A teacher friend told me a story the other day: a Year 3 pupil was disrupting lessons by climbing on tables and an educational psychologist visited the school to offer some advice on how to manage the situation. The psychologist suggested that the pupil was suffering from low self-esteem and as a result was resorting to physically elevating themselves to make them feel better emotionally.
My friend asked me if I thought the psychologist was right and, actually, I did. There is always a reason why a child is behaving in a certain way. As teachers, it is important that we accept this.
However, what is also very important is that even though we understand what is causing a child to make specific behavioural choices, we still ensure that the child is provided with boundaries and can see that there are consequences for actions.
Here are some key points on how you might achieve that balance.
1. Keep a calendar or diary
I once had a pupil whose moods were very changeable. During some lessons, he was engaged and making good choices; in others, he lacked focus and displayed challenging behaviours.
Keen to know what might be the causing the drastic changes in my pupil’s behaviour, I printed off some weekly class timetables. I kept them by my desk and any time there was a behavioural issue, I marked it down on the timetable with an asterisk.
After two weeks, it was clear to see where there were patterns. We soon worked out that his behaviour was linked to his eating. He was using up his energy and getting tired and irritable.
We immediately started introducing snack breaks to his daily routine and we saw almost an instant change in his behaviour. If, as a teacher, you are able to find a way to identify negative behavioural triggers, you can then start working on how to avoid them.
2. Provide emotional support
Resources like the Incredible 5 Point Scale, a tool developed by Kari Dunn Buron to support children with ASD in controlling their emotional responses, can support many children, not just those with ASD.
If we can give children the tools to recognise their own behaviours and help them to understand why they are acting in a certain way, we can then help them to manage their behaviour.
Disclaimer: while resources like this are brilliant and have very high reported success rates, they are not quick fix solutions. They often require an investment of your time before you begin to see the positive effects of using the resource.
3. Enforce consequences
Ensure that there are consequences when children make the wrong choice.
If we do not show children that all actions have consequences then we do them a great disservice.
It is important to consider how a consequence is presented to a child. It is possible to deliver a consequence, while showing a degree of empathy: “I realise that you were feeling very cross at playtime and I would feel like that, too. However, it is not OK hurt other people.”
Most children will feel more ready to move on from a situation if they think that they have been understood. It is also really important to remember that we do not always have to give every child the same consequence. A consequence needs to be meaningful to the individual and appropriate, according to their emotional development.
Erica Cook is a part-time key stage 2 teacher in Stanstead, who is studying for a masters in psychology