This week a teacher asked me what he could do about a 10 year old boy in his class who kept finding excuses why he couldn’t do much writing in class. The child was often preoccupied, daydreaming and never produced much work. The teacher was becoming increasingly worried about this and had tried keeping him in at break to complete work but even this hadn’t made much difference. I have worked with children who are so anxious about getting things wrong that they don’t even attempt things. The sense of failure for these children is so overwhelming that it can feel safer to opt out altogether rather than risk this happening. I wondered if this child was worried about making mistakes and suggested that he offer him the opportunity to write on loose paper rather than in his book and to explain to him that there is plenty of paper so he can have as much as he needs. I suggested the teacher talk to him about his fear, remind him it’s ok to make mistakes and offer him the chance to glue the paper in his book if he wanted to, but that this was not the main purpose. Watch this space……..
I am constantly asked by teachers in school how to manage a child who can’t sit still at carpet time so thought it would be useful to share some ideas. I often observe children at this time and these children stand out immediately as they are easily restless and fidgety and distract themselves and the children sitting near them. Oh what to do with these children other than send them away from the carpet, which may be a short term solution but doesn’t help the child or support them to change their behaviour.
These children can activate a whole range of feelings in the adults that are trying to teach them, including frustration, annoyance, irritability and rage, all of which are perfectly understandable but none of which will help the child to change their behaviour. I have seen even the most patient of teachers rise to frustration as they are asking the child politely for the seventeenth time to sit still. You may be familiar with this yourself, you consider yourself to be quite patient and understanding and have good relationships with the children you work with, but having to manage children who show us this behaviour on a regular basis can be a challenge for anyone!
Firstly, it can be useful to think about why a child may be showing us this behaviour. For me, any behaviour from a child is trying to communicate something to us, and it is our job as adults working with children to try and work out what that is. As adults, we can choose to ask for support when we need it, we can reassure ourselves when things are difficult and we have an understanding that difficult things pass and tomorrow is another day and things may feel different then. Children however experience the world very differently; they do not have the same language skills as adults or the same level of cognitive understanding and have not yet developed the skills of positive self talk and self soothing. Children show us how they are feeling and what they need through their behaviour and therefore children who are happy, settled and feeling safe in the world are able to relax, concentrate, sit reasonably still and engage with their learning. There may be a range of possible reasons why a child finds it difficult to sit still at carpet time including:
- Feeling anxious or worried about something at home or school
- Not having enough sleep or being hungry
- Preoccupied with relationships with parents or carers
- Show the child how to sit, this may sound odd but it works, so sit on the floor with a child and show them how to position their body in a way that’s comfortable and enables them to sit easily.
- Consider practicalities such as where the child is sat, can they see you easily, can they hear you, are they near distractions, have they got enough physical space.
- Show the child on the clock or give them a timer so they know how long they are expected to sit for, how many of us have been in situations where its hard to listen and we become preoccupied with how long it will last and thinking about our escape.
- Make the child a carpet mat to sit on, let them choose some coloured card, cut out a circle large enough to sit on easily and decorate it if they wish. Give the child the responsibility for getting the mat and putting it away. This has worked well with many children as it shows them the parameters of space that is theirs, very helpful with children who find this hard. Show the child how to sit on it and keep their arms and legs inside the shape.
- Acknowledge even the smallest of successes, for example, “I can see you are trying so hard to keep your legs still, well done for trying.”
Sitting still on a carpet is a task that many adults, myself included would find very difficult, so consider how long the children need to be sat for and how realistic it is to be expect them not to move. The whole class, including those who can manage to sit still would benefit from moving their arms and stretching at least every 5-10 minutes.
Good luck, practise patience and perseverance with anything new you are trying.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how behaviours in school can be misunderstood, its so important that we try and understand the feelings behind the behaviour, rather than making our own judgements and interpretations
- Hyper-vigilance = being nosy
- Lack of engagement = being lazy
- Running off = avoiding work
- Frequently touching things = interfering
- Shouting out (poor self-regulation) = being disruptive
- Lack of empathy = uncaring
- Inability to understand others feelings = selfish
- Confrontational = being rude
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.
Try this and I’d love to hear how you get on
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”.
You may also find this free resource on transition useful.
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’.
You can find out more about the Making a Difference guide here
This short story illustrates the power of acknowledging, naming and describing feelings for children.
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:
- What is reflective language
- Why it might be useful
- Examples of reflective language in use
- The impact of using reflective language
- How you can use it in your work
- Examples for you to try yourself
I hope you find it useful.