According to Julie Causton-Theoharis, author of The Paraprofessional’s Handbook for Effective Support in Inclusive Classrooms [MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 2009], when kids engage in challenging behaviors, they are trying to communicate something. The secret of promoting positive classroom behavior is to discover just what that something is. In order to do this, teachers or aides must learn to build relationships of trust with their students, closely observe undesired behaviors, and determine their individual needs.
Common Causes of Bad Behavior
There are many reasons for why a student with emotional problems misbehaves regularly in the classroom. The trick for teachers is to observe the child and find out why. In many cases, teachers may find the bad behavior is usually based on one of a few common factors. At any given time, a student may display annoying or unwanted behavior because she:
- needs more choices and control
- feels like she doesn’t belong, feels lonely
- is frustrated or bored by the lesson
- is being ignored by classmates or the teacher
- doesn’t feel safe
In order to determine the source of the bad behavior, teachers will need to observe when it happens, and try to understand what happened right before the challenging behavior. Teachers may also want to try to simply and gently ask the student why she is behaving in that manner.
The behavior could also be caused by factors outside of the classroom, or various unique needs of an individual with disabilities (such as transitional issues, or those relating to ADHD). This is why it is so important to build trusting, positive relationships with students, as well as set up a classroom environment that is friendly and safe.
Building a Positive Classroom Environment
Setting up a classroom to encourage students with emotional problems to behave appropriately is a first step in discouraging bad behavior. Classrooms that encourage movement, interaction, and learning are easy to spot. Try the following ideas to create a positive and fun classroom for all students:
- Place small groups of children with different abilities together.
- Keep classroom items organized and labeled so they are easy to find.
- Eliminate unnecessary clutter.
- Clearly display rules and daily itinerary.
- Make sure that aisles are large enough to move around.
- Create a floor space that is comfortable and welcoming.
- Try establishing workstations for individual learning styles.
There are many ways to help kids with individual and unique needs as well, including giving them some warning when they might be called on to answer questions, and providing a choice of homework assignments to practice a particular skill. For more information on creating a great classroom environment, check out Effective Special Needs Classroom Design.
What to Do During and After Outbursts
The best way to handle an outburst in the classroom is with patience and calm. Ask the student what he might need, or better yet, write down the question on a note. Never berate a student or humiliate him in front of his peers. Once a tantrum is over, try to understand how the student may be feeling, and communicate that understanding with words or pictures.
The teacher may want to ask the student if he would like to get a drink of water or do a quiet activity after the crisis has passed. Encourage him to clean any mess that may have resulted, or help him to apologize if the rage was directed at another student, either verbally, by drawing a picture, or making a card. See Meltdowns in Students With Asperger Syndrome for more helpful information.
Teachers who understand that challenging behavior is a way for some kids with emotional problems to communicate an important need, spend time to find out what that need is, and provide understanding and support in a calm and safe manner, will find that these are the best ways to reduce bad behavior and promote positive behavior in the classroom.