Teachers have such an immense affect on children, but are often burdened by endless curriculum expectations and pressures to have high-test scores that there is little time for relationship building with their students. While making sure the child is learning the material, they have to evaluate each child’s learning style and abilities while managing the classroom. This is a tall order, but a little compassion and understanding can go a long way.
I learned the necessity for finding the source of children’s behavior issues while I was a sixth grade teacher some years ago. Even with my hard work and creative spirit, I felt I couldn’t ‘reach’ some students. One boy in particular was always disruptive; constantly needing attention from the other kids and myself. This was before ADHD was a household word, so there wasn’t much help for him or me. I tried everything I knew including positive reinforcement and consulting with other teachers.
All my attempts to turn this bright boy’s behavior around were less than stellar. One day, after he had gotten in a lot of trouble, I talked to him after school. I admitted to him that I didn’t know what to do for him and asked him what he thought I could do, but he was silent. Subsequently, I found out from the School Psychologist that he had a violent history in his family. He had witnessed his father killing his mother. I now believe that was the source of his maladaptive behavior in the classroom. At the time I did not know how to give him enough tools to calm himself. This troubling experience for me gave rise to me becoming a child therapist where I’ve been able to help heal troubled children for twenty-five years.
There are several options for teachers to help children with their behavior:
- Try to develop a trusting relationship with parents or guardians through parent conferences and phone calls. If they will open up to you about any difficulties the child has experienced, i.e. death of a loved one, trouble with siblings or friends, etc. Work with the parent/guardian to set up a plan that works for everyone.
- Speak with a school counselor or school psychologist and ask if they have any suggestions or know something that will help you.
- Take a few moments of your precious day to speak individually to the child. Try to ask gently if something is bothering them that day.
- Use active listening skills to ‘reach’ the child during your private conversations. See:https://www.taft.cc.ca.us/lrc/class/assignments/actlisten.html
- Use positive feedback to validate the strengths of the child; i.e. “You are so good at basketball. I know you can be good at math too!”
- In the moment of the disruption, lean down at eye level and ask:
“What do you need to do to focus on your work?”
Give him/her suggestions like, “Do you need to stand up for while?”
“Would it help if you got out of your chair and got a drink of water?”
“How about rubbing your pencil between your fingers for a few minutes?”
Developing some ‘understanding skills’ can only help the teacher and the student. I write about how I have been able to get into the world of a child and give him/her, tools to flourish in his or her life in my book, Turning the Hourglass: Children’s Therapeutic Passage Through Traumas and Past Lives which is available at: https://www.amazon.com