Kirsten Reitan, WATG Board, Guest Blogger
One of my principals attached a really good article from KQED Mind/Shift in his staff newsletter. Of course, I paid attention as I am a public radio junkie and remembered that KQED was the station I listened to when we lived in Seattle. Its title was “20 Tips to help De-escalate Interactions with Anxious or Defiant Students.”
Those of us who work in the school systems know that our students seem more anxious than ever. Parents are stressed and our world feels very chaotic. A National Institute of Health study found that about 25 percent of children between 13 and 18 years old have been diagnosed with some kind of anxiety disorder. And those are just the kids who have been diagnosed. Additionally, between eight and 15 percent of school-aged children have some sort of learning disability, a squishy measure as there is not a standard definition of learning disabilities.
People’s behaviors - and especially children’s behaviors - are forms of communication. So when kids act out, there are almost always underlying causes. The trick is to respond appropriately in a classroom filled with children who have concerns of their own. Jessica Minahan, a certified behavior analyst, special ed teacher, and author of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, says that typical behavior strategies don’t really work for kids who are responding out of anxiety. When we are anxious, working memory doesn’t work and it is very hard to recall important information. “Anxiety isn’t about ability, it’s about interference.”
Our district uses PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) as its main behavior management system. However, this system of rewards and consequences doesn't always work real well with anxious students. Common response to negative attention seeking is to ignore the student. But if the child has anxiety, ignoring them raises their level of tension.
Schwartz, K. (n.d.). 20 Tips to Help De-escalate Interactions With Anxious or Defiant Students. Retrieved September 26, 2017, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/04/21/20-tips-to-help-de-escalate-interactions-with-anxious-or-defiant-students/