In our previous Newsletter we spoke about addictive dysfunctional behaviours that children and adults use to protect themselves from attacks on their sense of self. If you have followed these Newsletters you understand that stress is the result of finding our self in a state of homeostatic disequilibrium, that is we feel uncomfortable. Of course this occurs when we are threatened from outside forces but it also occurs when we are denied access to our immediate community. The sense of personal rejection is the motivation for so much of our behaviour and the following describe just how this rejection can be manifested in our classrooms. For children from abused backgrounds they are likely to find themselves excluded and their dysfunctional reaction will have unwanted long term consequences.
The Austrian psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs presented a model of how children react to a feeling of not belonging in a classroom. Dreikurs suggested that when a child feels ostracised they would act in four different ways to rectify this. Although not stated these styles of behaviour escalate from attention seeking to a challenge of power, then on to seeking revenge and finally withdrawal or avoidance.
When children feel left out they behave in such a way as to draw attention to themselves. This is not a problem if the behaviour is functional but for children who lack the training in ‘level-headed’ behaviour their techniques range from showing-off, the class clown, being forgetful, tapping pencils, the list well known to all teachers goes on and on. These children do attract your attention but for the wrong reasons and you become annoyed and irritated.
With these kids never acknowledge low-level inappropriate behaviour by referring to it, don’t validate it, don’t nag or appeal to them because this conveys the message you did notice and that is their goal. Attempt to redirect the child by refocusing on the task at hand. Eventually you may have to deliver consequences for this behaviour.
But remember the purpose is to seek your attention and whenever it is appropriate give them lots of praise and attention. Attention seeking is a low level attempt by the student to gain attention and is relatively easy to recognise and provide.
These children react to their rejection by challenging your own boundaries. They will argue, sulk, refuse to comply and sneer at others. When pushed they will throw tantrums anything to challenge you to place them ‘at a disadvantage’.
These children react to their rejection by challenging you.
The effect on you is to feel threatened, angry and powerless. You get a sense of inadequacy and can become defeated.
If you understand the strategy being used by these children you can deal with them by refusing to get trapped in their power struggle. Just remain calm and deliver the consequences for their behaviour avoiding making comments about their personality. Remember these kids still crave recognition so catch their good behaviours and praise their positive qualities. Acknowledge their worth.
These children will try to hurt you as a payback for their perceived rejection of them. They appear sullen, vicious, and violent, they destroy property, trash or scratch cars or other public buildings. They will insult you personally, etc. but do this without the need for you to know that it was they who did it. They have almost given up on being accepted and now want to tear down the community that has rejected them.
You will feel under threat and their behaviour will evoke feelings of outrage or wounded and it is easy to develop a dislike for these children. In a perverse sense they have your attention.
Remain calm and don’t react in a way that lets them know they have hurt you. Explain the consequences of their behaviour and deliver them without emotion. Although challenging, try to hang in with these students, try to convince them of their worth. This is not so hard to do when you understand the motivation of this behaviour.
These children appear not to care. They will deliberately fail or make no effort to finish work despite your encouragement. They are often absent from school and when they do attend they do not bring their equipment. They appear withdrawn, ‘dead’, making no effort. They answer the teacher’s encouragement with ‘don’t know’, ‘don’t care’ their behaviour frustrates the teacher leaving them with feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness and a failure. This can lead to making you feel like giving up on these students.
When you challenge them they will not take responsibility for their actions.
These are the most difficult kids to salvage but can still be reached. When confronted with these behaviours ignore their failures. Set easy or errorless learning tasks. Don’t judge or criticise them and hang in with them longer then they or anyone else expects you to.
When confronted with these kids remember they are using dysfunctional behaviours to meet valid needs. Act to provide that sense of belonging through praising any appropriate efforts and never forget the power of inclusion in ‘group work’ with other students.
These kids will provide you with a significant challenge but knowing how to deal with them is what distinguishes professional teachers from others.