Archive of ‘Academic and Emotional Success’ category

The Misbehaving Student…and How to Help Them

It is the most difficult children who often need us the most.  We hear from people working in schools that consequences and suspensions do not seem to change their behavior.  Core curriculum, testing and other requirements are putting an incredible burden on teachers. These challenging students are often the tipping point for a class.

What these misbehaving children are really looking for is to feel like they belong in the class, and that they are cared about.

Many of the misbehaving children have had things happen in their young lives that cause them to distrust others.  They may not have been fed or had their physical needs taken care of as babies, so they do not understand “if-then” thinking – if I cry, I get fed.  If I act out in class, then there are consequences. Some may be dealing with abuse or neglect of them or a parent, drugs or alcohol in the home, or violence.  They may feel they always have to be “on guard”, to protect themselves. 

All it takes is one adult to make a difference a child’s life.

So what can be done to help?  Here are some ways to build relationships with these most difficult children:

  • Get to where you can speak face to face with them.   Speak calmly and slowly. If you remain calm, it will help them to calm down.
  • Express an understanding of how they are feeling, saying “It seems like you are really angry.  Tell me more.” And then listen.
  • Ask them what you can do to help them.  They may need a break from being in the class, so asking if they would like to bring something to the office or another class may help.
  • Focus on building the relationship.  As trust is built, they may question it, as they may not have had a trusting relationship with an adult before. 

It is important to have patience and give it time.  These children likely have had years of bad relationships with adults.  As the relationship builds, the whole class benefits. There will be less disruptions, and more teachable time.  You can be that “one adult” for this child!

Written by: Carol Dores

Carol is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer. She has worked with educators and staff of preschoolers through high school, as well as hundreds of parents of all aged children (prenatal to adult). She co-founded Positive Discipline of Connecticut, and served as Co-Chair of the international Board of Directors of the Positive Discipline Association. Carol has worked with schools in bringing Positive Discipline to whole school settings. She has two adult sons and a husband of over 35 years. Their relationships continue to grow and benefit from Positive Discipline.

Beating Test Taking Jitters

Having worked in Austin Independent School District schools for several years prior to entering private practice, I always think about state testing as we enter April. I remember the increased level of anxious tension that seemed to rise in everyone – students, teachers, and administration alike – as test day approached. I remember teens coming into my office with stomachaches, headaches, and deep senses of self-doubt. Administration seemed to run around a bit more frantic and fragile.

By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

How I wish the measurement of students’ success was in how excited they were about learning, how much they talked about what they learned outside of class, and how engaged they were in the classroom. I wish teachers were measured by the enthusiasm, dedication, and creativity with which they taught.

Nevertheless, we are in an age where tests matter. That being said, I thought I might offer a few suggestions if your children are experiencing an increased level of anxiety related to test taking this spring.

  1. Teach and encourage the use of relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or imagery. For example, you can teach your younger children to fill up their belly with air like a balloon and blow out slowly or you can have them take a few deep breaths through a straw to help simulate what it’s like to slow down your breath.
  1. Use technology for your children’s’ benefit. Smiling Mind is a helpful phone app to guide meditation exercises. You can designate the users age to find appropriate relaxation and mindfulness techniques for child.
  1. Encourage your child to exercise on the days leading up to the test and eat a balanced meal on test morning – one without a lot of sugar or caffeine. (Make sure to look for hidden sugar in cereals and yogurt)
  1. Get creative with positive self-talk and encouragement. Try putting up Post-It notes around your house with little reminders of how you believe in your child’s ability to succeed. You can also help them make some themselves to encourage positive self-talk. They might say, “I know you’ve got this test down.” “Your hard work is going to pay off.” “You will be calm and relaxed during your test.” “My hard work is going to pay off when I take this test.”
  1. Make sure to reinforce to your child that your love is unconditional. Assure them that your love for them is not dependent on academic or test performance. Remind them that you love them simply because of who they are and that they are yours. Let your actions reflect this as well as your words.
  1. Practice what you preach. If you want your child to attack life’s stressors with a calm mind, then model this for them as well. Let them see you managing your stress with mindfulness techniques, exercise, positive self-talk, etc.


Happy Testing Season!


Anxiety: Protective or Problematic?

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

You step out into the street. Suddenly, you notice a car speeding toward you. Just in time, you move out of the way and into safety. Your brain, constantly monitoring situations has acted almost instantly to protect you.

This protective action is possible due to the way our brains have developed to respond over time. The older part of our brain is designed to help us in “survival mode” and focuses on preparing our bodies to fight, freeze, or flee. The newer part of our brain allows us to think logically, process emotions, problem-solve, and be self-aware. When our brains detect threat, the newer part of the brain goes “offline” and the older part of our brain takes control. Once we respond to the threat, our newer brain comes back online and we are again able to communicate and think flexibly, creatively, and rationally.

In terms of a speeding car, this process is obviously very useful. Sometimes, however, we perceive a situation that is not actually threatening in the same way. Think about that example of narrowly avoiding a speeding car. Close your eyes and imagine the sensations you would feel. Your heart might beat much faster than normal. Maybe you feel short of breath, dizzy, sweaty, or sick to your stomach. These are reactions our bodies have developed to keep us safe and alert and are very normal. Now imagine feeling these sensations when you are looking at a test or a crowded room full of people instead of an oncoming car. That’s anxiety.

These perceptions lead to us to feel tense, irritable, restless, tired, or shaky. Often, it can be difficult to concentrate, focus, and fall or stay asleep. When feeling anxious, we might not even notice some of our symptoms, because we are focused on what we think is happening or fear might happen. These perceptions can be disruptive in any setting – at home, at school, with friends and family. With school, this might mean we shut down during a test we prepared for or can’t fall asleep because we can’t stop thinking about the next day. Socially, we might stop doing things we used to enjoy, avoiding hanging out in groups, or responding to texts because it feels too overwhelming. When our fear or worry significantly interferes with our daily life, we describe it as anxiety.

HebbianYerkesDodson.svgIt’s important to note here that a little bit of academic or social anxiety can be helpful. For those of you who like psychology, this is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law and looks like this:

The middle of this curve is where we do our best work, nail our performances, or even ask someone out on a date. Clinical anxiety kicks in to the right of the curve. If you find yourself to the right of the curve often (and you’re not just running around dodging cars on Mopac,), I’d recommend talking to a professional because there are many ways to manage anxiety – with and without medication.

I love working with anxiety because we can really bring a lot of creativity to the process. It’s always helpful to start with what’s already working (maybe just a little bit) and build on it. For example, you might notice a greater sense of calm when your favorite song is playing. From there, we can build a playlist to turn on when studying for that test. Maybe you are artistic and enjoy the feel of oil pastels on paper when your heart starts racing. We can create an art journal to explore ways to cope expressively. There are also wonderful ways to help our brains come back online once they’ve gone into fear mode – through breathing, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. In addition to coping strategies, it is important to explore those fears, thoughts, and things we say to ourselves when we feel anxious. When we name these fears in a safe space and develop an understanding of what’s involved, we can discover new tools to manage these feelings.


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