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The Challenge of Challenging Behaviors in the Classroom

Posted by on in What If?
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angry child

Let’s be truthful; teaching would be a lot easier if kids never acted out -- if they didn’t come to school with problems of their own that resulted in challenging behavior. But that’s an impossible wish; there will always be children who display challenging behavior and it’s part of a teacher’s job to know not only how to handle it but also to ensure that these children aren’t excluded from activities or from the learning.

Because that is so very much easier said than done, I invited Barbara Kaiser, co-author of Challenging Behavior in Young Children, and early childhood specialist Amanda Morgan to join me on Studentcentricity.

The discussion touched on a number of themes near and dear to my heart: the premise that we should be preparing schools for kids and not the other way around; the premise that all children are not the same and we need to respect their differences; the need to teach about and respect personal space; and cooperation vs. competition! Also covered was the need to create a caring, compassionate classroom environment that prepares all children to become successful members of society – a caring, compassionate society!

That, I believe, is one of the greatest purposes of early education.

Following the conversation, Barbara added:

It is important to understand yourself, the child and the impact of the “environment “on a child’s behavior. The most important role an educator of young children has is that of role model. You set the tone. Therefore, the place to begin is to understand your feelings about a child with challenging behavior. What are your expectations? How do you respond when that child behaves inappropriately? How do you respond to that child’s appropriate behavior? What is the message you are giving the other children? 

And Amanda shared the following additional advice:

1 -- Keep in mind that there are many factors that influence behavior.  Factors within the child, within the family, within the classroom, within society. Some of those factors you cannot control, but there are many that you can. Focus first on what you CAN control: How you structure the classroom, your daily schedule,  your processes, your activities, etc. Spend some time observing what might be triggering the difficult behavior and determine if there are factors you can control or skills that you can teach to have some impact on the situation.

2 -- Children need to feel a sense of security as well as a sense of independence. Set clear boundaries and give choices within those boundaries. For some children, this is a completely new experience and they may need consistency and gentle guidance to understand both concepts clearly.

3 -- Especially for young children, behavior is a form of communication. Often, if you can teach a child the words to communicate their needs, you can lessen undesirable behavior. Teach and give practice with social scripts and processes like "May I play?," "I need space" or "I need a break."  If you can determine what need is often being communicated by the behavior, you can create a script and a system for meeting that need in a positive way.

4 -- Don't take it on alone. Get parents on board whenever possible and include clinical services when necessary. Keep in focus that your objective is not just to alleviate the stress this is causing you, but to get the optimum situation for the child to thrive. If that means getting clinical services involved, seek them. If that means finding a program that better meets the child's needs, find it. Looking outside of your classroom for help is not an indication of failure. This isn't about you. Looking beyond the classroom shows you are willing to bring in any support necessary to help the child be successful. This isn't about you solving the problem alone, but about a team creating the most supportive situation possible for the child.

There’s always a reason why a child acts out, and a big part of the teacher’s role is to determine what that reason is – according to Barbara, as early as possible!

To hear all of Barbara's and Amanda's advice, clickhere.

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Wednesday, 26 October 2016