Updated: Sep 26, 2019
I don't know about you, but I have been told this a few times! I still think those people are wrong, lol!
In this post I want to look at what to do when a student acts out in class. I mean really acts out. When they cuss at you, give you nasty looks, or ignore you altogether.
I had just returned from the Trauma Informed Schools conference and I'm feeling a little out of my element. I mean, it's period 2 of the next day. The day I returned to the classroom. I learned a tremendous amount about the effects of childhood trauma and how to effectively work with students who have been affected by trauma. But I have never put any of it into practice... can I do it???
So like I said, it's the beginning of 2nd period and my student Alex walks into class. She is telling her friend a story and she is using the "F" word, every other word.
Our eyes met and I responded simply with, “Language Alex.”
She goes on a tirade. “What the f*%#… like you’ve never said f*%#… its just a word, what's the big deal?! You know you’ve said f*%#… You aren’t f*%#ing perfect, nobody’s perfect....”
This went on for so long I was able to take a moment and think about my response. Okay Christa, how are you going to respond to this???
Not too long ago I know how I would have responded. I would have said, "Get out!” or “There is no reason to speak to me that way, go see your counselor.” or “All you had to say was sorry, now you have detention!”
Luckily, I had just learned about not taking these tirades personally and instead was able to respond with patience.
Alex finally paused, and I took the opportunity to say,“You seem really frustrated today. Is something upsetting you?”
She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I just got braces and these spacers hurt so much!”
Never in a million years would I have guessed that was the immediate cause of her dysregulation. I thought it was going to be some huge deal or that she would have rudely told me where to go. But nope, her teeth just hurt!
I told her I hated having braces too.
She was surprised and said, “You had braces?” and there was our instant connection.
I would love to tell you her behavior was perfect every day after that... but it wasn't.
However, whenever I saw Alex begin to get dysregulated, I would remember it isn’t about me and would ask “what's this about?” instead. She knew I would handle the situation with patience and she didn't have to become defensive. This allowed Alex to return to a state of regulation much more quickly.
Teachers often believe they can't allow students to misbehave in class because if one student does it, tomorrow they all will!
This simply isn't true.
After the above incident I didn't have any other students cuss me out in class. The idea is actually kind of ridiculous when you think about it like that. One student walked out of class and I let it happen, so tomorrow 5 more will try it... NO. These behaviors are not contagious... (OK some behaviors are contagious, but that's another post :)
The disruptive behavior is a symptom of deeper trauma and these students (who's needs are not being met) are "dysregulated." A student who is "dysregulated" could exhibit any number of poor behaviors, including: anger, poor language choices, violence, emotional outbursts, refusal to follow simple instructions, shutting down... you get the idea.
Defining this behavior as "dysregulated" helps teachers to focus on the reason behind the behavior rather than the behavior itself. When we focus on the reason for the behavior we realize the child isn't good nor bad, their needs are just not being met. The question then becomes how do we meet these needs? Rather than how do I get this kid to behave better?