Impulsivity (page 3)
A general lack of self-control describes the impulsive teenager best. 0r as a popular comedian recently said, "Ready, fire, aim!" The student finds it all too easy to act first and think later. This can create an unending list of problems, and some of them can be quite serious. The older the person becomes, the more serious the offenses they are likely to be. For example, a third grader may progress from flattening a boy in a softball game when it was thought that the boy had batted out of turn to shooting someone because of an angry exchange of words. Usually, the outcomes are not as serious as causing death, but impulsivity certainly wreaks havoc in many lives. Let's look at a more typical example of impulsivity with teenagers.
Andy has always had a hard time with raising his hand before speaking in class. Each year as he floundered more and more academically, he has seemed to blurt out comments more easily. By the tenth grade Andy doesn’t even make a pretense of raising his hand anymore; he just says what he wants to say when he wants to say it. His teachers are frustrated. They know they can't send him to the office every time he interrupts the class, and usually when they do give him a pink slip he is back in the room in less time than it took to fill out the form for the office. Andy also has problems with written work. Instead of taking his time with an answer, he just writes down the first thing that pops into his head. Controlling his temper has been the most serious problem, however. Andy has few friends because he "flies off the handle" too easily. Anyone who tries to be a friend of his can expect to be involved in quite a few fights instigated by a frustrated, angry Andy. He isn’t really angry with his friend, of course; this is only a symptom. The underlying cause of the anger is that Andy is terribly frustrated with his life and finds himself striking out at whomever happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’m certain that you can easily see that Andy is upset. If he has an outburst of anger before coming to your class, you will also be a recipient of the continuing effects of anger, frustration, and possibly Andy's disappointment in himself for "losing it." At any rate, Andy will be in no condition to concentrate, to take a test, to participate in a class discussion, or in any other constructive activity. He will first need to have some way of calming down.
If arrangements have been made ahead of time, it may be wise for Andy to go to the gym and hit a punching bag until he gets some of his negative feelings out of his system. If you feel uncomfortable having him go to the gym alone, send his "buddy" with him. This may prevent the occurrence of another traumatic event. It may be helpful for Andy to go to a prearranged "time out" location and remain there until he feels that he is ready to join the class. If there is no location in your school for a “time out” student to sit, make one in your classroom. This should be behind something that will block his view of his classmates and will give him some privacy while he gets his emotions under control. Try having him listen to some calming music through headphones. Baroque classical music is an excellent choice.
There are a variety of other ways to deal with impulsivity in the classroom. Some will be effective with volatile situations, whereas others may be worth trying with students who exhibit their impulsivity in more passive ways, such as writing down an answer on a test before they think it through thoroughly. Let's explore a few of them:
- Try role playing. Have the student role play a situation with you in private. Perhaps when he is in a less volatile environment he can think more clearly, and then perhaps he can see that he made a mistake. He must discover this for himself, however.
- Reverse roles. When #1 doesn't work, try reversing roles. Have Andy be his former friend, and have the other boy be Andy. Tell each boy that he must say or think what the other person said or thought before or during the altercation. As much as possible, each person must use the same body language, and the like.
- Describe the role of the other person. If #2 may be too risky, try this. Each boy must describe what happened through the eyes of a third person. For example, Jamie might say, "Bob was on the playground when Jamie walked up. Bob smiled and said he wanted to play softball. Jamie had a ball in his pocket, and he threw it at Bob. Bob cried because the ball hurt his head so much. Jamie laughed. Then Bob hit Jamie in the nose. Both boys were sent to the office.”
- Have prearranged hand signals for nonverbal communication. If there is a danger of speaking out in class without permission, you might select the signal of putting a finger to the lips to indicate quiet. As a reminder to read during class time instead of writing notes might include putting a finger to one’s eye.
- Compliment a student who is following your directions. If Andy is interested in having your approval, this may serve as a reminder for him to “shape up” without your having to address him directly.
- Check with the parent regarding general nutrition habits, sleep patterns, and anything else that may be causing increased impulsivity. It is impossible to run automotive machinery on water, but sometimes we expect to run our human machinery on little except pizza, soft drinks, and candy. Having the school nurse conduct a session for your class on nutrition, sleep, and the like, may make an impression on Andy as well as on some of his peers.
- Be consistent. Have a rule regarding what the consequences are when students speak out in class without permission, and stick to it. Try to consistently ignore those who yell out in class without your permission to speak. Teachers who have the most behavior problems are usually the ones who are strict one day and lenient the next. Students experiment to see how far they can get with these teachers. Inconsistency makes for a long day as a teacher!
- Use e-mail. If you have frequent problems in your classroom because of impulsivity, arrange to spend 5 minutes two to three nights a week with that student's parents via e-mail. (Today many parents can be expected to have access to e-mail.) This has several benefits. First, it keeps teacher and parent(s) informed about what is going on in the student’s life. It is easier to be understanding if you know the reason for a misbehavior. Second, it can be easier to end a conversation on e-mail than it is on the phone. When you write, "Thank you for your understanding. I'll be back in touch with you Thursday night," you can sign off. End of conversation. If you are dealing with a student who is “sneaky," you may wish to agree on a password so that you will be sure that you are communicating with the parent and not the child. For example, have the parent always end the correspondence with “Yours truly" or misspell a word in a prearranged way (appreciate/ apresiate). If the parent has personal access to e-mail at work, this would ensure direct communication with no snooping by the teenager.
- Send a notebook back and forth. Have a notebook that is used for no other purpose than for parent and teacher(s) to communicate. If the student is unreliable about transporting the notebook, perhaps a sibling or a neighbor will do this. Try to make positive comments whenever possible.
- Teach the student to use a mnemonic device through a learning strategy. It is possible to achieve success with this without a great deal of effort if the student is generally familiar with the learning strategies approach. Whenever the student realizes that impulsive behavior is on the horizon, having memorized a mnemonic device can prevent disaster. For example, Andy is really upset that John got in line in front of him, and he wants to punch him "good." Instead, he remembers that when he feels this way he is to think of the mnemonic device "SW3." Then he goes through each letter of the mnemonic device, taking approximately 30 seconds to do so:
- Stop and count to 10.
- What happened?
- What am I going to do about it?
- Is it Worth it?
Granted, there are many impulsive teenagers who could not wait 30 seconds before taking action. They are convinced that Ready, fire, aim! is a perfectly good approach to life. If you are a good salesperson, you may “sell" this idea to some of your students and keep them from doing something they will later regret.
- Teach active reading to impulsive students. (This is especially important on examinations.) Many impulsive students do not read a test question completely. They often read only part of the narrative and quickly guess at fragments of the four or five choices available. In active reading the student first circles all "signal words," which are words that significantly change the meaning of a sentence (and, but, however, never , occasionally, etc.), You can find lists of signal words in many workbooks on study skills or passage comprehension. Next, the student should underline the main idea of the question and then ask himself what the question is asking before he reads the choices. Finally, he reads the choices and goes through the process of eliminating the most obvious ones. It may be necessary to reread the main body of the question. Negative questions are extremely difficult for impulsive students. Have the student read the question as a positive question. For example, “All of the following were Civil War generals for the Union except:" The student looks through the choices to find the answer to "All of the following were Civil War generals for the Union and he circles the four Union generals. He then knows that General Stonewall Jackson is the correct answer because his name was not circled and he was not a general for the Union.
- If all else fails, go to your school placement committee and ask for help. Pooling of minds can generate solutions. In serious cases the committee may feel that an alternative placement is wise for a period of time. It is also possible that the committee will need to ask the parent to confer with the student’s physician about the problem with impulsivity. Remember that an educator should never refer a student to a physician for a prescription medication. It is perfectly acceptable to make a referral, but the physician will decide on the question of possible medication and will bear the responsibility for whatever is prescribed.
© ______ 2000, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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