Mindsets for Teachers of Children with Emotional and Behavior Disorders: #2 Persistence and perseverance


“I will persist, I will persevere.
A “never say die” mindset is essential to success with children with emotional and behavior disorders. Any parent or teacher of children with behavior problems will most likely tell you that stubbornness is the most common trait of these children. At times you will want to throw your hands up and quit.

Think about this for a minute, someone is trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do. If you really don’t want to do it, don’t you just keep findings ways to get out of it? I detest washing dishes. I will do anything other than washing dishes. I might even fall asleep to avoid doing them. Deep down inside I am hoping for a miracle that somehow they will get done themselves. However it doesn’t happen and they are still there. Now I also have this strong motivation to want to eat off clean dishes. They haven’t gone anywhere and I am still responsible for getting them done. Those stubborn dishes won’t clean themselves. I can only hold off for so long. Eventually there will be no more clean dishes to eat off of, and those darn dirty dishes are still going to be there. They refuse to go away! Now I’ve realized that the only way to make this serious condition of mine go away, I have to get started on washing those dishes. Once I begin cleaning them I discover that the mountain of dishes shrinks right before my eyes. In less than 10 minutes I’m finished rinsing the dishes and the dish washer takes over. Yes, I only had to rinse the dishes, all I had to do was start the task and a machine did most of the work. It actually took minimal energy on my part, as opposed to all the energy I spent into avoiding doing the dishes to begin with. My reward in the end was that the dirty dishes went away (and I had some clean ones to eat off of). Talk about a personalized lesson in negative reinforcement!

The point is, in order to make it work, you have to be those dirty dishes. You are not going to go away so easily and sometimes things might a little nasty before we can get ourselves cleaned up. We need to teach students that engaging in misbehavior will no longer gain a favorable outcome. But with some effort, the students will begin to see that positive behaviors will help them achieve their goals. We need to remain steadfast in our conviction in order to teach students that conditions have changed. However in order to do that, you have to remain consistent. If you are consistent only some of the time, you are not being persistent. If you are not persistent, you will never persevere. If you are consistent only some of the time, the child’s behavior will still have a reinforcing outlet. In which case you end up blaming the child (unjustifiably so) and not accepting responsibility for creating change.

One day when I was 12 years old, I was watching a television show in which this gentleman was juggling several items in the air. So fascinated by this, I decided to teach myself how to juggle. I went into my room with a tube of tennis balls and tried to figure it out. I didn’t have a book, someone sitting their coaching my through it, or even a clue on how to even start. But I was able to visualize what it looked like. I saw myself standing there juggling. I could see every move I was supposed to make. Even at 12 years old I was able to problem solve my way through the task at hand. I was determined that the world would not see my face until I had mastered the art of juggling. I started off with 3 tennis balls and after several failures thought “I should just start with something simple”. So I began trying to juggle 2 tennis balls. This still was not as easy as I thought it would be. So again after several failures I went down to one tennis ball. I concentrated on the ball I had tossed over and over, taking in account how high it was tossed and how it landed in my hand. Then I tried to add another ball. I found that I couldn’t catch a ball if another one was already in that hand. I had to toss the first ball high enough so that I could toss another ball in the air in time and at a different trajectory to catch the dropping ball. Soon enough, I was juggling two tennis balls and was beyond happy. Not satisfied until I learned to juggle three tennis balls, I continued at my work. I followed the same process. I started sometime mid-morning, and I finished when it was dark outside. I didn’t take time to eat, I surely didn’t sleep, and never left the room even to take a restroom break. Think about how many attempts and failures I probably made that day. Now it took an entire day sequestered in my room to learn how to juggle, but I was finally able to do it. Imagine the look on my 12 year old face when I could leave my room, show off for my parents that I could juggle, and that I tell them I had taught myself. Talk about a self-esteem booster!

Think about this in your day to day classroom problems. You will have students who will test your limits. Like I mentioned earlier, you will have your days when you will want to give up because you’ve failed so many times you’ve been “beaten”. You will not have the answers to every problem they are going to present. You will have days that you will feel you are the most incompetent teacher and person in the world. One way to fail is in believing that you don’t have any answers. Trust that there is always something different you could have done. There are always alternatives to any situation and the only limit to the number of alternatives is your creativity. The alternatives may not be easy and they may not always be good, but there are alternatives nonetheless. Another easy way to fail is to think you have all the answers and that you are always going to be perfect on the first try. Having that kind of mindset will lead to helplessness, depression, and shame when a solution fails. If you had all the answers to everything, then why are you doing what you’re doing? You should be out on the lecture circuit making millions!

Sometimes we need to take on the traits of the students we so dutifully care for. They often tend to be very persistent and their behaviors allow them to persevere in what they are trying to accomplish, as negative as the goal may be. Therefore we must be persistent in our attempts to find solutions to problems. You must persist at solving problems and reject the notion that you must achieve perfection the first time. Allow yourself to seek and ask for help and resist temptations to do everything on your own. In order to do this you must train yourself to stay calm and gain control of your thinking, also known as rational detachment. By doing this you can start to think objectively in order to identify the problem. Once you identify the problem, you let your brain work for you by developing as many possible solutions as you can. A solution doesn’t necessarily have to be feasible at this point, just possible. Next pick solutions and seek help if and when it is necessary. Now that you have a generated list of solutions you know you can do, try them out. Designate a period of time you will give the solutions before you evaluate the results. A good rule of thumb is 10 days. Remember that behaviors will most likely increase or intensify before you see an improvement, so don’t abandon a strategy because the first few days don’t go as expected. Once you have evaluated the effectiveness of your solutions, you can decide if you need to continue or choose another solution when one doesn’t work.   When you are a persistent problem solver, you will find that you will have a tendency to look forward to new challenges and seek opportunities to be creative. You will have more self-confidence, be more resistant defeat, and be better able to handle stressful situations.

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