Positive ways to respond to behaviour

Children do not want negative comments or attention for challenging behaviour, but some children may have learnt that any attention is better than no attention and therefore may evoke negative reactions from adults. Children who seek attention in the form of disapproval because they believe they will not gain attention in the form of approval may be showing us they have low self-esteem and may believe that other people are unable to see the good in them. For example, a child that constantly calls out in class may be doing this behaviour to ensure that they stay noticed. It is a guaranteed way of ensuring that they receive attention and are remembered. This may tell us about the child’s experiences outside of school, why do they need to ensure that they are noticed and remembered at school? Do they have a different experience at home? When children are happy and settled they do not need to ensure that adults notice and remember them, if they do this it is an indication that they need additional help and support.

It can be hard for some children to tolerate their feelings and this can result in them trying to get rid of them rather than accepting and trying to understand and process them. For example, a child who is unable to manage feeling angry may hit another child or throw something as a way of trying to get rid of that feeling. When a child picks on or bullies another child it may make them feel big and powerful and can be an opportunity for them to feel strong, albeit for a short amount of time. Children need help and support from adults to realise that it is natural to have feelings and that they can be helped to understand how to recognise and express them. It can be useful to integrate positive messages about feelings throughout the school day such as ‘All feelings are useful as they tell us something is wrong’. This validates their experiences and normalises how children may be feeling. Some children have little resilience to cope with their feelings and events that can happen during the course of a school day can feel too difficult for them to manage, such as losing a game or not being at the front of the line. I recently heard of a seven year old who burst into tears in assembly when another child from her class was presented with an award. Experiences such as these can be interpreted by children to mean that they are special, important and good enough. For children who have a fragile sense of themselves it can feel overwhelming to imagine someone else being chosen instead.

This following activity can be integrated in to the school day and carried out with the whole class to help them settle after break or lunch time or when they are anxious or unsettled. It can take about 5 minutes but can be longer or shorter to suit the time available. If children laugh or mess about they may be showing that they feel uncomfortable and it can help to acknowledge this by saying ‘ This may feel a bit strange at first but let’s practice it as I think it will help us feel more relaxed.’ If this behaviour continues they are showing you they need more help with this so could practice it in a smaller group with an adult.

Staff strategy – a grounding activity to help children feel settled

Ask each child to find a space by their table or on the carpet and stand with their feet slightly apart. They can choose whether to have their eyes open or closed. Ask them to focus on their feet, noticing how each toe feels and guide them through this, how does your left foot feel, focus on your little toe, then the toe next to it etc. Now focus on your left knee, notice how it feels, then your right knee, now your stomach, left arm, right arm, left hand, each finger, left shoulder, right shoulder, neck, left ear, right ear. Ask the children to notice how it feels after you have named each body part.

Use a quiet and gentle voice throughout the activity

End the activity asking them to do a very gentle stretch with both arms and smile.

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