Feelings and Behaviour
After working with children with challenging behaviour for a number of years, and more recently taking up a role in a mainstream academy as well as supporting other local schools with behaviour, I know more than ever how difficult it can be to persuade/encourage other members of staff to change how they manage behaviour. Where effective behaviour modification in children takes place, it is usually down to how the adult changes their behaviour. The driving force behind this… is the adult being aware of the feelings of both parties.
When we feel in a calm and serene mood, we may behave in a particular way. The behaviour may be in the actions we undertake, but it is also in our body language, tone of voice, the things we say and the look on our faces. On a Saturday morning, after a full week at work, I am usually in an extremely calm frame of mind. I have put the week behind me (until at least the Sunday night work!) and I get to spend the morning having a cup of tea with my wife, spending time with my kids, reading or whatever else suits my agenda. I am relaxed in my posture, my mannerisms, with the things that I say and I am even handle frustrations more easily. None of the kids electronic devices are not connecting to the wifi… no problem. I’ll sort it.
Fast forward this to a time when I am not feeling so calm, maybe to a state of anxiety or frustration and as you can guess, it is not the same idyllic picture. I am more edgy; my movements are quicker and sharper; I am more easily wound up and simply short with everyone. My kids come to me saying the wifi has gone off while I’m in the middle of writing reports that are due the next day and it is already 8.30pm? Big problem… it seems as though the end of the world is nigh!
The way in which we behave has a direct correlation with how we feel. We behave in more positive ways when we feel more positive and the opposite is true for when we feel negative.
What part do experiences play?
If we experience something positive, it makes us feel better. A small win on the lottery, avoiding a parking ticket when you were sure you had one, someone helping you out – the types of things on this non-exhaustive list may make us feel pleased, happy, delighted, overjoyed, elated, pleased, over excited and so on.
This is the same for negative experiences, just in reverse. If you lose a winning lottery ticket, get caught out by a parking ticket or someone refused to help you when you hand banked on it, these will shape your feelings in a negative way. Sad, angry, mad, frustrated, depressing, suicidal – you get the idea.
If we can somehow ensure that all of the experiences that we encounter are positive ones, we will all be alright… taht’s just not going to happen. We should however, try to manipulate situations to make us happier (and the ones around us) and at the very least, have mechanisms to react to negative situations rather than simply relying on our unpredictable emotional responses to drive behaviour because we all know, if we reflect, on some bad decisions that we have made in the heat of the moment when something had happened to use that we didn’t like. The amount of times I have grounded my own kids or applied some other consequence at the drop of a hat, without considering whether the sanction was proportional to the crime committed, all because I was acting on emotional responses rather than considered and rational thought.
Children in schools and their feelings
Children in schools are no different in terms of what drives their behaviour. It’s their feelings. The only other difference is that children seem to be slightly more irrational when the feelings move towards wither end of the spectrum. We all know the children who get super-hyper about something which is so socially ‘off-cue’ and laugh uncontrollably in a quieter environment; we also know the child who gets mad at something that someone said about his mother or other relevant loved one and they ‘kicked-off’. When children sway to either end of the feelings spectrum, they tend to become more irrational. Even some adults do! However for the most, adults have more experience in terms of not allowing their emotions to drive their behaviour as much (even if it is only a tiny amount).
If we take the model that the situation that a person experiences frames the way the feel, and it is these feelings which influence the way they behave, then it is a fair assumption that their behaviour is simply a form of communication, whether the person is aware of it or not. If we think like this, and indeed encourage our peers to think like this, we change the mindset from the adult towards the child, that they are behaving out of some illogical choice and they are behaving as a result of their emotional state (I am not saying that children never behave because they choose this way, I am saying that they are very few and far between). The child may or may not know what the cause is, and it is this in particular which is the key to unlocking the issue and dealing with the behaviour at the cause.
Since returning to mainstream education 11 months ago (already… wow!) I have soon realised that when adults are working with children who are struggling to manage their behaviour, they want to know what ‘thing’ they can do/apply to the situation and/or the child in order to fix it. Due to working in a PRU, many staff understandably think that I can just give them a metaphorical checklist to run through to fix it. Sure, I can give some advice and suggestions based on experience… and I do but what seems to work best, to secure excellent outcomes for the child and the adult is simply to get them to refelct on the cause of the behaviour, and then to work towards fixing the cause. Would you keep replacing the battery in a car every time it died without investigating the cause? You might do it once or twice and then you’d get it into a garage. After a quick diagnosis, you may be told that the alternator needs fixing. Once it’s done, hey presto! The car works again like it should.
That’s very similar to treating a child with an underlying cause to their poor behaviour. If they are coming in every day and starting the day by punching someone, they may respond initially to a punitive response from the member of staff and stop punching people, but they will probably fall into a pattern of repetitive behaviour. Why? It’s because the adult, as the pivotal person in this scenario, failed to speak with them, and really push them, to diagnose the problem. The problem may be something like the child is coming to school without being fed and is hungry. The original options of detention or missed privileges can now be accompanied by options to remedy the root cause. We found that the behaviour from many of our children (when I worked in a PRU) was very difficult during the first part of the morning and after speaking to the children, several were hungry. We started having breakfast upon arrival and we saw an immediate improvement in their behaviour at the moment they arrived.
If you can turn the negative situation that the child faces around and at least make it more positive, even if it is perceived positivity, it will induce more positive feelings which will result in more positive behaviours.