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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, November 30 2020

Communicating with Difficult Kids in Difficult Times

In a recent Newsletter Personal Action in the Time of Crisis (7th September 2020) I outlined actions that should be taken to navigate this difficult time.  In this Newsletter I want to focus more closely on the direct communication between the teacher and the student.  This is the personal point of connection and influences what happens next. 

In the first instance you need to check your own emotional state.  It takes a special talent to withstand the force of a child’s aggressive attack when they don’t get what they want.  You need to be aware you will be vulnerable so:

  • Check your own emotional condition.  You may already be stressed from the day to day demands of the classroom
  • Calm yourself down and check you have your boundaries in place

(see Newsletters Boundary Considerations - 22nd October 2018 and Respecting Other’s Boundaries - 26th November 2018 for detailed descriptions of boundaries)

You need to remember that you are the leader in the classroom, you are the only adult and you are qualified to do this work – everyone else is a child doing the best they can at this time.  You need to act professionally, that is you have to control the situation to ensure everyone is safe and you can get on with teaching. 

The child who is acting ‘out of control’ will not be waiting to hear what you have to say but you do need to be heard.  You need to get their attention in the appropriate manner, you need to portray authority.  In the first instance your posture will be important:

  • Hold yourself in an upright, confident position, hold your hands on a non-threatening but non-submissive manner. but contained in your space.  Don’t lean towards the student, that suggests aggression or away that indicates capitulation.
  • Hold a steady gaze on the student.   Don’t glare aggressively nor avoid eye contact which can be seen as a weakness) and be sensitive to cultural differences regarding eye contact.  Be guided by how they react.  When you are speaking you should maintain contact about 70% of the time.  This indicates that what you are saying is for them.  The same should happen if they do reply to your communication.  However, a good rule of thumb is about five seconds.

Once you have regained control (see Newsletters Dealing with the Exploding Kid – 7th September 2020 and The Crisis Response – 14th September 2020) you need inform the student:

  • Why their behaviour is an issue, this should relate to the needs of themselves and all others.
  • What are the consequences, on one scale the behaviour may violate the classroom rules and consequences should be clear however, the consequence might be more individualised, it may be that you need to explain how their behaviour impacts on other’s well-being.  This is a time to use:
    • ‘When you’ …  this is when you describe their behaviour
    • ‘I feel’ … tell them how their behaviour affects you and the other student
    • ‘Because’ … let them know why it has that affect

These steps are fitting if the student has regained some self-restraint.  If the situation is still unresolved and you have to get the message to the child then use:

  • ‘If you’ … describe the behaviour(s) that will get them into trouble
  • ‘I will’ … indicate the consequences that will definitely follow that behaviour

These are the steps that usually take place in the classroom and they should be taken with a 100% refusal to accept the inappropriate behaviour but most importantly a 100% acceptance of the value of the child.  However, you can be sure the child will find it difficult to make the same differentiation between what they did and how they think you feel about them and you don’t take their anger personally.  You need to take further steps to maintain the relationship.  It is a tactic to have them stay back at the end of the lesson.

It is essential you give them a chance to explain their behaviour.  You need to really listen to them, let them know you’re listening in a non-aggressive manner:

  • Let them tell their story without interruption.  Make sure you really understand the issue and that they know you do.  You can do this by making a summary of their main points and repeat this back to them.  If they disagree on your interpretation seek clarification of what them mean.  If possible, you need to reach an agreed understanding of the dispute.
  • Validate their emotions, you understand they are angry but explain that the anger may have triggered the behaviour it will not avert the consequence.
  • Take the complaint seriously.

You will get better at communicating at these difficult times if you follow these steps however, there are many mistakes you can avoid.  The following are some of the traps you can fall into:

  • Don’t interrupt them as they are explaining their behaviour, they will only start again
  • Don’t jump to conclusions, really listen to them.
  • Don’t make excuses for what you have done.  Your actions should deal exclusively with the behaviour.
  • Never use sarcasm or communicate from a position of ‘authority’, that is you are both equal in examining the situation but you do have different responsibilities.
  • Never fail to follow up if you have committed to do that.  If at the end of this conversation you agree about what will happen in the future make sure it does happen.  Your integrity is always being tested particularly in these cases.


Changes in behaviour for these kids takes time but it is these moments that combine to provide the pathway to a more successful way of behaving at school.

Posted by: AT 07:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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