There are a number of strategies to work with students when behaviors are challenging in the classroom. In Rappaport & Minahan's Cracking the Behavior Code, the authors outline strategies for work with a variety of challenging student behaviors.
Oppositional - A student exhibit oppositional behaviors have frequent outbursts, argue with or question rules, blames others for their mistakes, and maybe has tantrums.
For oppositional students, some accommodations are to modify schedules so the student can alternate between subjects she likes and those she doesn't. Arrange a quiet, alternate activity if recess is a challenge. Give open-ended, flexible assignments and assessments. Offer hands-on experiences. When interacting with an child exhibiting oppositional behaviors, focus on their strengths, avoid power struggles, avoid yes-no questions or asking "ok?" if making a request, and make indirect demands when possible. In addition, set limits that are enforceable, reasonable, clear, and simple.
Withdrawn - A child who is withdrawn, either consistently or occasionally, exhibits low motivation and interest, can be irritable, and have low energy. A withdrawn child may be experiencing depression, which is often accompanied by headaches, muscle fatigue and soreness, or stomachaches. They may be clingy with the teacher or act bored.
When thinking about accommodating students exhibiting withdrawn behaviors, teachers can support these students by setting up the child with a buddy for recess or specialists, teach experiential lessons, use students' interests in planning instruction and assessment, and foster self-efficacy. Interaction strategies that have shown to be effective include giving positive, specific feedback, reframe students' negative self-perceptions including sharing evidence to dispute those negative self-perceptions, and avoid using sarcasm. Other response strategies are to avoid over-helping withdrawn students in order to foster self-reliance and self-efficacy.
Anxious - A child who is anxious is easily frustrated, upset, or startled. These students might have difficulty finishing work, avoid work, and frequently worry (about school as well as other areas).
For children who are anxious, it is important to build a safe environment for their work. Anxious children appreciate frequent breaks and untimed assignments and assessments - broken into smaller chunks so they are not overwhelmed. Meditation or calming exercises are particularly helpful rituals that can support students who are anxious, as well as teaching self-regulation strategies for what to do when they are feeling anxious. It can be helpful to be concise with directions, use activities to build self-esteem and self-efficacy, and work on building relationships within the class. In addition, avoid employing responses that reinforce avoidance such as time-outs, provide specific, positive feedback when students are self-regulating, and be explicit with the student about their anxiety and when the student is showing anxious behaviors.
While it is late in the year, there is still time to practice new strategies when interacting with students exhibiting challenging behaviors. What are your most effective strategies for working with challenging student behaviors?