Supporting youngsters with unwanted behaviours. Part Two

Having taught for a number of years as a young probationer doing supply work in some of the more challenging schools in Aberdeen City, I was interested to read in the Press and Journal online last week that 50% of children excluded in Aberdeen albeit temporarily, have additional support needs (ASN).

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/aberdeen/944273/half-of-children-excluded-from-aberdeen-schools-have-additional-support-needs/

The high number of exclusions of children with ASN issues are occurring, so it is claimed, because the council have reduced the number of support staff in these classrooms and so teachers are left alone with large classes and extremely challenging and unwanted behaviours from the youngsters in their classes. The exclusions occur as teachers, despite their best intentions, are unable to mitigate these unwanted behaviours in youngsters who need a great deal of social, emotional and personal support.  The teachers don’t yet have the tools to cope with large numbers of unwanted behaviours with only one adult present in the room.

This news prompted me to think about my own experiences, both as a probationer with no support (before the time of guaranteed one year graduate teaching placements) and the techniques I have observed colleagues using.  Coupling this with my experiences working with young people outdoors, I have been developing a simple format which can be utilised by teachers. Nothing is ever going to be failsafe.  Techniques which work for one child will not necessarily work for another, but at least as we increase our skill level in these techniques, perhaps these young people can be supported and thereby and reduce the number of overall exclusions.  I should write here as well that I was close to giving up teaching completely until one fantastic depute head teacher took me under her wing and supported me while I regained my shattered confidence!

 

  1. Understand the child and take to heart that behaviours are a direct outward expression of feelings. This isn’t to give the child an excuse for unwanted behaviours, it is to understand why the behaviours have happened.

See Part One of this blog post http://supportstrategies.owls-learn.co.uk/2016/07/04/supporting-youngsters-with-unwanted-behaviours-part-one/

 

  1. Sensory needs…all the usual autistic sensory provision (see the National Autistic Society website for more information) but when doing this ask the child what they think will help. Suggest ideas and let the child choose from them. It may take a little time out of class initially but you should find if you speak to the child, listen to the child, and act on what they say some of the issues will lessen.

Please note: listening and acting on what the child says seems to be the hardest part for most adults as it involves the outward perception that you are relinquishing control!

 

  1. Reduce the pressure. Missing a small part of school education or lowering the standards temporarily will not have an undue effect on the overall educational attainment of the child. It is better to focus on developing positive mental health and wellbeing than to continue battling and causing stress. Children and adults do not learn well under constant extreme stress.  Some pressure can be healthy but only if you have the internal emotional resources to handle the stress.

 

  1. Consider emotional intelligence skills which may be under-developed or missing in their entirety.
  • Extreme anxiety-driven need to be in control
  • Very poor emotional intelligence
  • Misjudge approaches to others – sabotage friendships inadvertently
  • Inability to take responsibility
  • Lack empathy (Children may role play this instead)
  • Socially naïve
  • Will rarely make connections between actions and
  • consequences
  • Very low self-esteem combined with very high anxiety (See part one)

See the images below for the types of skills which can be lacking.

Skill worksheet-page-002 Skill worksheet-page-002 Skill worksheet-page-003

Now the most important thing to remember in all of this information is that you cannot tackle the underlying problems during a ‘meltdown’.  You cannot take a reactive approach.

Imagine you are having a very heated argument with your better half.  Imagine the state you might be in.  Do you want a small crowd watching you? Do you want someone to start shouting at you?  Do you want someone telling you to calm down in the middle of you shouting at your partner?  Do you want someone grappling you and holding you down because they are frightened you may be violent while you are shouting?

Or would you rather have someone very calm saying quietly that they are here for you when you are ready?  That they will not judge you and hold you to account.  That they will not hold a grudge against you.  That they will be there to listen when you are ready to talk.

I know which I would prefer and which worked for me when I had sudden meltdowns as a teenager which exploded into abrupt and unexpected verbal violence towards teachers.   So although I was given the peace and the calm to recover from the meltdown (I was always exhausted and embarrassed afterwards) the teachers never followed up with a proactive approach to solving the underlying problems.  An approach that takes into account the ideas mentioned in points 1-4 of this blog.

So quite simply, as I have challenged myself this week to verbalise what I do, perhaps you can challenge yourself to listen and act on what highly stressed children really need in school.

 

Supporting youngsters with unwanted behaviours. Part One

PART ONE

My challenge to myself this week is to clarify in my mind the way to verbalise how I work with youngsters who are struggling within our school system and displaying unwanted behaviours due to extreme levels of stress.  I want to be able to be more succinct in explaining to other adults how we can support these young people, many of whom are only 7 or 8 when I am first contacted to work with them.

So, the steps to reducing unwanted behaviours caused by anxiety? First and foremost put yourself in their shoes. It can be tricky to think like an Autistic/ADHD/neurodiverse person, but what you need to remember is that all exterior behaviours are a result of feelings, and feelings when in school for many people on the autistic spectrum, with ADHD or who are neurally diverse are stress based and they are unable to verbalise them.

While reading this short story, imagine you have no other options! So to put yourself in the shoes of a highly anxious and stressed person I want you to imagine you are going on a last minute budget holiday.

You have bought your ticket, packed your bag and are waiting on a taxi to take you to the airport.  The time comes for your taxi to arrive but it isn’t there.  Five minutes pass, ten minutes, you begin to worry as although you have allowed extra time to reach the airport you know the late taxi is eating into this time.  You phone the taxi company, no answer. You would phone your friend to see if they can take you but you know they away so you are on your own.  20 minutes after the expected time the taxi arrives.  The taxi driver is grumpy, he couldn’t find your house.  He says he will charge you for the extra time he has spent trying to find your home.  You start to argue with him but you know it is futile.  He has got you in a corner as you need to get this flight even though you think it is unfair. You agree to pay the extra but by the time you get to the airport, having also got stuck in the increasingly bad traffic, you tell him what you think of him and he is rude back.

Next you move into the overcrowded airport hall, noise, people, lights.  You search for your check in and baggage handling point and join the long queue.  Fifteen minutes later as you get to the front, an airport assistant asks if you have already checked in.  You reply you haven’t and are told to move to the back of a different queue as this is for bag drop off only.  You mutter under your breath and are loudly told by the airport staff that this is a zero tolerance zone for language and behaviour. You feel your cheeks burn with embarrassment.

Finally having checked in you traverse security but instead of having time for a relaxing drink in a small café and a browse in the airport shops, you realise your name is being called on the intercom system as your flight has already boarded. You rush up to the flickering lights board and scan it to locate the gate for your budget flight.  You start to run to make your boarding gate in time and accidently knock into an old person.  You run to the gate where you see the door and the back of the airport boarding staff.  You call out, ‘Excuse me!’ but they are already going through the sound-proofed door.

Now think about the stress you might feel at each stage of the journey to the airport. How do you react?  How do you imagine your stress levels rise?  Now imagine feeling that level of stress every time you went to school?  Imagine that level of stress every time you were asked to sit in a busy and noisy classroom, to participate in a group task, tackle some maths you are frightened of failing or to navigate the playground.  As you read on to part two of this article, remember when we are talking about these children and young people, we are talking about people who have extremely high levels of stress all the time they are not at home.  It is exhausting for them and not surprisingly they hit out and shout and scream.  Remember the levels of stress they experience and read onto Part Two.