Monday, March 25, 2013

Teaching Self-Calming Skills

originally posted on Special Education Advisor

By Jessica Minahan, M.Ed, BCBASpecial Education ArticlesAdd comments

“You need to calm down.”

This is something I hear a lot in my work as a behavior specialist when a student starts to get agitated– answering rudely, refusing to work, making insulting comments or whining. A teacher might tell a child to “go sit in the beanbag chair and calm down” or simply “relax.”

The problem is, many students don’t know how to calm down. This is especially true for children who display chronic agitation or defiance.

When a child behaves inappropriately, I find that it’s almost always due to an underdeveloped skill. If we don’t explicitly teach the student this skill, their behavior is unlikely to change for the better.
All children will benefit from learning self-calming skills, but for some children, learning this skill is so essential to their success at school that it’s important that classroom teachers focus on it as well as specialists, such as counselors and special educators.

What’s the best way to teach self-calming skills to a student? Here are three simple steps to take:

1. Teach the student to identify emotions.
Students who exhibit anger in the classroom are often described as “going from 0-to-60 in a split second.” In reality, however, the student’s emotions probably grew more gradually from calm to frustrated to anger, but the teacher (and the child) didn’t notice the build-up.

Teaching a student to identify this escalation is essential if she’s to learn how to catch herself on the way up. A helpful tool to use is an emotional thermometer. When the child is calm, share the graphic with her, explaining how emotions often grow in intensity from calm to frustrated to angry. Give the child a copy of the thermometer and ask her to pay attention to where she is on it at different times of the day over the course of a few weeks, checking in with the child as needed to discuss what she is noticing.

Another way to teach a student to identify emotions is to do a “body check.” When you notice signs of frustration first beginning, label it for the child and explain how you know: “Your shoulders are hunched and your fists are clenched, so I can see you’re frustrated right now.” Over time, the child will learn to identify when she’s frustrated without your cues.

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If you live in Illinois and need help dealing with behavior issues in your child, please contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842.  We have resources on behavior issues and we can help you work with your child's school in developing a behavior plan. 

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