Categories
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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Categories
Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting Special Education

What are SEBD, EBD, BESD & SEMH?

What exactly are social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD)? Many definitions exist and even the overarching term is interchanged with others. You may hear the same difficulties referred to as emotional & behavioural difficulties (EBD). You could potentially hear the term behavioural emotional and social development (BESD). The most recent term that also pops up is social, emotional and mental health (SEMH).

All of the four terms above can be defined in similar ways. The definition that I prefer encapsulates how many children could fall under the umbrella of SEBD:

“difficulties which a young person is experiencing which act as a barrier to their personal, social, cognitive and emotional development. These difficulties may be communicated through internalising and/or externalising behaviours. Relationships with self, others and community may be affected and the difficulties may interfere with the pupil’s own personal and educational development or that of others. The contexts within which difficulties occur must always be considered and may include the classroom, school, family, community and cultural settings.”

(Source here)

I chose this definition because it encompasses the wide variety of difficulties that children may face. It avoids falling into the pitfall of just defining the most severe and shocking elements of SEBD that usually gain the most attention.

It highlights how a social, emotional or behavioural difficulty can impact relationships. Perhaps their relationship with themselves and their self-esteem is severely damaged? Maybe, they can’t build positive relationships with their peers or family because they have trouble regulating their own emotions. They could even be isolated in the community as they explicitly or implicitly can’t access local clubs and amenities because they are seen as different, challenging or strange.

Externalised behaviours get a lot of attention as they are very hard to ignore in a classroom. You may also hear these behaviours referred to as “acting out behaviours”. These include behaviour like defianceaggression, vandalism, bullying, swearing, shouting and running away.

Internalised behaviours can get less attention. These behaviours are easier to ignore or miss altogether. They can also be called “acting in behaviours”. Internalised behaviour may present as withdrawal, depression, passivity, anxiety or even self-harm. 

I also like how this definition highlights the importance of context. It is worth observing where these difficulties occur. Are they just in school and not at home? Vice versa? Perhaps these difficulties manifest in certain places and not in others. 

So if someone says that a child is dealing with SEBD, EBD, BESD or SEMH, you will need to ask them to be more specific. Are their difficulties being communicated through externalised behaviour or internalised behaviour? In what contexts are these difficulties occurring? Which relationships are being impacted? Avoid the trap of thinking that a child who has an emotional or behavioural difficulty must automatically be presenting a certain way. Remain curious and dig deeper.

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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].
Available: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/the-battle-over-aba-autism-education-in-limbo-1.1798534 [2019, November 15th].


Dillenberger, K., O’Reilly, M.F. & Keenan, M. 1997, Advances in Behaviour Analysis, University College Dublin Press, Dublin.


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].
Available: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/failure-to-tackle-autism-epidemic-is-a-scandal-1.628310 [2019, November 15th].


Fisher, W.W., Piazza, C.C. & Roane, H.S. 2011, Handbook of Applied Behaviour Analysis, Guilford Publications, New York.


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].
Available: https://uel.icepe.co.uk/course/view.php?id=82 [2019, November 15th].


Iwata, B.A. 1987, “Negative Reinforcement in Applied Behaviour Analysis: An Emerging Technology”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 361-378.


Jones, R.S.P. 1990, “Gentle Teaching: Behaviourism at its best?”, Community Living, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 9-10.


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

Switzer, E.B., Deal, T.E. & Bailey, J.S. 1977, “The Reduction of Stealing in Second Graders Using a Group Contingency”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 267-272.


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
anxiety

Phobias: 2 Routes To Try

Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder. They’re much more than fear. They occur when someone develops an over-the-top fear of a scenario or object. Their level of fear will be disproportionate to the level of danger. The idea of the scenario or object or being exposed to it may cause extreme anxiety, panic or distress. 

Phobias can emerge from frightening events or stressful periods in their lives. A child may adopt a phobia from a family member displaying phobic behaviour. 

There are five common self-explanatory types of phobias: Blood-injection-injury, natural environment, situational, animal and “other” types (such as fear of the number thirteen). As teachers and parents, how might we intervene with a child displaying phobic behaviour? There are two ways to try to intervene early and help the child overcome their issue.

Cognitive Behaviour Strategies

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) helps people identify, understand and correct thoughts that have become irrational. Teachers and parents can attempt strategies based on CBT principles to intervene and support the child to overcome their phobia.

One such strategy that comes from CBT is “Think like a Scientist”. This is a strategy for children who would have the ability to be analytical and rational in their approach to anxieties that they may be facing. This approach encourages the child to detail what they are afraid of, why they are afraid of it and then research and note the realistic outcome of facing their fear based on facts.

You set up a page to look something like this:

Feared SituationAnxious ThoughtRealistic Outcome







You may be as detailed as you need to be. Instagram post here.

I would encourage adults to use their discretion and best judgement in using this strategy and basing their decision on their knowledge of the child and their personality. I have previously mentioned more indirect strategies that can be utilised. This strategy is useful for fears of going swimming, going on stage and other common irrational fears that children face in school.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a longer-term solution. Practising mindfulness takes patience and consistency to develop higher levels of tolerance of anxiety. There are several ways to do this with or without technology.

Getting your child to try focussing on their breath and striving to be in the moment are great ways to explicitly reduce anxiety. The benefits of these strategies are well known and there is so much content out there to facilitate these strategies. You might want to choose a physical object like a breathing ball or perhaps you want a youtube video for young children. Older children might enjoy learning about how to do 4-7-8 breathing or engaging in a full-on 5 minute guided meditation aimed at children. There are also apps like Headspace and Calm that provide a certain amount of free content to test out. I am also a fan of the app Mindful Gnats. This app provides relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, body scans and more through an attractive interface which may encourage children to adopt mindfulness as a regular practice.

Android Version available here.

Apple Store Version available here.

These are two different routes to attempt when dealing with phobic behaviour. If you’re not experiencing success and the phobias are causing extreme distress, I would recommend reaching out and seeking professional help from the appropriate source who may offer structured behavioural therapy or medication if required.

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Categories
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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Categories
Behaviour Management

3 Questions and 2 Strategies for Defiance

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

Three Questions

What are they defying?

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

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

Why are they defying?

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

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

Is the instruction worth it?

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

Two Strategies

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

Choice

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

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

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

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

Language

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

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

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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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Behaviour Management

Why Michael Jordan Can Teach Us About Behaviour

Michael Jordan won six NBA championship rings as part of the Chicago Bulls team. As good as he was, he couldn’t have achieved such a feat without the likes of Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson and all the other quality players that played alongside him. There was another key that gets a little shine in The Last Dance documentary: The system.

The Triangle Offense

The Chicago Bulls used a system for playing the game called the Triangle Offense. Without boring you on the ins and outs of this intricate system, it involved the players working in groups of three to form a triangle and required constant movement, crisp passing and numerous options. What happened on the court through the system was a result of the player’s decisions as opposed to other teams who had pre-determined set plays and strategies. The system – although rigorous – moulds to the strengths of the players and the system works best with players who had a high game IQ. The players follow the framework of the system and fundamental principles, however, there is an infinite number of potential actions that can emerge as a result of what is happening at the moment and what the strengths of the situation are.

Michael won six rings playing this system and Phil Jackson – the coach – won even more using it. The system works. How can we use this system in schools?

Tie It Back To Behaviour Please

I’m not suggesting for a second that we start lining up children in triangles to start promoting positive behaviour. There are definite learnings, however, to take from this hugely successful system at guiding a group successfully to the desired goal.

If the system they had used was too rigid and inflexible, players would not have been able to abide by for all 82 NBA regular-season games. It just can’t be done. People have personalities and they need to shine through. They need to be allowed to express themselves from time to time.

If the Chicago Bulls system was set on pre-determined strategies, there would have been some success but this is always limited. Eventually, opposing teams start to work out your strategies and counteract them successfully. Alternatively, the strategies don’t suit the strengths of your players so never can be executed with precision.

The Classroom

Think of the classroom as your very own Chicago Bulls team. Think of the characters in the room that need to express themselves. I believe that if I use the predetermined teaching styles and behaviour strategies that I use every year, I will have the same level of success as a predetermined basketball system if I am not considering the class I have in front of: limited.

I wrote previously about the possibility of labelling our children with ADHD, ODD and ADD being counter-productive. Part of the reason is this kind of labelling leans teachers towards using predetermined strategies guided by a diagnosis as opposed to the child’s strengths and personality. If they are successful, great. If they are not, however, the teacher is left scratching their head or the child is being labelled as extremely difficult.

Now think of a classroom that utilises a triangle-offence style system. There is a clear framework for how the class functions. There are a minimal set of rules aimed at health and safety and basic respect. The children are clear on these rules but understand there is room for expression within them. They can shout out if they are super passionate about something. They can leave their seat without permission if they need to. They have a level of choice as to how they express themselves through their work. They can disagree with the teacher if they have a reason for doing so. Will there be children in some classes who still have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties? Absolutely. In these situations, they would need to be further supported with a more individual framework that has a process, yet is flexible.

A framework like this could be completed in eight steps:

  1. Define the problem behaviour clearly.
  2. Look at what solutions have been attempted.
  3. Look at the exceptional time when they don’t behave this way.
  4. Discuss how you would make the problem worse.
  5. Discuss how the child would be treated if the problem didn’t exist.
  6. Set a single SMART objective.
  7. Create an Action Plan.
  8. Review its success.

A model, such as this one from Winning without Fighting, offers that rigorous framework similar to the triangle offence of the Chicago Bulls. It has clear guidelines, clear rules and an infinite number of potential outcomes. Flexibility, adaptability and using what you see in the moment and the strengths of the individuals you are teaching are huge factors in successful behaviour management.

Don’t agree with me? Just look at how Phil Jackson managed Denis Rodman successfully!

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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Anxiety Management

I came across some quality content from Dr. Tony Attwood on anxiety management related to children with autism. I love any information that is easy to understand and relay to people and has the potential to make a difference. This content fits the criteria.

Dr. Attwood discusses the two types of anxiety management. Constructive habits succeed in mitigating the potential impact of anxiety whilst destructive habits also does this but to the detriment of relationships with others. Dr. Attwood details three destructive strategies to avoid and promotes six constructive alternatives. If constructive strategies are not being used, a child may naturally fall into using destructive ones.

Three Destructive Anxiety Management Strategies

  1. Excessive Control: When children are feeling anxious, they may seek to exert control through defiance or threats to property, self or people. The impact this has on relationships is clear. Excessive control to manage anxiety may result in a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Is this a reason to move away from labels? (Full article here)
  2. Rituals: An anxious child may insist on sameness and become intolerant and inflexible to any change. They can become over-reliant on rituals and routines when they are too prolonged detracting from their ability to engage in other tasks.
  3. Emotional Explosions: When fight-or-flight reaches a certain point, a child rife with anxiety may release the emotional energy pent up through an outburst which hurts others and damages friendships and relationships. This also takes an emotional toll on themselves in the aftermath.

Six Constructive Anxiety Management Strategies

These six strategies are necessities for anxious children. They are not rewards. The child requires them to engage with day-to-day life successfully. Analyse each one and consider if you are making the best use of each strategy.

  1. Physical Activity: Often underestimated, being physically active has a significant impact on anxiety. This can be through team sports, individual sports, movement breaks or walks. The options are endless and finding the medium that the child enjoys exercising through will aid them in coping with their anxiety.
  2. Relaxation: An anxious child has never relaxed just because they were told to. They have to be taught how to relax. This could be through a meditation app like Mindful Gnats (Android link here and Apple here), teaching the art of journaling, yoga or engaging in a range of activities depending on the child’s personality (Article: 6 strategies to help an anxious child here). A highly anxious child might never have learned to relax so it must be a priority to teach them.
  3. Special Interests: Allowing a stressed or anxious child to engage with their special interest is a powerful tool to relieve building anxiety. Depending on the interest, this can be easily implemented into day-to-day life. Allowing an anxious child with autism to engage with their special interest is not time wasted. It is time-efficient as they will be able to re-engage with activity after a short break.
  4. Favourite Person: An anxious child can experience relief when they are afforded some quality time with their favourite person. If the person is an SNA, teacher or child, this strategy can be utilised without extensive planning. If the person cannot be present, we can use audio messages, phone calls and emails. The child’s favourite person can be a great sense of comfort and relief.
  5. Diet: The benefits of a good diet go beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say that a balanced diet will have a positive impact on a child’s anxiety compared to a diet of junk food, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  6. Sleep: Much like a healthy diet, we all can appreciate the positive effect of eight to ten hours of sleep on an anxious child. Weighted blankets, avoiding screen time before bed and a consistent nighttime routine can contribute to good sleep hygiene.

When you consider the child, ask yourself which type of strategies are being used to manage their anxiety. Are they destructive or constructive? Can we improve on how we use constructive habits? Which constructive habits can I control if I am a teacher or a parent? Focus on these and lean away from destructive behaviour.

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Behaviour Management Special Education

What Toltec Wisdom Can Teach Us About Behaviour

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

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

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

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

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

The Six Images of A Relationship

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

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

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

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

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