“Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story!” – Shipp
We are asked all the time about how to deal with children and teens that exhibit challenging behaviors. These questions come from teachers, counselors, principals, parents and families. The tough part about this is that each child has their own unique set of challenges, concerns, backgrounds, interests, strengths and growth opportunities.
After working with children for the past 25 years, I have come up with a good starting point for working with children that exhibit challenging behaviors. The plan is made up of the acronym “SHOCK”. Shock represents the following five components:
1.) Stakeholders/Schoolwide Team
Everyone has heard of the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”. The village is made up of important stakeholders in the child’s life. This includes school staff and family members. This team works together to create strategies for success. The group meets periodically to tweak plans and record progress towards goals. The most successful plans are ones that also involve the child in the decision making. It is critical that the plan is implemented with fidelity.
“All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and somebody who believes in them.” – Magic Johnson. Many students that struggle with behaviors are those that have either not found success in school, have challenging home lives, have encountered a traumatic situation or otherwise are not positive about school and/or life. These are students that need to experience the feeling of success, love, compassion, and connection with others. Hope is a very powerful feeling and one that can help someone to overcome their past and their current situation.
3.) Out of the box thinking
“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Cervantes. When a situation is not working or there is no hope for success, this is the time to think differently and brainstorm other approaches. I used to tell teachers that if you don’t like the current reality, try anything! If it was so awful in the first place, it is likely not to be any worse if you try something absurd. The difference is that there is the possibility that this absurd idea might actually work to help a student. We implemented a morning mixed martial arts (MMA) program and a daily movement intervention (including yoga, stretching and deep breathing). These really helped student to improve in attitude, achievement, and attendance. This did not fit in with the other subject areas in school or conventional methods, however, it worked very well!
4.) Critical friend (captain of the team)
“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” – Denzell Washington. A great deal of research has been done on successful people that have overcome the most challenging circumstances and environments (high crime neighborhood, incarcerated parent(s), violence/trauma in the household, gang activity, availability of drugs, etc.). The common variable in every one of these was a “critical friend” or mentor. This was someone that would not let the child fail and helped them to navigate through the many challenges in their life. This could be something as simple as a daily check-in to see if the child is okay. It also includes helping to set the bar high for them and to show that you care about them. Another part is helping them to see the bright future that is possible for them. The critical friend could be a relative, a school staff member, a coach, or another adult that they encounter. It doesn’t matter what their job or title is, it matters that they are committed to ensuring success!
“A random act of kindness, no matter how small, can make a tremendous impact on someone else’s life.” – Bennett. The kind acts that we do on a daily basis have a much greater impact than we often realize. Students with challenging behaviors need this kindness so much more than others. Often, these are the students that need way more kindness than is deserved. The higher the challenge, the greater the kindness. I will also add that we have to increase our empathy as the challenge grows as well. The child may never thank you and might not acknowledge the kind act, however, it makes a huge impact on them whether they say anything or not.
Dr. Bryan Pearlman is the practice manager and educator for Dr. Lena Pearlman & Associates – a mental health therapy practice in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Pearlman is a former teacher, elementary school principal, and adjunct professor. He provides training and professional development to school staff and families in the St. Louis region. The trainings are free of charge and are part of the practice’s commitment to helping kids, teens, and families in the St. Louis area.