When working with youth, one of the most important responsibilities for adults is knowing how to respond to inappropriate behavior. The adult’s impulse might be to immediately call the child out, but if the adult filters the “problem” through a funnel, then the adult will not expend as much energy reacting to problems.
The first possibility is to ignore the problem completely. Pick your battles. Does the child need to be confronted? Is the child truly causing a problem by doing something dangerous? Are you going to make the problem worse by confronting the child? Is the child truly causing a problem?
If the problem can’t or shouldn’t be ignored, consider how you can address the child without even speaking. Can you indicate to them from across the room that you see what they’re doing? Will that get them to stop? Can you simply move closer to the child and lessen the likelihood that they’ll continue the problem? Maybe you can rest a gentle hand on the child’s shoulder and that will communicate the message.
What tools can you provide youth that will let them regulate problems themselves? Is there a designated area in your program or classroom where youth can go to cool off or be by themselves? Can you provide materials, such as sensory boxes, that will help youth soothe themselves? Do you have a space where youth can go to talk out problems with each other?
If you do need to have a conversation with a youth, do it as respectfully and privately as possible. Stay calm and talk in a quiet voice. If you call a child out in front of others, they may act out more. Let youth preserve their dignity.
If none of these interventions work or the child is continuously engaging in disruptive or risky behavior, it may be necessary for the site coordinator to have a conference with the parent. There may be a need to set up a specific plan of action for the child or establish expectations which allow the child to remain in the program.
This content is adapted from the Toolbox Training workshop Behavior Management: Setting and Implementing Guidelines. You can read more about it here.