In my new role this year, I am working as a Facilitator (Consultant) for Parkland School Division. While my portfolio of duties is quite varied, what has turned out to be a fairly major part of my role is to assist schools with students who are struggling with mental health and behavioral issues. Sometimes I am helping a school in learning about a particular disorder or accessing a particular service. But often they are seeking advice on how to make things work for a kid for who they have tried everything they can think of to make the behavior manageable. I’ve got one strategy to share. And with the exception of a couple of students over time who have had deeply organic mental health issues, it’s worked every time. So here it is… love them and make everything they do a success experience. And do it for as long as it takes.
A ten year old boy in a intensive combined residential and school behavioral program a couple of years ago is an easy example of how this works. Initially when he arrived in the program, he responded to the structure and small environment and started to settle. But in awhile the honeymoon was over and his severe ADHD and the effects of his trauma history was too much in his daily world to engage productively for more than fleeting moments here and there. And often he was just a hurt and angry little boy lashing out and damaging the learning environment. While the teacher and EA were patient as saints and experts in manipulating environment and routine to accommodate student needs, even they were at their wits end. They sought advice. “Love him and make everything he does successful.”, I said.
There was a pause. But it wasn’t a pause of skepticism, it was a pause to think how to make it work. And so we made a list. It was a list of every positive interaction we had seen from him. And we analyzed the circumstances of those events to decipher the strength he demonstrated. We did the same to identify his challenges. Then we created new routines for him to use his positive skills and attributes to replace his tasks that posed challenges. We kept the parts of his curriculum and routines where he was successful and changed the unsuccessful parts of it to project work that would capitalize on his abilities. The projects were structured (temporarily but with no specific end date) to be completed with the EA who’s sole job it was to extract every bit of positiveness out of him and point it out to him. The teacher joined in and flooded him with even more authentic praise. After just a few days of being wrapped up in that love and success, he started to come around. Slowly the projects for the ‘love and success’ model were faded and his individual routine became part of the group routine again. It was about a three week process for this little boy.
No one is foolish enough to believe that changed everything forever, but a negative cycle of interactions had to be shaken up for progress to begin. Foundational to this was the change in relationship patterns that had developed. The teacher and EA looked at him through a lens of positivity which changed their perspective of him. The boy started to see himself differently by being immersed in positive feedback. And together there was a relationship forged on mutual respect between them all. Of note was the new found respect between the teacher and EA – what was good between them got better!