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Teachers Triggering Temper Tantrums in Students


Mark-

I’m a middle school teacher. Actually I purchased your ebook to help me understand – and cope with – some of my unruly students. It has been an immense help. One question: How do you deal with a student who – out of the clear blue – slips into a temper tantrum?

Thanks,

M.

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Hi M.,

When a youngster reportedly has 'temper tantrums' in school, one of the first questions I always ask is whether this is also happening in the home. If it is, then is it only happening when homework or school-related matters arise, or is it happening in other situations as well? Thinking about under what conditions the kid loses control can help us determine where to start looking, what accommodations might be needed, and what other assessments and/or interventions might be needed.

Suppose that the kid is not having 'temper tantrums' at home, but is having them in school. While it is still possible that it is the kid's disability that is the primary contributor the problem (e.g., a kid with depression may "explode" in school when asked to concentrate or produce for long periods of time), we also need to look closely at how the school is handling the kid. Have they made enough accommodations? If there's a plan in place, have they followed it?

In my experience, it seems that in some cases, school personnel have been responsible for triggering a temper tantrum or pushing the kid past his or her limits. Consider the following (and unfortunately true) example where a teacher knows a kid has Oppositional Defiant Disorder and that one of the kid's symptoms is that he "has to" finish something he is reading. On a particular day, the teacher instructs the class to put their books down as it is time to do another activity. The kid with ODD doesn't comply, and the teacher cues him again to put the book down and start the next task. The kid with ODD continues reading and tries to leave the room to go finish the book. The teacher refuses, blocks the doorway, and tries to take the book away. The kid with ODD "explodes," and swings at the teacher.

In the preceding example, one could argue that we should hold the youngster responsible for his behavior and that he has to learn that no matter what, he cannot take a swing at people. And on some level, I'd agree with that. The problem with the school disciplining the kid for it, however, is that such consequences may not reduce the likelihood of it happening again if the youngster's compulsion is that severe, and it fails to discipline the teacher who failed to respect the youngster's limits. If teachers "get in the face" of youngsters who are known to have behavior problems, then aren't they as responsible for what happens as the youngster?

In my opinion, when it comes to school, the teachers, as the adults, have the responsibility to manage themselves so that they don't engage in an escalating pattern with the youngster. And one of the most effective ways to help school personnel recognize the limits and what to do in particular situations is staff development. Teachers are often concerned that they will lose their authority with the class if they don't "discipline" an out-of-control child. The reality is that their "discipline" is often punitive and escalates a bad situation into a full-blown "temper tantrum."

Even when teachers are not provoking or causing the youngster's problems, they may be the youngster's last hope of restoring themselves to a calmer state. Learning how to stay calm, recognize the signs of impending explosions, and helping the youngster make a graceful exit so that they can calm themselves are important skills. Realizing that you are not "rewarding the youngster for misbehavior" if you allow them to switch to an activity that is inherently interesting to them and that helps them focus and calm themselves is also important. Maintaining your empathy for an explosive kid can make all the difference.

1 comment:

GDOBSSOR R said...

Lots of teachers have up to 30 kids in their class, several of which probably have ADHD, ODD, Asperger's, etc. I've taught ski lessons for school groups and have also been trained in dealing with autistic kids.
You talk to the parents about what triggers meltdowns, for example, some autistic kids are triggered by having someone touch them, even by accident. They get super stressed and often show it in their behavior - for example, I once was trying to help a kid that was very upset that he couldn't do something and started screaming "I suck! I'm useless!" That's different from a kid getting angry because he hasn't earned something he thinks he's entitled to and starts lashing out at others. The latter situation should never be tolerated, as it won't be once they leave school and have to make their own way in life.

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