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Behaviour Management

3 Questions and 2 Strategies for Defiance

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

Three Questions

What are they defying?

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

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

Why are they defying?

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

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

Is the instruction worth it?

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

Two Strategies

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

Choice

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

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

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

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

Language

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

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

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Categories
Behaviour Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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