A Closer Look

Effective Responses to Challenging Behaviors: Building Student Connection and Improving Behavioral Health

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One day, as an early career school psychologist, I found myself walking down the hall of one of my elementary schools when a fourth-grade student whizzed by me running at almost a full sprint. Directly behind him was the resource room teacher, also running at what appeared to be her full sprint. She yelled at me out of the side of her mouth “Help me!” Honestly, I stood there rather frozen. I didn't know what to do. I just knew my natural instinct was not to chase him as then there would be two of us chasing a fourth-grade student and likely not catching him. My instinct was that he would run faster and further being chased. Eventually, he stopped running and came back to the classroom. There was no physical harm done, and he was able to calm down, although he continued to have behavioral and emotional challenges at school until he graduated to middle school. What really stuck with me about this experience was that I really didn’t know how to help the teacher or the student.

This experience was many years ago now, but I have not forgotten about it. I believe that some of the most challenging students in our buildings have a combination of emotional and behavioral needs that interfere with various facets of the school experience. They also often manifest in oppositional behaviors that can appear on a day-to-day basis, ranging from mild to severe at any given time.

What can a school psychologist do in these instances, and how can we support these students? First, don’t begin to think that you are not skilled enough to help. It is okay to say to yourself or others that you do not have all of the answers but are willing to help in whatever way you can. Second, remember that by outwardly showing that you care about your students and staff, it sends a message of support, and that makes a difference.

Other examples of what school psychologists could offer that would be helpful to staff and students with behavioral and emotional needs:

  • Simply take the time to talk with teachers, asking them if there is something that you can do to support the student, them, or their classroom. Be open to what they ask.
  • Create templates for home–school notes or point sheets for student behavior plans. Creating different templates, then adjusting or tweaking them for specific students and situations, has helped me over the years. It is much easier to start from a template than to start from scratch.
  • Find time in your schedule or day when you could work directly with a student by providing counseling or therapeutic support, and offer this to teachers and parents.
  • Create a small group of students with similar needs, and teach skills—such as executive functioning skills, social skills, or mindfulness skills—to meet those students’ needs.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Have faith that you can make a difference for this student and the staff. The first place to begin is to care and show that you do.

About the Author

Dr. Tish Taylor Tish Taylor, PhD
Dr. Tish Taylor is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in the greater Kansas City area. She has an established practice specializing in clinical assessment and the mental health treatment of children and teens. She is also a licensed school psychologist and has years of experience working within school districts as a psychologist and coordinator of mental health services. In addition, Dr. Taylor is an adjunct professor teaching Child Development for many years. She has written “Parenting ADHD with Wisdom and Grace” and “Fostering Connection”.