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How to Teach Children with Emotional Behaviors

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/11/2012

Children with emotional behaviors present a unique challenge to educators. Educators who learn how to teach children with emotional behaviors will be able to educate their students in more ways than just academically.

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    What are Emotional Behaviors?

    There are all kinds of reasons that children develop emotional disturbances. It may be because of some traumatic event they have experienced or it may be a direct symptom of some other underlying disorder. Whatever the reason is, all children deserve a good education, though some may need to learn coping skills along the way. Teachers need to learn to combine teaching strategies, children, emotional behaviors and classroom management techniques so that they serve the needs of the class as well as the individual.

    Emotional behavioral occur when someone becomes overwhelmed by their emotions. Their actions will reflect this feeling of being overwhelmed and the child will begin to respond to being overstimulated. Such behavior can be distracting to the classroom and even to the student doing it, but it is their way of dealing with emotions that may seem to be bigger than they are. Some of the behaviors to expect are listed below.

    • Fidgeting
    • Speaking out of turn
    • Uncontrollable crying
    • Jerky movements
    • Rude comments
    • Getting out of seat
    • Interrupting students
    • Taking things that aren't theirs
    • Doodling
    • Tantrums
    • Cussing

    These are just some of the emotional behaviors that can be expected. As you get to know the individual student, you will find that you are able to tell what is going on with the student and their emotions by the emotional behavior they display.

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    Coping Skills for Emotional Behaviors

    When emotional behaviors occur, the first priority should be to remove the child from any kind of stimulation. Their emotions are doing more than enough stimulating for them. They need to be able to calm down with a sense of dignity. Sometimes the child is able to remain in the room with the other students while getting a hold of their emotional behaviors, but sometimes either they or the other students need to be removed from the room in order to decrease stimulation for all students concerned. Use some of the coping skills below to help your student to develop positive coping skills to avoid emotional behaviors.

    • Have a plan ready so that the student with the issue or the other students can be removed from the area in order to avoid making the issue worse or disrupting the class more than is necessary.
    • Create a time out area. The time out area is not an area for punishment. This should be a calm and comforting area where students can calm themselves down.
    • Offer journal time. Sometimes the child just needs to get things out of their system. However, they might now be able to talk to you about it or you may not have the time to be able to sit with the child and discuss the emotional behaviors. Offer journal time to the child as a way for them to write out their issues. This helps them to calm down and purge some of the emotional overflow.
    • Use art therapy. Some children express themselves better through art. If you have a child exhibiting emotionally behaviors, offer them some drawing time. Not only will they feel better but you might get some insight into what they are thinking about or feeling.
    • Keep small coping tools available. Once you get to know that it is that triggers these emotional behaviors, you can better prepare for them. Tools like stress balls, stuffed animals, headphones and clay are very useful for keeping the hands busy as the child tries to get their emotions under control.
    • Use positive reinforcement. Children who are struggling to control simple behaviors need to be rewarded when they are successful. It makes them feel good and helps them to mark their progress. Use positive reinforcement to encourage positive behaviors.

    Keep in mind that each child is different and that means different coping skills are going to be needed. Emotionally disturbed children face the challenge not just of keeping their behaviors under control, but their emotions as well. Empathy and positive reinforcement are some of the most powerful tools that you have available to you. It might even be a good idea to start the day off with a brief goal setting session with the entire class so that they can prepare themselves to accomplish measurable goals for the day. Use your knowledge of teaching strategies, children, emotional behaviors and coping skills to create a productive learning environment.