Teaching Positive Behavior Skills in the Special Ed Classroom
Today’s students are under more stress than ever. They’re striving for academic success, compete in multiple sports, and are often dealing with dysfunctional family situations. They’re also bombarded with the “need” for material things through advertising and peer pressure daily, as well as being confronted with life-altering decisions concerning drug and alcohol use. Combine all of these together in child’s life who also has special needs, emotions can unravel quickly.
Society expects these young people, regardless of having austism of learning differences, to grow up sooner rather than later. They are often left without being equipped with emotional tools to handle the pressure or meet its own expectations. All of this stress can send emotions spiraling out of control.
Fortunately, most teachers are in a position to help kids learn the lifelong, necessary skills they need to deal with emotions in a positive way. That’s because these days it’s the teachers who often spend the most focused time with today’s children. In the special education classroom, providing positive behavior and emotional tools and being able to reinforce them daily in a group can help both the teacher and the student.
What follows are some suggestions on how the teacher can make a positive difference by influencing and shaping young lives in an inclusive or special ed classroom. As well, parents who are looking for healthy alternatives or strategies to work with their child to develop coping tools can use these ideas at home.
1. Help students recognize, acknowledge, and label their emotions. Helping students to identify and understand what and how they’re feeling will enable them to deal with their emotions in a positive way. Provide emotional vocabulary for students to use. Make it a practice in conversation to reiterate what you’re hearing from students. This will let them know their feelings are both acceptable and understood.
2. Provide a safe environment for sharing emotions. Make it a policy in your classroom to take time out to address issues as they arise. Never demean or belittle a student for expressing his/her emotions, and expect all people involved to show the same respect. Let it be known that you will truly listen to students with a non-judging ear. Help them connect with other responsible adults (counselors, mentors, etc.) in accordance with time constraints.
3. Remind students that they’re not alone in their feelings. Most students feel uncomfortable with their emotions because they’ve never been encouraged to share them. Help them understand that all people sometimes feel angry, sad, hurt, embarrassed, frustrated, and depressed. Share some personal experiences to put students at ease.
4. Remind students that their present feelings will not last forever. Often, people struggling with their emotions will experience a sense of despair because they fear that a situation will never improve. Help students understand that things will get better, feelings will change, and their focus will shift. Share your own experiences to show that time truly does heal wounds, and to make embarrassing situations seem less important.
5. Provide opportunities for students to work through their emotions. Many people ignore emotions in hopes that they will disappear. It’s important to teach students that ignoring emotions may create more serious problems. Feelings do not change because they’re ignored. In fact, often they become stronger and more difficult to manage as they compound. Teach students that the only way to grow emotionally is to face feelings head-on, and work through the pain.
6. Help students find positive ways to express anger or hurt. Numerous students feel better after talking to a caring person. Others benefit from expressing their feelings through art, role-play, music, or appropriate physical activity. Provide opportunities for students to try different methods of emotional expression.
7. Train students in and provide opportunities for peer counseling. Acknowledge that many students don’t trust adults to hear or understand their problems. Adopt a program in your classroom or school that provides training for students in peer counseling. Encourage different kinds of students to participate in this program, explaining that all people have varying ideas, perspectives, and needs. The school environment can provide a wonderful arena for embracing differences and meeting the needs of individuals.
For more ideas on providing a positive outlet for emotions in the special ed or inclusive class or at home, especially in reference to anger management, check out the Bugg Books series, Choosing My Behavior, and Real-World Social Skills.
The Bugg Books series is written in an entertaining format with charming illustrations for early elementary students. Each short story teaches character education and the consequences of bad behavior.
Choosing My Behavior is a great curriculum for older elementary students with many activities, role-play opportunities, and a board game to make learning positive behavior skills fun.
Real-World Social Skills game and curriculum is geared for middle school students. It focuses on every day social situations and issues students encounter at school and at home. Activities include discussion starters and interactive simulations to help them understand appropriate and alternative skills to handle a variety of real world situations.
“If we are to reach real peace in this world . . . we shall have to begin with the children.” — Mahatma Gandhi, non-violent civil rights leader (1869-1948)
Authored by Rachel Kaspar