10 Ways to Support Students Who Are Emotionally Disturbed

Find out how you can help your student achieve her full potential.

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1. Establish a Welcoming Environment

Welcome all students to the classroom with open arms and positive regard. Establish early on that your classroom is a safe place where everyone is accepted. Encourage students with emotional disabilities by giving them responsibilities, like distributing papers. Guide general education peers to ignore inappropriate behaviors that are not harmful.

2. Clearly Explain Classroom Conduct

Present classroom rules with transparency so there are no questions about what is expected. Describe each rule with a clear example, and allow for questions and interactive feedback. Spell out rewards for when the rules are followed and consequences for when they are disobeyed.

3. Be Positive, Not Punitive

Teach acceptable behaviors by frequently providing models and examples. Positively and consistently enforce rules. Reinforce desirable behaviors with specific and complimentary comments: "Matt, I am glad you volunteered an answer in class today. Thank you for doing that."

4. Be Respectful, Not Reproachful

Respond to students as humans with feelings, rather than just reacting to the behavior. Respectfully teach appropriate social behaviors before pointing a finger. When a student acts out: 1. Ask him to stop and think about his action. 2. Ask him what he should have done. 3. Then request that he tries again more appropriately.

5. Show Tolerance

Pick and choose when you want compliance or give time to cool off. Allow students with emotional disabilities the freedom to participate in their own way. When other students move to the floor, allow him to participate from his desk to avoid a confrontation.

6. Foster Social Skills

Weave social skills instruction into your teaching. Review acceptable ways of asking and answering a question. Go over strategies for resolving conflicts and dealing with stress. Discuss how to respectfully work with others in groups, at lunch, and on the playground.

7. Get to Know the Student

Communicate with parents, former teachers, and the student himself to learn what particular anxieties or situations bother him. Use behavioral contracts with the student, and draw from strategies that have worked in the past. If certain class activities bring out particular behaviors, provide an alternative independent-work activity for the student. Sometimes students with emotional disabilities work better alone, even when the rest of the class is working in groups.

8. Refocus Distorted Thinking

Reframe students' negative perceptions, since positive thinking leads to positive actions and behaviors. Teach children to celebrate their successes rather than attribute them to luck or outside forces. Acknowledge positive thinking and decision making: "Good job stopping and thinking before acting!"

9. Shape Up the Surroundings

Strategically seat the student near positive peer models and away from peers who cause trouble. Keep potentially harmful substances or objects away from easy access. During testing provide distraction-free environments and extra time to help the student feel at ease.

10. Modify Materials

Avoid overwhelming him by breaking down assignments, readings, and test items into smaller sections. Teach self-monitoring by providing checklists or charts so he can track his academics and behaviors.

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