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Why aren’t you telling them off? Positive approaches to supporting behaviour

Updated: Jan 23

When supporting children who struggle with their behaviour and are being challenging. there certainly isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Adults need to ask themselves, ‘What is the child’s behaviour telling me?’. 2014 SEN Code of Practice removed ‘behaviour’ as a category of SEN, replacing it instead with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Need. We often refer to the Behaviour iceberg, in which the tip of the iceberg is all we see and below the surface there could be all kinds of unmet needs going on for a child. If we can more deeply understand the need, we can appropriately tailor our approach to supporting a child.

Several years ago, we moved from a previously consequence led behaviour policy to a more nurturing approach. This has been a culture shift for some people in the school community as it can go against societal norms that have been in place for generations. The idea that ’People should take responsibility for their actions’. I understand this may be true in adulthood, but can we expect the same of our developing children? Of course, they need to understand the consequences of their actions. But, do they need to be shamed further for what was potentially poor emotional regulation or a momentary lapse of control?

Comforting a child who is experiencing high emotion

In my role as SENCo and Pastoral Lead in a mainstream primary school I can be called upon to support a child who may not be able to regulate their emotions at that time. This has often led to disruptions to lessons, angst towards staff and at times physical aggression towards others. On these occasions I find it essential to provide an emotional anchor for the child. They are often looking for a ‘way out’ having felt they need to ‘save face’ during their escalating behaviour. In remaining calm, showing support and building on a relationship I already have with the child we can usually work together to re-regulate them to a place where they can return to their learning.

In the past I may have been asked, What’s their consequence? And I am sure people

previously felt, Why aren’t they being told off? A restorative approach ensures that a child

does engage in reflection on their actions. There may be a consequence resulting from

damaged property or a breakdown of relationships and this can be rectified with an agreed

course of actions to try and make things better. Finally, I support the pupil to understand

how they could better manage the situation next time. They may need to be provided with

visual tools or practical calming techniques to help them.

Here are my top tips for positive approaches to supporting behaviour of children who may be in emotional turmoil

1. Approach calmly

2. Recognise that you have noticed how they may be feeling

3. Offer to help them

4. Listen to what they have to say or watch what their behaviour is showing you

5. Distract them or change the subject temporarily

6. When appropriate revisit the behaviour by summarising what you saw

7. Help the child to problem solve what to do next time they feel that way Reassure them that you do not feel negatively towards them because of what they did

By Gemma Hodgkins


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