What are some effective strategies for working with children with an emotional disability?

  • Know the child, not just the behaviors
  • Build rapport, which can make the difference when you need to help the child regain control
  • Communicate with families and other professionals about a child’s specific emotional disability, as well as to share information and strategies
  • Be clear and consistent around all classroom expectations and behavior management
  • Provide consistent structure and support
  • Build engagement for students
  • Be extra vigilant around bullying or teasing
  • Tap into students’ strengths and interests
  • Create situations for student success
  • Remember the behavior is the problem, not the child

Tug of War

  • Children with emotional disabilities often struggle with maintaining control over their behaviors or feelings.  This can be like a constant internal tug of war.  Unfortunately, this also leads many children with these challenges to try and exert control wherever they can, sometimes with teachers and other authority figures.  If you ever find yourself in your own tug of war with a student, remember these facts:
  • Positive behaviors are skills to learn just like reading and math. If you teach them, model them, and provide positive reinforcement for good behaviors, you will see them.
  • Conflict is a cycle.  As each person escalates, it sparks the other, in a vicious circle.  To stop this, try to be the one who prevents the escalation.
  • You cannot control another person’s feelings and behavior, but you can control yours and the environment.  Walk away, isolate but monitor the out-of-control individual, and remove the audience.
  • All behaviors serve a purpose; to change a behavior, find a more appropriate way for students to achieve their purpose.
  • You don’t need the last word to be right.
  • All behaviors are not created equal and fair does not mean the same for everyone.  Look at what each child needs, what context surrounds each behavior, and then decide consequences.
  • Positive reinforcement shapes and changes behavior.  Punishment only temporarily stops it.
  • Every day is a new day.  Behaviors are challenging for you, but they are even worse for the child.  If you come to expect that each day will be plagued by behavioral problems, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Help the child to recognize that each day is a “do-over.”

Consider this…

  • “If typical consequences were effective, you wouldn’t have to keep using them.”
  • “Fair is not everybody getting the same thing. Fair is giving everyone what he/she needs.”
  • “Punishment temporarily stops behavior. Proactive strategies change behavior.”
  • “You can’t get tot he academics unless you address the behaviors on some level.”

Hanging in there…

Click here to read one parent’s story of her worries for her son, and her celebrations of his success once he experiences teachers who “got him”.

Key Words for Educators

  • Engage
  • Consistent
  • Expectations

According to IDEA

  • Negatively impacts a student’s educational performance and includes one more more of the following:
  • an inability to learn – not caused by intellectual, sensory, or health factors
  • an inability to have satisfactory relationships with other students and teachers
  • inappropriate behavior in normal situations
  • a general, ongoing mood of depression
  • a tendency to have physical symptoms or fears around personal or school problems

by The Johns Hopkins University School of Education Center for Technology in Education