Does this sound familiar… I’ve had a few conversations with teachers this week about children in their class who are producing very little or no work. There may be several possible reasons for this behaviour including children being worried about making mistakes and getting things wrong.
If if a child doesn’t actually put anything on the paper then they can’t be told off for getting it wrong or making a mistake. This behaviour can be perceived as being lazy or not bothered. However, it may also due to anxiety. We are only two weeks in to the new school year and children are having to adjust to being back at school, being in a different class and in the majority of cases with a new teacher. For some children managing all this can be incredibly difficult and cause high levels of anxiety. They are still getting to know your expectations and how you respond to certain situations including what will happen if they get something wrong or make a mistake.
If you have a child in your class who appears to be avoiding starting working or is not producing much work it may be useful to acknowledge this by talking to the whole class and saying “We are still getting to know each other and this can feel hard because you may not know what to expect from me. Some children may be worried about what I will do if they get something wrong or make a mistake but everyone makes mistakes and gets things wrong sometimes I make mistakes and have to do things again and but that’s how we learn” .
It can also be helpful to share a story of a mistake you made, how you felt and what you did. This not only provides permission but also models perseverance.
This week in school involves a transition morning or day for many children. I posted this article a year ago about transition and have added some new strategies for you to try this week.
Some children find any change extremely difficult as it can evoke feelings of loss, anxiety and uncertainty. It is useful therefore that children’s transitions to new classes are managed with patience and understanding. For a child who has experienced many changes and uncertainty in their life outside of school, the transition to a new class and new teacher can be overwhelming. Children have to adapt to a new relationship, maybe a different way of working and a new class room environment, all at the end of spending six weeks away from school. The move from nursery to reception and from reception to year one is enormous for young children and can create many anxieties. It is beneficial if children are given plenty of notice about this and if there can be several visits to their new class and opportunities to spend time with their new teacher. The more time that can be allocated to this before the summer holiday, the easier the transition and settling in process will be on their return to school.
Staff strategy – helping with transition
Teachers who will be having the class after the summer break can send each child a card over the holiday acknowledging they are looking forward to seeing them back at school and having them in their class.
I suggested the above activity to some foundation staff a few years ago and although it can feel like yet another thing to do at the end of the school year, they have all found it makes an enormous difference in helping the children to remember them and adjust to being back. The staff are now committed to doing it each year. Many of the children make reference to it and it can help the parents to keep the memory of school alive for them during the long break.
Some new suggestions for you to try:
Talk to your class and encourage them to identify and discuss any significant differences e.g. different playground, different break or lunchtime or furniture being in different places. Discuss how change can be difficult and talking about it can help.
Encourage each child to make a list of adults in school they can talk to and approach for help if they need it. This is particularly important for children moving from key stage 1 to key stage 2, as they may no be as familiar with the staff. Ensure each child has at least two people on their list. Keep the lists and explain that you will give them out to the on the first day back in September. This really helps children who feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to think about who they can talk to.
Reflective language to try:
“Maybe you feel worried about coming to your new class because you don’t know me, but we will spend time together in September and you will get to know me.”
“Sometimes it can feel really hard when we have to leave a teacher that we know really well and go to a new classroom and start getting to know a teacher again”.
The following is an extract from one of the chapters in my Making a Difference Guide. The invisible children in our schools sometimes get overlooked and yet can need our attention as much as some of the more demanding children we work with…
For this half term we are going to be focusing on and thinking about the children who are sometimes less visible in our class. These children are desperate not to be seen and will use many different ways to ensure they achieve this. These children have learnt to be wary of adult relationships and they will try to avoid interactions with adults. They are often overlooked as their behaviour tends to be more internalised than externalised.
• Their aim is not to be noticed • Quiet and withdrawn, fear of failure • Don’t trust others to meet their needs • Self-reliant and independent, especially for their age • Reluctant to ask for help when they need it • Distress is hidden or denied • Can appear to be ok and settled most of the time • Fear intimacy and emotional connection with people • Resist help from adults but lacks confidence in their own ability • May appear indifferent to new situations
How children may present
These children are not usually a problem to have in class and they can go under the radar as they may present as quiet and withdrawn. They can appear to be uncaring and may find it hard to show any emotion. Their facial expression may remain the same throughout the day as the events and circumstances around them change. For example, a child who shows no remorse when they have hurt another child and appears to have little or no understanding of other people’s feelings. It can be very difficult for a child to understand other people’s feelings if they have little or no understanding of their own. A child who finds it hard to show feelings may also have learnt to bury their physical pain along with their emotional discomfort. They may have learnt that no matter how much something hurts it is not safe to make a fuss or ask for help….
Here are a couple of the strategies suggested in the book that you might want to try with children like this:
Comment on and acknowledge the work they are doing, e.g. ‘You are working really hard on your maths today.’
Let them lead the relationship and approach adults when they need to.
Remind them you can help them if they need it; offer them the opportunity to indicate they need help without actually using words, e.g. ‘It can be hard to ask for help, if you put your hand up I will know that you need help and come over to you straight away’.
We all need to feel seen, heard, valued and understood. Sadly for some of our children this may not always happen on a regular basis at home, resulting in them showing us through their behaviour at school that this is what they need. The child that we often refer to as an attention seeking is actually attention needing. We can help the child and make our lives much easier by giving the child some of the attention they badly need through simple strategies.
“I can see you really want some help with that, and I know it’s hard to wait, but I will come over to you after I have finished doing this”
“I can see you are finding it really hard to sit still, I’m wondering if it would help if you sat nearer me”
“I can see by your face you are disappointed I didn’t choose you to answer but well done for putting your hand up and having a go”
Strategies like this are very effective at helping children to practice self regulation and impulse control by giving them the sense that their needs have been recognised and that they are being seen and heard.
I have been really aware this week that there is a lot of uncertainty and change in routine In schools. One minute children are in class doing numeracy the next they are in the hall practising their performance. In the schools I’ve been working in teachers are having lesson observations and writing reports. It is also the time of year when children start wondering who their next teacher will be and teachers may also be wondering which year group and class they will have in September. All of this can create lots of stress and anxiety for school staff and children, especially those who may live with lots of change and uncertainty in their lives outside of school.
It can really help if all of this can be acknowledged to children. School staff can do this by acknowledging, describing and naming potential feelings. For example, saying something like “we are going to be having lots of changes at school today and this can feel difficult and may feel scary”. It can help to share with the children exactly what is going to be happening during each day and identifying anything that is different from the usual routine. For example “normally after break we do literacy but today after break we are going to the hall to practice our performance. It can feel really hard when things keep changing all the time, so I am going to make sure that I always tell you when we will be doing something different.” Ensure you do this frequently throughout the day as many children, particularly those who have experienced trauma will not be able to retain this information. This can create more anxiety for them. For example “normally after break we do literacy but today after break we are going to the hall to practice our performance. It can feel really hard when things keep changing all the time, so I am going to make sure that I always tell you when we will be doing something different.”
You may have children in your class who are finding the change of routine difficult, have perhaps become more unsettled or their behaviour has changed in other ways. They may be trying to tell you that they are struggling with this, try some of the suggested examples to see if it helps.
Here are a couple more suggestions:
“Sometimes when we are doing lots of different things in our day it can make us feel more tired.”
“Sometimes doing our performance can make us feel scared and anxious. It can be frightening doing something new.”
I’ve developed a free online video resource which introduces reflective language, a simple and effective behaviour management tool that supports children’s emotional well-being. This is a technique I teach staff on a daily basis and which has had a big impact in the schools I work in. By watching the video you will learn:
I wrote my Making a Difference Guide to try and provide easy solutions to help school staff enhance children’s well-being and support their behaviour. I’ve made a short video discussing how you might use it in your own work, along with colleagues and to provide evidence.
Jake age 9 was a quiet child who was often disengaged and would stare out of the window for long periods of time. His class teacher had moved him away from the window but this didn’t improve his attention span, instead he just stared into space. She knew the work was appropriate for his level and was unsure what to do.
I suggested she tried using reflective language “I can see you looking out of the window, I wonder if you are unsure how to start, perhaps it would help if I explained it again” and also with the whole class “It can be hard to ask for help but we all need help sometimes” I also suggested she consider sharing a story of times that she has had to ask for help.
This approach helped Jake and will help others like him who are often quiet, withdrawn and may not offer information in class. For these children, the fear and uncertainty of starting a piece of work can be overwhelming and they often just need the support of an adult to get them started
Simple strategies like these can make a big difference to the children we work with. For more examples see my new book Making a Difference.
My Making a Difference guide is now available for purchase online. Based on many conversations with school staff over the last few years it is a resource to support staff in understanding and supporting children with their behaviour and emotional well-being. It has been designed to provide you with easy to implement tips and strategies that have been proven to be effective and an opportunity to record the strategies that work for you.
I’ve made a short video showing you the book and telling you a bit more about it. You can also read more about it here.
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