatively unpopular practice (Iwata et. al., 1997), there are concerns over the acceptability of punishment and this may explain why applied behaviour analysts have under-researched the area. There is a suggestion that an unwillingness to publish failed punishment studies exists (Lerman and Vorndran, 2002) and this is understandable as successfully researching punishment is contentious enough without drawing criticism for research conducted that has demonstrated unfavourable side effects. Despite this, applied researchers need to make their work known for the procedures to be improved.

Conclusion

The topic of punishment and its efficacy is one which emerges in teaching staffrooms regularly. It is interesting to research the topic through the lens of applied behaviour analysis. Much like in teaching, there is no black-and-white answer to its use but there are guidelines to ensure it is not misused. Punishment is best served to reduce behaviour when other methods of intervention such as extinction or differential treatments have been used and proven ineffective. It may also be necessary when the reinforcer that is maintaining a behaviour cannot be identified or controlled. Using the least amount of punishment necessary is, of course, most appropriate and when punishment is used, it should be viewed as an intervention that is phased out as soon as possible. With this in mind, there is still far more scope for applied research to be conducted in this area and teachers – along with parents and other caregivers – would be served well by keeping abreast of the results if this occurs.

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Reference List

Alberto, P.A. & Troutman, A.C. 2013, Applied Behaviour Analysis for Teachers, Ninth edn,
Pearson Education, New Jersey.


Baker, P. & Allen, D. 2012, “Use of positive behaviour support to tackle challenging behaviour”, Learning Disability Practice, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 18-20.


Clear, J. 2019, , 3 ideas, 2 quotes, 1 question (October 31, 2019) [Homepage of Jamesclear.com], [Online]. Available: https://jamesclear.com/3-2-1/october-31-2019 [2019, November 1st]


Cradden, J. 2014, May 20th 2014-last update, The battle over ABA: autism education in limbo [Homepage of The Irish Times], [Online].
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Donnellan, A.M. & LaVigna, G.W. 1990, “Myths About Punishment” in Perspectives on the use of nonaversive and aversive interventions for persons with developmental disabilities, eds. A.C. Repp & N.N. Singh, Sycamore, Sycamore, IL, pp. 33-57.


Durkin, T. 2010, July 27th 2010-last update, Failure to tackle autism epidemic is a scandal [Homepage of The Irish Times], [Online].
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Horner, R.H. 2002, “On the status of knowledge for using punishment: a
commentary”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 465-467.

ICEP Europe 2019, , Applied Behaviour Analysis – Critical Exploration and Practice [Homepage of ICEP Europe and University of East London], [Online].
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Jones, R.S.P. & McCaughey, R.E. 1992, “Gentle Teaching and Applied Behaviour Analysis: A Critical Review”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 853.


Kaufman, P.D. 2005, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, First edn, The Donning Company, Brookfield


Lerman, D.C., Iwata, B.A., Shore, B.A. & DeLeon, I.S. 1997, “On The Status For Using Punishment: Implications For Treating Behaviour Disorders”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 187-201.


Lerman, D.C. & Vorndran, C.M. 2002, “On The Status Of Knowledge For Using Punishment: Implication For Treating Behavior Disorders”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 431-464.


Leslie, J. 2002, Essential Behaviour Analysis, Oxford University Press Inc., New York.


Leslie, J. & Tierney, K. 2013, “Behaviour Analysis in Ireland”, The Irish Journal of Psychology, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 156-162.


Maglieri, K.A., DeLeon, I.G., Rodriguez-Catter, V. & Sevin, B.M. 2000, “Treatment of Covert Food Stealing In An Individual With Prader-Willi Syndrome”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 615-618.


McGee, J.J., Menolascino, F.J., Hobbs, D.C. & Menousek, P.E. 1987, Gentle teaching: A nonaversive approach for helping persons with mental retardation, Human Sciences Press, New York.


Mudford, O.C. 1985, “Treatment selection in behaviour reduction: Gentle teaching versus the least intrusive treatment model”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Developmental Disabilities, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 265-27.


O’Brien, F. 1989, “Punishment for people with developmental disabilities” in The treatment of severe behaviour disorders, ed. E. Cipani, American Association of Mental Retardation,
Washington, pp. 37-58

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Van Houten, R., Axelrod, S., Bailey, J.S., Favell, J.E., Foxx, R.M., Iwata, B.A. & Lovaas, O.I. 1988, “The right to effective behaviour treatment”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 21, pp. 381-384.


Vollmer, T.R. 2002, “Punishment Happens: Some Comments On Lerman and Vorndran’s Review”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 469-473.

Categories
Teacher Mindset

My Experience of Burnout

In the 12 months from June 2017 onwards, I studied for a week abroad as part of my degree. I completed 20 hours of Home-based July Provision. I worked for three weeks at a Summer Camp. I began my second year in a new school. I was grieving the loss of a friend and colleague. I was starting my thesis as part of my masters. I was creating a twenty-hour behavioural course. I was running a voluntary after-school club twice a week alone. I was playing a sport and training four times a week. Two people close to me became quite sick. In June 2018, I was burned out.

Each of those things consumes significant time and energy. Combined, they ground me down. It’s not something I have discussed widely but the 12 months from June 2017 up to June 2018 took a major toll on me and changed me forever. During that period, I had to plan my life to the minute detail to ensure that I could sustain my responsibilities. I scheduled reminders to phone friends and family to check-in. I timetabled exactly when I was training. I planned exactly when I would study. I ordered prepared meals for the week delivered to school because I couldn’t prioritise cooking or being at home to receive them. I found myself studying until midnight and up at 4 am the following morning to fulfil different obligations and meet deadlines. I wrote articles in hospital canteens and my car. At one stage, I was asked to rerecord some audio content because my tone sounded depressing. That’s because that was how I was feeling. 

In hindsight, and with what I know now, what to do seems so simple. Stop the voluntary after-school club. Step back from the team I played with. Communicate that two people close to me were sick and I may have to extend deadlines. But instead, I did what most people do. I told nobody and soldiered on. I was physically and emotionally exhausted but would not release any responsibilities. I wouldn’t talk about it. I convinced myself it would be weak to admit overwhelm. I told myself that it wasn’t about me. I developed feelings of anxiety that I never had previously, I was hiding how stressed I was, I had a panic attack, I suffered all those things that people read about and think “why didn’t they say something?”. At the time, I felt that everything was incredibly important and must be completed. Pick out each commitment and there was a noble reason why I felt it was important to sustain. I’d still be inclined to justify each one. Although, now I realise that when it’s obvious that life is unsustainable, you have to change something to protect yourself.

To pick some positives from the wreckage that was that year, I transformed the way I thought and acted for the better. I eventually pieced myself back together and feel more resilient for it. I’m passionate about helping people avoid the feelings I experienced so I’ve put together three habits that protect me from returning to a similar place ever again.

Journaling

I have kept a journal for three years now. I range from answering reflective questions that I pick up from online or that I’m pondering from time to time. Mostly, however, I keep it simple and journal 3 different things every day. I write 7 things I am feeling excited for. This could be as small as a nice breakfast or as big as an upcoming event. This sets me up every morning to search for positives and is simple, quick and effective. I write a to-do list with 3-5 key tasks I want to complete for the day. Finally, I have a Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, don’t know, disagree and strongly disagree) I roughly draw at the bottom. The question over it is: Did I finish the day WANTING to do more? Not “feeling like I should” or “needing to”. Actively desiring. If I’m strongly agreeing or agreeing, I know I’m living sustainably. If I’m strongly disagreeing or disagreeing, I’m alert that what I’m doing is unsustainable over the long term and I will reflect on whether this is a short term situation or something I need to address.

Meditation

I meditated as part of yoga for a long time before I felt the benefits. I read a great one-page description in 365 Daily Meditations that captures what it does for me. It brings my mind to a single point and focuses it. When my mind is unfocused, my thoughts are scattered and I feel frazzled or discontent more easily. I gravitate towards stress without realising. When I meditate, it encourages me to pause. When I get up from a ten-minute meditation, I feel like I’m no longer in that autopilot state. I am ready to decide on what I want to do and how to react to situations. I now meditate outside of yoga. I use the Headspace app and find it great. I’d recommend sticking with it through that period of thinking its worthless and one day you’ll realise that there’s something to it. I’ve read lots of people say that it takes 12-18 months of practice to feel the benefits and I share that experience. The Dalai Lama discusses happiness as something you train your mind for and seek actively. I subscribe to this as it makes me feel I have ownership and a choice.

Set Your Boundaries

This sounds like a harsh one but I have felt the benefits of it. Learn to say no. Draw your line. Have awkward conversations. The reason I burned myself out was partly due to my feelings of I “should” do this or I “have” to do that. Neither of those is true. I learned there is little in life we should or have to do. If you don’t set your boundaries, someone else will set them for you. With the best will in the world, waiting for your employer or someone else to prioritise your wellbeing is misguided. You need to take control of your health and wellness. You must acknowledge that you have to pick your poison. Either you suffer awkwardly rejecting someone’s request in the early stages or you suffer having to fulfil obligations you don’t want to or you know will stretch you past what is sustainable. I often say no to people because I want to get eight hours of sleep or go for a run. They’re often shocked, disappointed or disgruntled. They may try to persuade me. But, I set my priorities. By all means, accept people’s requests, but do it mindfully and accept them happily and wholeheartedly when you do. Avoid the trap of accepting and complaining. Set your boundaries.

These are only three of the things that helped me. I could write a book on the other mini-steps I had to take to recover my inner contentment and happiness. There were ups and downs. Progress was not linear. The take-home message, from my experience, is to develop habits in your life that will help you prevent reaching burnout and if you feel you’re already there, hold your hand up and say something. My emails, DMs and phone are always open or reach out to friends, family or professional help. Don’t be a martyr and push yourself to the breakpoint. You’re more use to yourself and others if you can sustain your efforts. 

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Categories
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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Teacher Mindset

2 Strategies For Stressed Teachers (And One to Avoid)

If you’re a teacher and you’re stressed, you’re in good company. One in four teachers rates their jobs as very or extremely stressful. It is estimated as high as 46% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years of their career. In Germany, only 26% of teachers make it to retirement age – compared to 54% of other public sector employees. Research shows that 52% of early retirements can be attributed to psychiatric or psychosomatic disorders. The statistics are damning. Despite what the general population might think and or joke, teachers need to be conscious of their stress levels for the good of their careers and health. 

Occupational stress is considered most prevalent in professions that involve human interaction. Teaching fits this category as the social nature, uncertainty, emotional intensity and high levels of attention to others contribute to the stresses that accumulate over hours, days, weeks, terms and years. How should we cope with this stress? How do we ensure the role we play is sustainable for over thirty to forty years?

My Experience and What Helped

A few years ago, I dealt with chronic stress. It ended up being a crash course in stress management. My personal life combined with my professional life to create one of those perfect storms that have the potential to bring destruction if you don’t catch it early and batten down the hatches. It’s important to acknowledge that stress is like a storm, completely unavoidable. It is how we prepare, perceive and manage it that determines how much damage it does before it passes. And it does pass.

While I was continuing to move forward through the year, I adopted a two-pronged approach that is research-based and proved a lifesaver: Direct-Action and Palliative techniques.

Direct-Action is self-explanatory. It involves identifying the source of the stress, determining the reason it is stressing you and then deciding how to resolve it. Then, you activate the plan and execute. Stress is said to be the result of an imbalance between the demands you are facing and the resources you have to meet those demands. If you have lots to do, you may become stressed if you don’t have the time. If you are faced with a child who you find particularly challenging, you may become stressed if you feel you don’t have the expertise to deal with it. If you have an inspection coming up, you may become stressed if you feel unprepared. Taking a direct-action approach to these examples, you will seek to manage your time, develop your knowledge and complete the necessary work respectively. You are working towards reducing and eliminating the source of the stress.

Palliative techniques aim to reduce stress without dealing with the source. This can mean different things for different people. Personally, I began to journal (link here), I took up yoga, I played a team sport, I went away on trips with friends for the odd weekend and got out in nature as much as I could. For others, this could entail socialising, additional sleep or anything you deem to be a stress reliever. You’re switching off. You’re in a different mode and you’re fully immersed in whatever activity that you love and enjoy.

The five most common stressors for teachers are school environment, student misbehaviour, relationships with parents, time demands and inadequate training: all stressors which can be dealt with through a combination of direct action and palliative techniques. You have to find the right balance for you between trying to put out the fire and stepping away from it every once in a while.

The space to avoid, for me, was that space in between. Where you take one step away from the fire so you’re not putting it out but not too far away that you’re safe from getting burnt. The equivalent of this, for me, was sitting around complaining about my stress without taking action or lying around the house thinking about my worries when I could have been off enjoying myself. My stress was at its highest when I was in this space, neither working to eliminate the stress or taking my mind off it and enjoying life. When I fully invested in either the direct action and palliative approach, which I managed for sustained periods with the occasional lapse to despair, I managed to contain my stress and gradually work my way through it. I also managed to make some great memories when I was fully switched off and tuned into things that I loved. Take my advice and either take direct action or switch off with some palliative activity and whatever you do, avoid the middle where you’re doing neither.

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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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Anger Management Behaviour Management parenting

7 Common Triggers for Meltdowns

For teachers and parents, supporting children when they are having a meltdown or tantrum is a stressful experience. As a teacher, when I am working with a child who has entered a full emotional outburst, I become very self-conscious of people watching me and how I handle it. I also enter an emotionally heightened state which impacts on my decision making. I strongly want to help the child calm down and as they are now in a fight-or-flight state, reasoning and logic have gone out the window. At this point, it is about ensuring the safety of the people and objects in the vicinity and waiting for the child to come down from their heightened state.

If meltdowns are a repetitive part of your day, it is time to become a detective and start to decipher why they are occurring. Bishop Desmond Tutu has a great quote that “there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” This is what we are going to do. If we can find the trigger, we can intervene here and the urge to meltdown will naturally dissipate. There are seven common areas which we need to be curious about and consider.

1. Internal Issues

Are they melting down because they are tired, hungry or sick?

2. Sensory Issues

Is there an issue with noises, smells or something they’re in contact with? Are they becoming bored or over-stimulated?

3. Lack of Structure

Is there a clear structure and routine on the day? Are they aware of what it is and what is expected? (App Recommendation here)

4. Work

Do they hate new or challenging tasks and situations? Do they fear them?

5. Waiting

Do they meltdown when they do not get their desires met instantly? Are they incapable of dealing with disappointment or the word “No”?

6. Self-Esteem

Do they get triggered by threats to their self-esteem like making mistakes, losing a game or being criticised?

7. Attention

Are they reacting negatively to an unmet need for attention or approval? 

From reading through this list, it is evident that we would intervene differently according to the trigger. Treating a child who is sick and melting down the same way as a child who is incapable of dealing with no makes zero sense. Once we have the trigger figured out, we start to work on designing strategies to iron it out. Taking this approach will go upstream from the problem and prevent it before it starts.

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anxiety Inclusion parenting Special Education

Help Children With Autism Return to School

Anyone who sifts through social media will see an abundance of quotes and inspirational photos. I love the area of personal development and can’t get enough of podcasts, videos, articles and anything related to the area. One common thread running through all of them now is;

Control the controllables.”

Its a phrase that looks slick and is easy-to-remember. But what does it mean? How can we apply it at this very moment?

Children with autism are likely to be struggling with all the changes in routine and uncertainty of this pandemic. I wrote an article about the 9 essential questions that children with ASD like to know and as hard as we may have tried, it is impossible to give definitive answers to them as we ourselves can’t predict the future.

One thing we do know, however, is we will return to school. We don’t know when but we know we will. Talking to parents of children with autism, a common concern they have is about trying to get their children to return to school after the long lay off. How we try to smooth this transition is a definite controllable.

I suggest that schools prepare small stories for their children with autism (or any child they feel may struggle with a return to school) and aim to answer as many of the nine questions as possible. These include:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

It should be relatively easy to find out where their classroom will be and who the teacher will be in the next few weeks. Their favourite school activities can be included. The month (or date) of return can be included. The times that school starts at and finishes at can be included. The story can be made in conjunction with the parents to answer questions worrying them and start a conversation about returning to school. With this made and distributed to parents, they can start to read it with their child in the weeks leading up to a return. Each page should contain photographs of the information to increase the impact. This is a controllable.

Although we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. This is a strategy to promote inclusion and hopefully, prevent issues arising before they have a chance and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you’re a teacher, you can begin this process now and have it ready in lots of time. If you’re a parent or know someone that would benefit from this strategy, you might consider suggesting it to the appropriate person.

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Inclusion Special Education

9 Essential Questions for Children with Autism

Children with autism need extra support to be included in day-to-day life. The social cues, rules and routines that neurotypical children pick up without explicit teaching do not come as easily to a child with ASD. Without the appropriate support, these children may look to be “misbehaving” or “difficult” when really, they just require a helping hand to get involved and be included.

There are nine key questions when preparing a child with autism for a new event or skill:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

If you are going to a school assembly later in the day, an adult should sit down with the child and move through the nine questions to ensure that the child knows exactly what is going to happen, how it will happen and what is expected of them specifically. This can prevent issues before they arise and prevention is always better than cure.

Visual resources like timetables and social stories benefit children with autism massively as it can reduce their anxieties by providing clarity. Timetables (app recommendation here) are easy to prepare and implement but having every single social story ready is not always possible. A lot of preparation can be required preparing a story about the event or skill you are trying to teach. They are extremely worthwhile but how can you predict every change, social skill and event that will happen in a school year? You can’t and this is where MagnusCards come in.

MagnusCards is an app that has a wealth of scenarios and skills that answer a lot of the generic questions that will occur throughout a school day and home life. 

For example, if you want to teach a child how to come in from lunchtime, there is a 10 picture story on how to do this. Want to teach a child how to engage with pairwork in a class? There is a 7 picture story that can be used.

The events and skills range from school to social skills to personal care and safety along with much more. The pictures and text are not specific to your child’s school or home but the stories are readily accessible at your fingertips if you need them. 

I would recommend this app for three reasons. First of all, having a look through the app will help you predict what stories you could personalise, prepare and print in advance for your child. Secondly, when a change occurs or unforeseen event happens, you have a quick-and-easy visual aid to support the conversation you need to have to support a child with autism. Finally, if you see a child with autism acting inappropriately during lunchtime or somewhere unstructured, you can pull out the app and use a social story to incidentally teach an alternative way to behave in that scenario with clear, visual prompts. MagnusCards is an app that is simple, free and practical. These apps are always welcome in a teacher’s toolkit.

To download MagnusCards:

Android Version here.

Apple Version here.

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