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During this winter season when I am confronted with an unhappy student who can’t easily or is unwilling to follow directions, I find it helpful to pause and remember some important principles of behavior management. Here are some thoughts to remember when children are unable or unwilling to regulate their behaviors and emotions:
- You can’t control another person’s behavior, only your own response.
- No matter what it seems, students do not want to be in control of the class.
- Safety comes first. After safety come joy and acceptance, and then Routines with a big “R”. What’s after that? Relationship.
- Your intervention will only be as good as a) your behavioral intervention skills and values based on your training, moral stance, and program model; b) your ability to dampen your ego and work with the staff team; and c) the presence of a clear and complete backup system of support available in the program/school.
- Splitting among staff, or between staff and administration, is a sign that the program operates based on power and control, secrets, and favoritism rather than principles, direct dialogue and accountability.
- Once you respond to a disruptive behavior based on your personal wishes or feelings, you have lost your effectiveness. In other words, don’t take a behavior personally. Students may be aggressive but they are rarely “out to get you.” If you react defensively to a student’s behavior, it is a sign that you may be getting personally triggered by your own past experiences. This could lead to a power struggle, the thing you do not want.
- Every child has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to managing his or her own behavior. Every child needs a second chance, a third chance, endless chances, but it may not be in your classroom or program. The right fit is essential and no class can be all things to all students.
- Saying no, setting limits and following through is not being punitive.
- Setting a strong respectful limit is the most loving thing you can do. Limit setting is not a punitive intervention. Being punitive (shaming a student) is an entirely different thing; we all need to know the difference.
- The only person who starts a power struggle between a student and a teacher is the teacher. If a student baits you, you do not need to respond in kind. You already have the authority. Just set a limit or side-step the situation–deciding which to do depends upon what makes sense for this child.
- Addressing disruptive behaviors is part of your work. If a behavior is in a child’s repertoire, expect you might see it. These behaviors do not go away even if we “focus on the positive”, construct wonderful classroom experiences, or attempt to smile and ignore what is happening (other when using intentional or planned ignoring).
- Children are not small adults. They cannot be expected to act like (perfect) adults if they just tried harder or “behaved.” They have very different developmental and psychological realities. They are learning to relate, manage themselves, and make good choices. They will make mistakes (and so do we!).
- We should always strive to return to what is simple, nourishing, lacks drama and intrigue, and can be discovered by learning together.
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