De-escalating Challenging Behavior: All Behavior has a Function

What happens when a conflict arises in your classroom?

Our next four Texts 4 Teachers posts will focus on strategies for de-escalating conflict with anxious or defiant students.

Today’s topic:  All Behavior Has a Function

A long-standing psychological principle is that if a teacher ignores negative behavior, then the behavior will be eventually “extinguished.” Not true for students with an anxiety disorder, a recognized learning disability.  Anxiety disorders are often perplexing because, unlike ADHD-related behaviors, which tend to be consistently present, anxiety is situational.  The good news is, according to Jessica Minahan, co-author of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, “we are 50% of every interaction with a child, so we have a lot of control over that interaction” (Schwartz, 2016).

When a student is anxious, their working memory shuts down.  Yet, once the student is calm, she performs on par with her peers.  Moreover, typical consequences such as ignoring negative behavior or offering a reward for positive performance can actually amplify anxiety.

Additionally, whether a student has a diagnosed behavior disorder or not, many children figure out early on that negative behavior is a quick, easy way to gain an adult’s attention.  Some effective ways to de-escalate anxious, attention-seeking negative behavior are:

1.      Engage anxious or negative-attention seeking students at the beginning of the period with a positive presupposition such as, “I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our topic today.  I’ll check-in with you in about five minutes.”  It’s important for the teacher to follow-through with this initial check-in and consistently circle back to the student throughout the period.  Thus, the student receives positive attention from the beginning of class, and the anxious student receives regular feedback about her progress, thereby heading off any potential outbursts.

2.     Give fact-based praise privately, especially to anxious students.  Consider conferring with students at the beginning of the year to ascertain their preference for positive feedback.

Tune back-in next Tuesday for “Antecedents to Negative Behaviors.”

Schwartz, K. (2016, April 21). 20 tips to help de-escalate interactions with anxious or defiant Students.