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What Are Challenging Behaviors in Education?

A parent volunteer was helping with a school event. She struggled to stop one student who kept doing what was not allowed. At the end of the event, she talked to one of the teachers who told her the child had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The child's behavior interfered with the volunteer's time. Instead of focusing on helping the children, she had to spend most of her time with one child who would not follow directions. This is challenging behavior because it interferes with learning.

An online search for "challenging behavior" contains articles that mostly focus on early childhood education. These articles discuss how to help children work through challenges they face while learning to self-regulate during the toddler years.

However, not all children develop self-control by elementary or middle school. And challenging behavior is not limited to children identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Emotional or Behavioral Disorder (EBD).

You can see challenging behavior in all children, including those without medical reasons. A divorce, a death in the family and bullying can cause a child to exhibit challenging behavior. Some children raised in unstable or non-traditional homes feel like they cannot trust anyone. Some believe adults will abandon or abuse them at some point.

Effects of Challenging Behavior in Education

On, authors Barbara Kaiser and Judy Sklar Rasminsky explain that challenging behavior can hurt the child because it gets in the way of learning and creating positive relationships with other students. Challenging behavior is not just a problem for the teacher and other students; it can be upsetting to students who know what to do but have little control over their own behavior.

This behavior also challenges the adults in the student's life. Many adults (like the volunteer mentioned earlier) do not have the knowledge or skills to steer the child away from the challenging behavior.

What exactly does challenging behavior mean? Kaiser and Rasminsky describe it as behavior that does any of the following:

  • Interferes with children's learning, development, and success at play.
  • Is harmful to the child, other children, or adults.
  • Puts a child at high risk for later social problems or school failure.

Working with challenging behaviors can drain the energy of an educator regardless of their experience or talent.

How Teachers Survive Challenging Behavior

In "Compassionate Discipline: Dealing with Difficult Students," Grace Dearborn lists four common traits in teachers who still love teaching after more than 15 years:

  • Know how to use a variety of effective tools to work with challenging behaviors.
  • Show empathy for children acting out in class who have had bad experiences outside of class.
  • Avoid letting the situation bring them down when having bad moments with students.
  • Do not consider it a failure when student does not change behavior or succeed.

Dearborn offers suggestions on how educators can help these students without burning out. These tips focus on students who come from difficult environments. They tend to view adults as untrustworthy. Her tips may work well for students with trust issues, but they may not work for those with autism, emotional disturbance, or other differences.

"Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in the Classroom" describes the typical characteristics of children with these disorders and teaching strategies for those children. Some of the strategies may work for students who do not have emotional or behavior disorders.

Expanding Knowledge to Work with Students With Diverse Learning Needs

Teachers working in special education will encounter students with a variety of needs and backgrounds. And even those working in the general classroom will have days when they need strategies to help a student cope.

Educators can learn these strategies for managing behaviors in the classroom by taking a professional development course or a class at a university. Still, there are a wide variety of differences, strategies and situations. No one can learn it all in one class or by reading articles and books.

One option is to pursue a Master of Education in Special Education. Most educators pursuing this degree work full time. Because it can be challenging to drive to a campus at a set time multiple times every week, many choose an online program like the M.Ed. in Special Education -- Challenging Behaviors online from Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU).

Enrolling in the SOSU program does not require a special education background. To earn the M.Ed. degree, students will need to complete 30 hours. It can be done in as few as 12 months. Students can take one or two courses at a time. SOSU online offers six sessions per year, each one running for seven weeks. Students can begin in any session.

The goal of this program is to help educators expand their knowledge and skills in providing services to children with a range of learning needs. Educators will learn analysis, intervention and support strategies for working with students with challenging behaviors.

Learn more about the SOSU online M.Ed. in Special Education -- Challenging Behaviors program.


AMLE: Compassionate Discipline: Dealing With Difficult Students What Is Challenging Behavior?

Education Corner: Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in the Classroom

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