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Spotlight: What is student behaviour telling you?

When students misbehave it is usually a sign that they cannot cope with a situation
Judy Edouard, Psychological Associate (supervised practice)

Many students struggle with different psychosocial stressors relating to adverse childhood experiences or underlying neurodiversity (e.g., learning disabilities, autism, ADHD) that are brought into the classroom environment and translated into disruptive behaviour. These students are sometimes labelled as “challenging,” and educators are often left feeling frustrated.

Understanding the following can equip educators to better manage student behaviour and reduce frustrations for all those involved.

Misbehaviour is communication for an underdeveloped skill

When students misbehave it is usually a sign that they cannot cope with a situation. Some students lack the skills needed to interact with their peers, self-regulate big emotions, or follow classroom instructions. Deciphering the intent and the function behind the behaviour can help educators respond in a positive way that meets the students needs.

Behaviour has a purpose and occurs in patterns

Behaviours are usually repeated because of the responses that they receive. If a student knows that by having a tantrum, they get send out of the classroom, then that student has learned that tantrums are an escape from undesired classroom tasks. It is important for educators to uncover the purpose of the behaviour, in order to not unintentionally reinforce the behaviour, which makes it more likely to occur in the future.

When educators have figured out the intent/purpose of the behaviour and it keeps occurring, a further step is to look for the patterns: does it occur during a certain activity (e.g., do they always have a tantrum during math period), time of day (e.g., does it always occur after first recess), or other factors? Paying attention to these things helps to inform actions that can be taken to mitigate the problem behaviour.

To apply this, if you uncovered that the tantrums only occur during math lessons, there may be an underlying skill deficit in math that can be targeted with intervention or accommodations. Listening to what the student’s behaviour is communicating, looking for the patterns, and teaching the underdeveloped skill(s) may help to alleviate the challenging behaviour.

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