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Ruth Herman Wells

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More Answers to Your Questions About Out-of-Control Students
by Ruth Herman Wells   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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We recently offered the subscribers to our internet magazine, The Problem-Kid Problem-Solver– the articles in this book first appeared in that magazine– the chance to pose any questions they had about working with difficult and problem youth. This article provides the answers to our subscribers’ questions. You can become a subscriber by visiting our web site, http://www.youthchg.com/guest.html.


   We recently offered the subscribers to our internet magazine, The
   Problem-Kid Problem-Solver– the articles in this book  first appeared
   in that magazine– the chance to pose any questions they had about
   working with difficult and problem youth. This article provides the
   answers to our subscribers’ questions. You can become a subscriber
   by visiting our web site, http://www.youthchg.com/guest.html.

   Many subscribers wrote in with questions. Here are our answers
   with a special focus on offering immediate solutions for their most
   challenging "kid problems."

    Q:
    Maryann is a school counselor in Pemberton, NJ. She requested
    "strategies to use for children who seek attention by acting out."
   
    A:
    Maryann, let me give you a couple favorite ideas on this topic.

                     * There is an old saying: "children would rather be
                         praised than punished, but they'd rather be
                         punished than ignored." With that in mind, wait for
                         the acting-out student to be properly behaved, and
                         then offer attention. Although misbehavior compels
                         the adults to give attention, it starts a cycle of
                         misbehavior netting attention, so by acting out, a
                         student can extract notice. That's the exact
                         opposite of what you want to occur so catch your
                         students "doing good" and offer attention then.
                         You are eliminating the need to act out to be noticed.
                         There are even stickers you can buy for younger
                         students that say "Caught doing good."

                     *  Class clowns are the classic example of students
                         who chronically act out. Be sure that teachers have
                         their class establish a recommended number of times
                         to talk out, then expect students to follow that
                         standard. Without a quantifiable standard, you are
                         expecting students to adhere to a standard that is
                         unspecified. That isn't fair or reasonable. For
                         class clowns, work with them to learn about
                         the proper frequency of comments, the correct
                         type of content, and appropriate duration. If you
                         can channel the input to be appropriate, you will
                         give that student lifelong skills to be beloved in
                         the work place for making light, well-timed, often
                         much-needed, humorous comments. You have
                         transformed acting out into a potential, major
                         work place asset. Everyone loves the co-worker
                         who can break up the staff meeting with a well-
                         timed, wry comment or socially acceptable joke.

    Q:
    Theresa, who teaches kindergarten, wants more of a focus on younger
     children. She writes: "I'm not a new teacher (15 years) but, the behaviors
     I have seen and dealt with the past two to three years are becoming much
     more common.  Out of a class of 16, 8 of them have really horrible behaviors.
     One even killed a cat this year! Thanks so much...I would love to come to a
     workshop if you are ever in Wichita, KS."

    A:
    Thanks for asking. We may look at hosting a session in your state
    sometime in the future, but to get to your question, before reading
    any further, stop and consider if you already know the answer
    to this query,  because we have touched on the answer a lot in
    previous articles.

    The most misbehaved children may be "conduct disorders." From past
    articles, you may remember that those words refer to a specific
    mental health category that describes the most out of control students.
    While only a counselor can diagnose, anyone can be concerned that a
    child falls into this category. Theresa, here is the critical element: you
    must work completely differently with these students. If you use
    conventional methods, you will find "nothing works." For Theresa and
    others of you with very young students, here's more bad news: the
    younger the severe misbehavior begins, the worst the outlook. The good
    news: if more professionals could identify and correctly work with
    young conduct disorders, the better the chance of aiding that child
    to avoid that otherwise grim prognosis for the future. Sadly, without
    targeted intervention, conduct disorders are at high risk of violating
    the law, and ending up imprisoned. Properly working with that 5 year
    old conduct disorder today can have incredible impact on his future.
    That is why Theresa's question is so important.

    Anytime you have a young (or older) child doing the most extreme
    behaviors such as animal abuse, that should be a "red flag" to alert you
    to consider using the specialized methods that work with conduct
    disorders. Two earlier articles in this magazine (that are also included
    in this book) offered you a glimpse into this large population, and
    Theresa, you use exactly the  same type of methods with both older
    and younger students. By using the information we have been
    providing in these articles on conduct disorders, you end up with a
    road map guiding you to manage unmanageable students of all ages.


    Q:
    Here is the email we got from Angela: "My topic suggestion is one that I do
    not think is addressed enough anywhere-- self-mutilation. It is a far more
    common problem than once thought."
    
    A:
    Angela, you didn't tell us your job, or where you were from, but wherever
    you are and whatever your job, you are correct. If you are a counselor, you
    may have noted the increase in the amount of disturbed youngsters,
    especially in the early grades. The answer we give to your query is going
    to depend on your job.  We are going to play the odds and guess that you
    are a teacher since we have more teachers as subscribers than counselors.
    Let's hope we guess right.

    If you are not a mental health professional, then whenever you have specific
    data to suggest active self-harm, you need to immediately notify your
    administrator or counselor. Only counselors and other mental health workers
    should be managing behaviors that could be-- or become-- life threatening.
    I am not saying that superficial cutting of the wrist automatically indicates
    a potential suicide attempt, but ensuring the child's safety must be the job
    of the mental health worker, and there are no exceptions to that-- even if
    your budget-crunched school lacks a counselor. You will need their
    guidance, and there is no work-around that is worth risking a child's life.
   
    Even though non-mental health workers must consult a counselor, you still
    need to understand what makes these children tick, and adapt how you
    work with them. Plus, other behaviors may really be, or border on self-
    harm. For example, extreme tattooing or piercings, reckless driving, and
    serious promiscuity are just a few examples. To understand these youngsters,
    remember that distressed children don't manage their distress in
    "appropriate" ways. They don't enter class and say "I feel neglected
    so I would like additional interaction and nurturance today." They
    manage their distress in primitive, inappropriate ways like self-mutilation.

    For non-counselors, you want to adjust how you work with the child
    by striking the balance between your mission and the child's distress.
    That means that when the child is distressed, you may lower the
    expectations. On days the child is more functional, you increase
    expectations. You also observe for safety concerns and let your
    mental health worker guide you on all else. Even if you lack an on-
    site counselor, it is not wise to learn counseling by practicing on a
    distressed youngster. Instead of counseling these students, be
    nurturing, involved, alert, and available. Offer them time, and
    listen to what they say-- and don't say. Ask them what they need.
    Sometimes, these youngsters just want someone to notice. But
    leave the counseling to those trained to do it. Even if you have
    to move heaven and earth to arrange it, your energy is best
    spent ensuring that each hurting child has access to a capable
    counselor who knows exactly how to help.    

    Now, here is a difficult question for you to ponder. If a conduct
    disordered child threatens self-harm, what happened? If a diagnosed
    conduct disorder threatens self-harm, you are being manipulated
    but– and this is the most important part– you still provide safety
    no matter how sure you are that you are being manipulated and
    played. When any child plays the “safety card,” you provide safety–
    no “if’s, and’s or but’s.” For a diagnosed conduct disorder, you
    certainly won’t be putting your arm around the youngster, like
    you might do with other children. You simply provide safety but
    do not offer relationship-based methods. For undiagnosed,
    suspected conduct disorders, it is far more complicated. You can’t
    cut off relationship approaches with undiagnosed C.D.s. It is
    far easier to work with C.D.s when they are diagnosed vs.
    undiagnosed. The diagnosis guides you, especially in situations
    such as the child makes threats of self-harm. Working with
    conduct disorders is very tricky to begin with. It can seem
    particularly confusing for issues like self-harm. It is normal that
    you find it to be a bit of a “magical mystery tour” with
    regards to some conduct disorders’ apparent emotional issues
    because manipulation can so frequently be a major factor
    complicating or dominating how you should best respond. But
    remember the most important point with regards to self-harm:
    For all students, first, you provide safety then worry about
    what to do next.

http://www.youthchg.com

Web Site: Internet Magazine



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