On this blog post, you will find additional language-based strategies that school-based staff can use to cope with negative feelings and self-defeating thoughts when things get out of hand with a hard to handle student. With minimal variations, parents and caregivers can apply these strategies to handle children having difficulty complying with rules.
1. Focus on a personal goal so that you shift your attention from where you have been to where you intend to go; in other words, shifting from a past-oriented focus or negative view to a future-oriented focus or more positive view.
2. Create mini-goals (shorter and easier to do) branching from your bigger goal so that you move, incrementally and in more manageable terms, from where you feel you are placed in the present to where you aspire to be placed in the future. You can create a timeline such as: in two weeks, in four weeks, in three months, in six months, and finally, by the end of the academic year.
3. Change your approach from problem-focused or what is wrong with the situation to solution-focused or what you can do to improve the situation; for example, listing things you can do to improve a strained teacher-student interaction. With a problem-focused approach, we are mostly labeling children (e.g. oppositional, messy-sloppy, or disruptive); a solution-focused approach, on the other hand, focuses us (as in the teacher with the student) on processes (i.e. strategies, steps and procedures).
4. Put any conflictive teacher-student interaction in the past using the past tense of verbs (e.g. argued, blamed, or overreacted). Always talk about strained interactions with students and disruptive behaviors as something happening in the past, even when it took place five minutes earlier.
5. Use temporal language using words and phrases such as someday, soon, in the future, and sooner or later. For example, you can say, “Someday, when I no longer feel angry…” Or, “In a near future, when all hurt feelings are healed…”
6. Decontaminate your language from flawed presuppositions (i.e. those presuppositions that are a constant reminder of how bad the situation feels to you); use more presuppositions of positive change instead. In the first phrase above (“Someday, when I no longer feel angry…”), we are already making a powerful presupposition of change: angry feelings are temporary; they simply don’t last forever. In the second phrase (“In a near future, when all hurt feelings are healed…”), we are presupposing that more positive and optimistic feelings are around the corner for everyone involved in the situation, including the teacher.
7. Redefine disruptive behaviors from “disruptive student” to “disruptive behavior.” Similarly, change from “this child is a behavior problem” to “this child has a behavior problem.” This important reframing of the situation will help you steer clear from blaming and labeling children. Most importantly, blaming the child’s behavior or his/her actions instead of blaming his/her character or identity takes us closer to problem-solving, helping us identify those specific steps that the child can follow to “fix” the problem behavior. Always keep in mind that behavior can be fixed more easily and way faster than character or identity.
8. Use strategic language: People don’t fail; strategies fail. This is as valid for teachers as well as for students; using strategic language keeps everybody focused on strategies and procedures, instead of getting stuck on blaming each other and feeling resentful. Strategies, techniques, and procedures we all need; blame and guilt, we do not. If what you are doing presently is not improving the conflict or problem behavior, just change it and start doing something different. Stop wasting your valuable time on ineffective strategies or procedures.
9. “Clean” your body behavior of any negative body language that you may be projecting (e.g. head down, slouched posture, sighing, clenched fists, etc).
10. Defuse angry and hostile feelings by labeling angry feelings in a less intense way; for example, “I feel annoyed,” “I feel irritated,” “I feel mortified,” or “I feel frustrated with this situation.” You can use a similar approach to defuse children’s anger; for example, telling a distraught child, “You feel frustrated with this situation” or “Your feelings were hurt” rather than constantly criticizing the child for his/her negative feelings and acting-out behaviors.
11. Change permanent language such as “always-never” (e.g. “I always get this wrong” or “I will never get this right”) to temporary language such as “sometimes” or “occasionally.” For example, saying instead, “Occasionally, I get this wrong” and “Sometimes, I overreact, and then is harder for me to listen empathetically to what this child has to say.”
Watch Your Language! Ways of Talking and Interacting with Students that Crack the Behavior Code- To preview this book on Amazon.com, click here.
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