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Stress Management for Living, Teaching, & Parenting

Simple Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Students

PDF of Simple Strategies

Create visual images to prompt behaviors you desire.

P = Send POSITIVE messages.

Notice the number of times you state something negatively that could be stated in positive terms. Promise with the positive by using contingencies, rather than consequences—which usually prompt negative feelings. Notice the difference between how the following two are perceived:

“As soon as you finish your work, you can go to the activity center.” (Contingency – stated in the positive)
vs. “If your work is not done, you’re not going to the activity center.” (Consequence – stated negatively)

C = Offer CHOICES.

Choice empowers. Choices give ownership, a critical component for changing behavior.

Giving three options—rather than two—removes all perceptions of coercion. Be it a situation, a stimulus, or an urge, a person always has a choice regarding the response. Don’t accept victim-type thinking that is counterproductive to fostering responsibility, e.g., “He hit me first!” “I had no choice!” and “He made me do it.”

R = Encourage REFLECTION.

Ask reflective questions that foster growth and responsibility, e.g., “Are you willing to try somethingdifferent?” “If y ou could not fail, what would you do?” “What would an extraordinary person do?”

Be cautious of “why?” questions; they allow the person to give an excuse, be a victim, and avoid responsibility.Besides, young people often  do not know or find it difficult to articulate the reason they behave as they do.

Have the student practice the procedure for doing the activity/lesson. B e sure that the student knows what and how to do what you have assigned.

Rather than telling that the st udent is off task or telling the student what to do, ask the student to reflect on thelevel of chosen behavior of the Raise Responsibility System’s hierarchy.

Teach impulse management. The conversation sounds something like, “ Every time you stick your f oot out totrip your friend, you are a victi m of your impulses. Do you really want to go through life being a victim? If not, let’s establish a procedure so that when you get that impulse, you can redirect it. For example, picture and feel your foot chained to the floor. That image will help you to be in control, rather than be a victim of an impulse.”

See Impulse Management.

No one comes to school to get into trouble. Think of students as lacking skills to handle impulses—or that thebehavior is the student’s best effort at the time to handle a frustration. Few stude nts are maliciously disruptive.

Reflect on your own goal. You goal will direct how you handle the situation. If your desire is to help thestudent, then be willing to negotiate. There may be factors involved of which you are unaw are.

Students with short attention spans have a difficult time getting started on a task. Give clear, concise, starting directions, e.g., feet on the floor, sternum up and out, pencil and paper in proper position. Have studentscomplete the following to themselves, “The first thing I see myself doing is. . . .”

√ When a student is off task or exhibits inappropriate behavior, be positive by stating what you want—not whatyou don’t want. Simply inform the student  what you would like to see happen. This helps the student understandyour desires and stops the student from engaging in one behavi or only to engage in another, non-productive one.

√ Use labeling. Teach students to label any distraction as “distraction.” Show students how to keep a record ofth em. Tracking distractions increases the likelihood that  students will stop and think about what they are doing. This helps them reflect and make more appropriate choices.

Ask for the student’s help. Put the problem to the student; let the student know that you don’t know howto solve the disruptive behavior. Asking for help taps into a natural desire to help others when in need.

Put the person in charge of the activity. It is almost impossible to be in charge of stopping a disruption (e.g. , continually getting off task in a group activity) if the person is in charge of preventing it.

Ask four questions that lead to a change in behavior:

(1) “What do you want?” (2) “Is what you are choosing to do helping you get what you want?”
(3) “If what you are choosing to do is not getting you what you want, then what is your plan?”
(4) “What are your procedures to implement your plan; specifically, what will you do?”

√ Have a classroom meeting and put the topic on the table.

√ Teach procedures, rather than relying on rules.

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Dr. Marvin Marshall
Phone: 714.220.1882
Marv@MarvinMarshall.com
Piper Press
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order@piperpress.com