Is it possible to use Discipline without Stress in a classroom with a student who has special needs?

I teach kindergarten and all my students seem to be getting the idea of the levels. Today I found out that a special needs student will be joining my class. Although she is five years old, test results show that she is functioning at a 23-month old level. I am worried that this will have a big impact on my classroom and that I will lose what I have gained with my other students. Maybe I should just forget about using Discipline without Stress for this year. What do you think?

There shouldn’t be any need for you to abandon the Discipline without Stress approach in your classroom, despite the fact that the addition of this low-functioning student will likely provide both you and the other children with some new challenges. Because your students are familiar with the levels of social development, as outlined in the Discipline without Stress Hierarchy, don’t be surprised if you find that the addition of this child to the class will go more smoothly than it otherwise might. You and your students already have a common language for dealing with behavior and some common understandings about what is an acceptable level of behavior in the classroom.

Prior to the new child’s first day of attendance, you might plan to hold a classroom meeting to discuss her special needs. (Sometimes counselors or specialists can be called in to assist you with this task.) If handled in a positive way, your kindergarteners can be helped to understand that their new classmate may have some difficulty living up to the behavior expectations that you hold for the rest of the class. Help them to understand and accept that at times, the new student may need to be treated differently than the other children. They need to understand that this new child is essentially a toddler in a “Kindergarten-size body”.

Using the hierarchy and a variety of hypothetical situations, it would be proactive to discuss how the children can be supportive of your new student. For instance, have them imagine times when this child might need particular help or consideration–-perhaps snack time, playtime, field trips, washroom visits, recess etc. Use role-play to allow students an opportunity to learn how to deal with a friend who has special needs in an appropriate and respectful way. Teach them how to ask for adult assistance, should it be necessary.

A class meeting such as this is also the perfect time to reinforce a critical concept of Discipline without Stress: Every student is responsible for THEIR OWN CHOICES and actions, regardless of the behaviour of someone else. Someone else’s misbehavior is never an excuse for lowering one’s own standard of behavior. As part of your hierarchy discussion, you can encourage the students to act as role models for this “younger” child.

In my experience, with this kind of a discussion, most children–even those as young as kindergarten age–will act kindly towards special needs students and be willing to treat them with respect and tolerance. Youngsters enjoy assisting others who need help from them.

If you expect a mature attitude from your students with regard to any inappropriate behavior that this new child might possibly exhibit, you may very well find that your students live up to your expectations. Explain that this is an opportunity for them to act as leaders in a “grown-up” way.

1 Comment
  1. This prepping you talk about really works. Try the book “A Very Special Critter” by Mercer Meyer to help talk with the class about differences. Also using an object like a kaleidoscope with also help show how all people are different like the colors in the screen of the kaleidoscope and ever changing but still quite pretty in their own way. These strategies have worked well for me in the past with primary aged children.
    Sara K.