ADD/ADHD in the Classroom – Managing Behavior (3)

Unfortunately many teachers cannot resist the temptation to immediately trace any behavioral issues in the classroom to willful disobedience and rebelliousness. It is only a small step from this to white hot anger – How dare the little rebels mess up my classroom time like that!? When you stop to think, however, that there might be several alternative explanations for the way in which students act out you can begin to work on strategies to minimize and hopefully eliminate troubling behavior. In the case of students with ADD/ADHD a major cause behind challenging behavior is the fact that they are frustrated, irritated and even angered by the fact that they cannot cope with the classroom situation as easily as their peers. The fact that difficulties in maintaining focus is an inherent part of the condition means that most students with ADD/ADHD will at some stage experience feeling ‘lost’ or left behind during activities that other kids in the class have no problems with.
Recognizing the cause of frustration, irritation and anger in the lives of ADD/ADHD students is a very important step towards achieving desired behavioral outcomes as it will enable you to design effective interventions and strategies to help them to deal with the way they are feeling. It will also enable you to design effective interventions based on the causes of troubling behavior (and not merely on the symptoms). Here are some basic interventions that are proactive in the sense that they will help you and the students to defuse crises before they even happen:
**Have frequent conversations with troubled students: **One of the chief reasons for conflict spiraling out of control in the classroom is the perception that ‘the other side’ do not understand you. This is especially true in the case of students with ADD/ADHD. They constantly have to deal with a baffling range of emotions and frustrations raging inside of them. They find it hard to believe that anyone could have even a hint of insight into how they are feeling. Opening active lines of communication with such students will clearly communicate your care and concern and also your active efforts to try and understand what they are dealing with. If this is in place they will be much more likely to approach you should things become tough or if they have a problem with something that is happening in class. You may think that you do not have the time to build these kinds of relationships, but ask yourself: What is easier, a few kind words every now and then or managing full-blown classroom conflict?
**Coach students to deal effectively with difficult situations**: It is, sadly, often the case that students who struggle with aspects of the classroom environment get picked on and bullied. Many ADD/ADHD students have had the experience of being ‘baited’ by other students for the dubious ‘entertainment’ provided by an eruption of anger or chaos that will often ensue. This kind of deliberate targeting of ADD/ADHD kids can make their lives a misery and also get them into a great deal of trouble since teachers do not always have the time to truly get behind the causes of classroom incidents. Dealing with this kind of situation will obviously require a two-pronged approach, finding and disciplining perpetrators and also teaching children with ADD/ADHD how to deal with sticky situations. Make it your priority to help students to clearly identify situations where they are being baited or where there is potential for bullying and to walk away immediately if possible.
**Provide Positive Reinforcement: **It is a sad fact that many ADD/ADHD students have been knocked about so often because of behavioral issues that they actually begin to believe that they are somehow inherently bad or naughty. This kind of self-talk can be very damaging as people will often act-out according to the perception that they have of themselves. One of your major tasks will therefore be to counter this type of harmful self-image and replace it with something more constructive and positive. A key strategy in achieving this goal is to provide positive feedback whenever possible. You may think that this is virtually impossible in some situations (What is there to praise!?) but keep looking until you find even the smallest thing about which you can make a positive comment. You will be surprised to see how even the ‘hard cases’ will respond to this. It almost seems as if we as human beings are wired to appreciate and react to words that build up rather than destroy. Over time this type of positive reinforcement will ideally cause students to reevaluate the entire way in which they view themselves and how they interact with others. So remember, even the smallest thing is worth praising, the result can be big improvements!
We sometimes tend to see behavioral challenges as an insurmountable barrier between us and effective classroom management. What I have tried to show with this week’s article is that an attempt to look beyond the symptoms and unearth root causes (and then responding with common sense interventions) can make a world of difference in clearing the barrier. I sincerely hope that this will be your experience too!