Monday, November 7, 2011

Staying Calm When Children Use Challenging Behavior

          While discussing the acting out cycle this week, we started considering how difficult it is to stay calm when a child is violent, or verbally abusive, especially to us! As difficult as it is, keeping ourselves calm is critical to the success of working with challenging behaviors.
          I have seen too many teachers arguing with children, raising their voices, even screaming at a child who is out of control.  Of course this is completely useless, and counterproductive. You are the adult, and it is your role to model mature problem-solving, not resorting to the same inappropriate behavior the child is using. Even if a child is shouting obscenities, or saying hurtful things to you, it is essential NOT to react emotionally.
          It can help to remember that this outburst is not about you! It is about a child not having the coping skills to handle her challenges. Do not take it personally! Think of yourself like a firefighter. There's no point in getting angry at the fire - you need to put it out as quickly as you can to minimize damage. You can't do this well if you are as agitated as the child.



          So, how do you learn to stay calm and not react? The same way you learn any new skill - lots of practice! Work on being able to notice your body's react to children's inappropriate behavior. Do you tighten your shoulders? Furrow your brow? Get a lump in your stomach? As you learn to pay attention to your body's signals, you can realize more quickly that you are agitated. The more quickly you take care of your anger or fear, the easier it is to stay calm. This is true for children, too. If you can redirect them when you first notice their agitation, you can often prevent an outburst.
          When you begin to notice your body's agitation signals, the first step is to breathe! Give yourself a moment or two without doing anything except following your breath. Smile, and try to say to yourself, "This isn't about me, this is a child who needs my help." It helps a great deal to practice physically relaxing your body. Here's a one minute relaxation video to help you practice. If you download it to your phone or ipod, you can practice a few times throughout the day.

    
          Let us know what strategies you've found to help yourself stay calm when children push your buttons!

13 comments:

  1. Dr. Rand, this is awesome and yes teachers need to learn how to stay calm when children are having challenging behaviors. I like the video of the calming techniques. This is good in everyday life when i am too stress. This will help me to remain calm and not react. If the adults act like the children we are both going to be exhausted and over whelm. This means that the child will think that it is OK to behave in this manner. I agree that we have to model the outcome that we want from the child by remaining calm and not allow our emotions to get the best of us. Thanks for this blog because it sure will help many individuals in their classroom to remain calm when children are using challenging behaviors.

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  2. Alicia,
    Yes we are ALWAYS modeling for children!

    Here are some other comments on this blog post from the ASCD facebook page:

    http://www.facebook.com/ascd.org

    Check it out for more ideas!

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  3. Working with children can be very challenging. I often witness young ones that get fustrated when they aren't able to complete a task or know the answer to a question. Some may yell, cry hysterically, or completely fall out in a tantrum. This will distract the other students and make my colleagues and I very upset. Since there are more than one teacher in the classroom, we encourage each other to "take a walk" while the others handle the situation. You are so right that we MUST model good behavior for our youth. Thanks for giving suggestion as many of us learn how to be that Good Role Model.

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  4. Good point, Lucille! If there is another teacher in the room with you, it is very helpful to have a "pact" in which one teacher can take a time out to regain composure. We all need it!

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  5. I have practiced calming down during a situation with a kindergartner and seen first had that it works!



    A kindergartener had a total meltdown. It started when he simply wanted to play with some sticky notes that were left, by mistake, inside of a basket on his desk with working materials. When I took away the notes and told him that he should not play with this because it was time to work, he started to yell. "Gimmi!, Gimmi!", "I want that!", "I found it!" "It's mine!” I watched for an opportunity when he was looking the other way and hid the sticky notes. Now, he was running around looking for the notes as well. Next, he just threw himself on the floor. Here, I raised my voice as I tried to pick him up, but this was aggravating the situation even further. I recalled that I should be the one that should be calm and collected. I took a breath. I toned my voice down and said to him close to his ear; "I know that you are upset, but this is not the proper way that we behave in school. It is time to work, not play. It will be better that you go to the rug and settle yourself. Then, when you feel ready to come back to work, you may do so and we will start again." The kindergartener actually got up. I guided him to the rug where he remained until he calmed down. I used this time to compose my own self. When he returned to the working table, I had a drink of water waiting for him and we were able to continue the language arts lesson. We continued working on the letter F as I had planned in my lesson. Had I continued to agitate this little boy by raising my voice, I don't know where this would have gone.


    Holaya Estrada-Ortiz

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  6. Holaya,
    What a wonderful story! This is such a perfect example of how we can either escalate the situation or "put out the fire". Congratulations on having the self control and patience to help this boy calm down. A good outcome for both of you!!

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  7. Like many have mentioned, dealing with children is very challenging. As the date of my internship approaches, my anxiety levels rise....I love children, and working with them is all I want to do but sometimes some children test your boundaries and I'm afraid that I won't be able to control myself. Your article mentioned many helpful insights, it's true that it's very important not to take it personal in our classrooms. Children are just children, and we are the adults and role models. I'm very impressed by Holaya's reaction to the child's outburst. It's a great example. Congrats on your patience & self control.
    Kenza Mjahad

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    1. Kenza, Student teaching can be very nerve-wracking! It's hard when you are first starting out to keep calm and not think the kids are out to get you! I hope my suggestions help and you'll check back again when you have challenges!

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  8. You bring up many good points. When the adult because noticeable angry the children feed off that and they believe this action is appropriate. You can not tell a child to not be have a certain way if you are going to react in the exact same way. I had to learn this way before I started working in a school environment. Each time a child in my classroom decides to express themselves with anger. I try to talk them through it. I ask them questions such as “Do you think that was a nice thing to do?” I try to have them evaluate the situation before letting them know my feelings on their behavior. I encourage the children to express themselves with words so I can understand how they are feeling. It is not always easy, but I remind myself that two non-communicating people will get no where. Children need to learn this early so we can have better behaving adults in the world.

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    1. How true, Latia! Children are not really that different from us, and we are always modeling. Learning to express and take care of our anger at an early age would make the whole world better!

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  9. Good for teachers, baby sitters any adult taking care of kids/teens. And good for parents...

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  10. I'm not a teacher, but I think this article is really great for parents. I have three little ones that could be overwhelming at times. I honestly have lost my cool on several occasions and at the end, I knew it was my responsibility to stay level headed, but failed at the task. What I do know is that failure is not a permanent condition, so I definitely am working on seeing their outbursts as an opportunity to help them and remove the idea from my head that it's about me. I have found that when I model good behavior and stay in control, the end results are so much better, calmer and enjoyable.

    Thanks for the great information, my wife and I will be visiting your site more often.

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    Replies
    1. Andrs, yes, I have felt the same way in my parenting! When we lose our cool it is a great opportunity to show children how we calm ourselves down. We can model the process of regaining control of ourselves which is so important for children to learn.

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