In schools, psycho-education is a classroom behavior management method that aims at training teachers and students about children's emotional and behavioral problems. Psycho-educational teachers believe that social-emotional growth happens when children understand the role that emotions play in their school difficulties. Psycho-educational theory and methods include cognitive (thinking), affective (feelings), and behavior aspects.
On this blog post, we discuss a basic
child guidance intervention: telling a child that his or her behavior is
troublesome. The key for any teacher here is to approach the topic in such a
sensitive and empathic way so that we get the positive outcome that we are
hoping for without intensifying the problem behavior, or even worse, triggering
a teacher-student power struggle. Approaching and talking with a habitually
disruptive student so that the child does not push us away and becomes
receptive to what we have to say is a high-level child guidance skill that
requires much more than one blog post. However, there are initial changes in
the way teachers interact and talk to children that can influence positively
the way students respond to us, and those little
changes thatmake a big difference
are our focus next.
How Not To Talk to the Child
These are probably the two most
important things that teachers need to keep in balance when managing a
habitually disruptive child: being too
passive and being too aggressive.
When we are too passive, we keep our discomfort to ourselves, accumulating
inner anger and resentment that ultimately does more harm than good. A teacher
that is too passive may feel overwhelmed with the situation and perceives the
student as the person “in charge,” which is the fastest way for any teacher to
start feeling hopeless and to start accumulating self-doubts about own ability
in changing the problem behavior. When the teacher is too aggressive, on the
other hand, the same hidden resentment and frustration that overwhelm a passive
teacher now turn into angry outbursts that escalate into nasty verbal exchanges
and interactions with the child. For an aggressive teacher, the disruptive
child is “the enemy,” and, in “the battlefront” (classroom), the best line of
defense is to defeat the enemy. Hostile teacher-student exchanges increase the
possibility of the child counter-attacking (e.g., yelling, screaming, kicking,
cursing, and/or acting-out), damaging the therapeutic goal of developing a
positive relationship with the student. Too passive or too aggressive, either
kind of reaction from a teacher is mainly revealing frustration, low
self-confidence, and low self-efficacy skills in managing children’s
challenging behavior. The right balance to find is what I like to call the goldilocks approach, that is, “not too
little neither too much, but just the right amount of each.” We find this right
balance when we manage students’ difficult behaviors both assertively and
constructively, that is, using the assertiveapproach.
Assertive communication means that we
are able to stand up for our personal rights without violating the rights of
the student. When we use assertive language, we express our thoughts and
feelings in both a direct and honest way, and, because we are taking into
consideration the child’s rights and feelings, we articulate our position
without trying to dominate the child, much less trying to humiliate the child.
Assertive interactions are less likely to trigger an angry or a defensive reaction
in children. We can say that assertive teachers resemble therapeutic teachers
in the sense that they share the long-term communication goals ofhelping children understand own behavior, and of
learning effective coping skills. This is the exact opposite of trying to
control and/or to “get back” at the child.Both assertive and therapeutic teachers convey an atmosphere of respect
and acceptance when talking with students about their behaviors, resulting in
higher compliance from children. I like to see assertive teachers as a starting
level in becoming a therapeutic teacher; once an assertive teacher moves into
the realm of connecting and communicating with the child, the
teacher upgrades her/his assertive skills into more in-depth therapeutic or
child guidance skills.
The Assertive Self-Focus
Key in talking in a direct and
assertive way is using a self-focus (I)
rather than the otherperson focus (you). When we use a
self-focus, we concentrate on stating our own feelings and needs by means of
‘I’ statements, also known as Gordon
I-Messages for psychologist Gordon Allport. Some examples of ‘I’ messages
Lucy, I lose my concentration when
you leave your seat without permission.
I do not like when I am cursed.
I must admit that I felt disappointed
when I heard you cursing.
I really feel annoyed about this.
As we can see, on an ‘I’ message the focus stays on us, more
specifically, what we feel or want.
Sentence stems for ‘I’ messages would be “I like _____,” “I do not like _____,”
“I feel _____,” “I do not feel _____,” “I want _____,” and “I do not want
_____.” Self-focus is one part of our
assertive message; once we concentrate on stating
our own feelings and needs, the next step is to identify in a descriptive and no blameful way the behavior that is causing the problem. For
example, saying, “Gregory, when you do not pick up the art supplies it makes a
mess on the floor.” The effect of the behavior on you follows, for example, “A
messy floor means more work for me to clean up, and we are not going to find
our art materials the next time we need them.” The “grand finale” in our
assertive message would be to describe our feelings (or needs) about the
problem. For example, saying, “I am really feeling annoyed about this.” When we
talk assertively, it is easier to stay away from “you” messages aimed at
finding fault in the child (e.g., “You should be ashamed of yourself for being
so careless”) or threatening the child (e.g., “You’ll be sorry if you keep this
up”). The goal of our assertive message is to tell the student thespecific
reason for usfeeling the way we are
feeling. For example, saying, “When I have to deal with unnecessary
interruptions, I cannot finish what I want to teach the class. I feel
frustrated when I cannot complete my lesson.”
If you are planning on having a
longer conversation with the student, a word of advice would be for you to know your message; simply put, it is
important that you identify what exactly you want to communicate to this
particular child. If you need to write a list with bullets or to outline your
main talking points before saying anything to the child, then go ahead and
outline the most important points. This writing exercise is also helpful in
identifying those words and phrases with negative connotation, so that you
replace hopeless and negative language with encouraging and positive language.
A second exercise that you can do before addressing the student is looking at
your reflection in an imaginary mirror and saying, “This is how I feel about this behavior.” What you see and hear in
the self-reflection mirror is what
the child is going to see and hear later on. If you do not like what the imaginary
mirror reflects back that is an indication of the need to modify your body
language and/or your words. Keep in mind that, on most occasions, we need to
talk with the child several times before seeing significant and enduring
changes in the habitually disruptive behavior, so be consistent in your message,
communicate positive expectations to the child, and always hope for the best.
More Suggestions for Delivering an
1. Make sure that the tone of your voice
is firm but never hostile, scornful or sarcastic.
2. Make sure that you address a specific behavior that the student can
do something about it, for example, a messy desk or cursing. Avoid messages
directed at the child’s character (e.g., sloppiness).
3. Make one reference at a time and talk
about one specific thing. Do not
overwhelm or confuse the child with too much information or explanations.
4. Always reinforce the child’s
compliance with your appreciation (e.g., a smile and a “thank you”).
Related to this Blog Post:
Interpersonal Communication in the
Classroom: How to Talk so that Your Difficult to Handle Student Listens