Are you a parent, teacher, school psychologist, or school counselor supporting a student with behavioral concerns? I’m being nice by saying, “concerns”, as the behaviors that I am referring to can be very dangerous and disruptive to the classroom. Behaviors at school, such as aggression, elopement, and defiance can really impact not only the student involved, but all of the students within a classroom to some degree.
This is because a student who is hitting, throwing objects, and disrupting instructional time can create a stressful classroom environment, as it impacts everyone’s emotions, including the emotions of parents and the teacher, of course.
Quick share on my own experience as a parent…
When my daughter was in Kindergarten, she had two students who were highly aggressive and defiant in her classroom. She and other kids would come home with injuries from being pushed down, hit, and kicked on a regular basis. The students who were demonstrating these behaviors were definitely giving their peers anxiety about being injured on a daily basis. This can become a real problem if not addressed through classroom SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) and/or individual or group counseling.
As a school psychologist, I have the tools to support my own child with teaching her strategies to reduce stress and avoid conflicts with these students. However, the other parents and the teacher were highly stressed for their children and students. A few parents even went to the principal to try to get the students moved from the classroom in a group uproar. If you can guess, it did not happen. Instead, the students were eventually evaluated for special education and then given counseling and one-to-one aides.
My experience as a school psychologist has taught me…
Significant behaviors are often an underlying symptom of a bigger issue, such as ADHD, current/past trauma, or Autism, they need to be addressed as soon as possible. In other words, you don’t wait for a diagnosis or IEP to address the issue. I promise that providing behavior interventions does not have to be a big mystery or rocket science. The sooner behaviors are addressed, the sooner it will improve. This is the goal, right?
I can also tell you from my years of counseling that children who are exhibiting behaviors do not want to hurt others. They just want their emotional or communication needs met. The problem is that these children do not have the tools to meet those needs. The tools that I am referring to include a number of things, such as strategies for emotional regulation and knowledge of emotions, manners, empathy, and understanding of what the “Expected vs. Unexpected” behaviors are for school.
Teaching Expected vs. Unexpected Behaviors
Children are not psychics about when it comes to expected behaviors. As adults, we cannot assume that “they should know.” While telling kids the rules may be enough for some children, it is not enough for students with significant behaviors. They need to learn in multiple ways which behaviors are good, or “expected” and which are not, or “unexpected”.
To do this, you should use a multimodal approach or visual aides, such as picture & written rules on the wall, SEL videos, and games or activities that allow for role play, discussion, and practice of skills. Yes. Children need multimodal instruction for social, emotional, and behavioral learning, just like reading and math!
Here are some tools, games, and activities that you can use with students in order to teach Expected behaviors.
Expected vs. Unexpected Worksheet -with cut out pics-Grades K-5
Manners are more than just saying “please” and “thank you.” Teaching kids manners is similar to teaching them expected behaviors. It’s about learning what is the correct way to interact with others in their environment. It’s important when teaching manners to stress that good manners will lead to positive outcomes, such as making friends, feeling happy, and making their parents and teacher proud. In this video above, you can teach kids about manners through an easy game. For more ideas on activities for teaching manners, click HERE.
Children will have trouble controlling their emotions if they cannot name and identify what they are feeling at any given time. Knowing when you are feeling sad, frustrated, or angry is the first step towards using a strategy to manage those big emotions.
In addition, understanding what emotions look and feel like in themselves can also help kids to improve their ability to have empathy for others. This will take time, but that is why counseling is a process, and not a quick fix unfortunately.
Here are some tools to help kids learn, identify, and start to manage their emotions:
Ahh Empathy. I teach empathy to a lot of my counseling students and have made many games, videos, and worksheets to support this learning. It is important to teach kids about empathy because it can help them to be less self-focused on their needs. It also helps them to reduce behaviors by teaching them to think about how others’ feel and how they would feel in a similar situation. I use empathy lessons a lot with aggressive students, so that they can better think about how their friends, teacher, and classmates are just like them.
Fun and easy activities that you can also use for teaching kids EMPATHY:
Teaching Emotional Regulation Skills
This is the main event! The main focus for many of your SEL or Counseling lessons for students with behaviors should be on how to regulate emotions, use tools and strategies to calm down, and communicate their needs positively. This means teaching them to “use their words”, such as “can you help me please” when frustrated. It also means figuring out with your student when calming strategies work best for them.
Sorry, but not all kids will enjoy or want to do breathing exercises. Some may need a walk, while others kids will prefer to color, read, or blow bubbles. It depends on the child, their developmental age, their preferences, and their cognitive ability.
When working with students with behaviors and poor emotional regulation, I like to use a variety of tools that they can use in the classroom. These tools may include a social story, motivational quote, anger thermometer, or list (with pictures) of calming strategies. Having a physical tool available gives them an easy and visual reminder of what to do when they are aware of their own emotional distress. It may give them strategies that they can then let their teacher know they need to use. Wouldn’t that be great if they colored a picture for 5 minutes instead of throwing their book at someone? My vote is YES!
Here are some activities and tools that you can use with your students to improve Emotional Regulation:
If you would like a HUGE discount on these activities and more…
Please check out my Counseling Activities Books for School Psychologists and Counselors! They are full of games, worksheets, forms, and other activities for counseling Elementary and Middle School students.