People often ask me when I come into their schools to work with their students, how I can get a student to do what I request in such a short period of time, aside from engaging them through my love of video games and tech which gives me a leg up to begin with.
I believe that everybody can do this. I don’t think I’m special or that I have some innate ability to charm kids with behavioural challenges. What I do have is infinite patience. When they look at me, all they see is complete acceptance of where they are in the moment, that I have no agenda other than my unwavering faith that they can be successful, and that I am there to support them. They can trust me. I don’t feel the need to control them, only to support them in a way that allows them to be successful and meets their needs in that moment. This mindset makes it easier for me to build relationships with hard to reach children. Trust, respect, freedom to choose and love, these are the ingredients to successfully building relationships with challenging social-emotional children.
Once you’ve built a relationship of trust you can then move forward to begin adding demands, the mistake people make is expecting those demands to be met when there is no or little relationship or basis of trust. No reason for the child to respect the person enough to acquiescent to the demand. These are kids that have very little trust or respect for adults typically, for a reason, especially those in authoritative positions so creating that environment of trust is the only way to reach them.
These are most often kids that lack control in their outer world. Typically, they are in difficult situations outside of school, so they attempt to harness the chaos of their lives through gaining control wherever they feel they can. They don’t like or trust adults and have little use for school. On the flipside, occasionally but rarely, you may see kids that have too much control at home, which they are unprepared for and not emotionally equipped to deal with. This creates entitlement somewhere else. Either situation is just as disastrous for the child in its own way and creates extremely challenging problems in the classroom. These children will do anything they can to gain control and school is an easy place to do that, as our ability to handle serious altercations and infractions is much more limited than that of parents or families.
We have to be creative. We can’t just fall back on punitive measures, which along with being ineffective, stifle and slow growth. We have to become collaborative and supportive leaders. We have to believe that no child is left behind and we can help all to be successful to whatever level they can reach at this point in their lives. We can show them a better way and that not all adults, leaders, authoritative figures are the same.
Am I successful every day or all of the time? No. Are there setbacks? Yes. Have a read through the Solving Behaviour website section on self-sabotage. Do I expect to be successful every single day, every single minute? No. I would not do that to myself, or the child but I believe that every day will bring improvement and that the future has much to offer. I believe that if the only thing gained in that school year is that the child has discovered that he or she is safe at school and that there are adults to respect, then something amazing has been created and the next year will begin in different mindset for the child.
Here’s a story - a great example of the power of relationship. I have many but to me this one speaks the truth of the ingredients required to build trust. I was working in a special setting for severe behaviour for a period of time. One of our oldest students was going through a very difficult time outside of school and as is most often the case, it spilled inside. This child lost control and destroyed materials and damaged the school, attacked some staff and created havoc until the police had to be called. He was removed to “stabilization”. Once he was gone we had a good look over the damage and found that he only room, the only area and the only materials not destroyed were mine. When he returned for the intake to come back to school, he was asked why he did not touch my things. His response was profound.
“Why would I wreck her stuff? She’s a lover not a hater.”
So how do we build a relationship with a child who has no reason to trust us, feels no connection to school and has little use for it? This relationship can be with the teacher or a support staff who is going to be in the classroom or even admin. The strongest relationship should be, however, with the person who has the most time to spend with the child, that being said, it is imperative that the teacher builds a very profound relationship with the child as well. This can be a tough position for a teacher as there’s a little time in the day between student capacity, lesson planning and all the other things that go along with teaching but the pain at the beginning, the time crunch at the beginning, will be worth it and pay off tenfold by the end of the year.
The steps are simple really:
Get to know them - what do they love, fear and their background
Gain an understanding of where they are, who they are and where they come from - what is holding them back - is there abuse, abandonment, death, sickness, diagnosis, mental health
Have compassion and empathy
Collaboration - become a team - work together - respect gains respect Positive reinforcement - create plans to increase student investment
Create outs - body breaks, calm areas, places to work alone or with support away from the classroom - these kids need that
Offer jobs (assisting in younger grades is a great one) and opportunities to belong build character and feel valued
Break down tasks into smaller steps with breaks
Make sure that the task meets the child’s capabilities including emotional
Offering choice - do this or that - this much or that much
Create some one-to-one time out of class
Have a check in person - someone that child enjoys and sees before entering the classroom mornings and after lunch to gage where they are at and what is needed (have they eaten, mindset, emotions, problems, bus ride, weekend) Monday’s especially!
Once you have built the relationship offer soft demands at first, increasing as the relationship does and the child is ready.
Make sure to build a strong relationship with at least three people in your building, whenever possible, so that when someone is away catastrophe doesn’t happen. Remember that this child’s behaviours in the classroom affect all students and it is can be just as healthy for them when the “behaviour” child takes a break outside of class as for the child.
Many schools get hung up on the need for “all students to be in the classroom with the teacher at all times”. This is great for most kids but for social-emotional behaviours it is most often not effective or the best strategy for that child or classroom. Most children, especially these guys, love “pull out” time. They love one to one attention, especially those who do not get it at home. It benefits everyone including the teacher who may be stressed by the environment.
Make sure to create a caring classroom. Have class meetings. Allow students to discuss how they are feeling. Have meetings when the child is pulled out so you can gage how other students are being affected. Read stories which discuss self-regulation, anxiety, and mental health. Have open discussions.
So in the end what is my goal in building relationships? It is simple. If I can help this child navigate the days in a safe way that is successful for him or her, less disruptive for others, then I have done my job and I have made a difference for that child. We can’t expect any more of them or ourselves or of them.
Read over the Solving Behaviour website on positive reinforcement, classroom management, self-sabotage, calming areas, collaboration, creating a grateful classroom and anything else you feel will be supportive.