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From Aromatherapy to Affirmations: Managing Tough Behavior in the Classroom

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Though wonderful, working with children can be difficult. Sometimes challenging behaviors crop up in the classroom, and nothing teachers and caregivers do will help. A child may struggle to sit still during lessons or may have developed a biting habit. When they are very young, children don’t know how to handle these impulses, and reasoning with them may be ineffective.

So, what can you do?

Dr. William DeMeo has some solutions. His book, When Nothing Else Works, offers parents and teachers strategies to help manage problem behaviors in young children. Rooted in child psychology, these strategies range from reorganizing the classroom to developing effective communication. Below are a few ideas you can use to help your child manage his challenging behaviors.


1. Fidgets. Fidgets are fantastic! These simple toys provide children with sensory stimulation in a way that is non-disruptive, allowing them to focus on the task at hand. Young children often crave sensory stimulation that can be hard to provide in a classroom setting. They need to move, touch things, bite—interact with the world around them. Fidget toys are sensory objects full of gel that children can squeeze, fold, or bite while sitting in class. The stimulation allows them to meet this developmental need, leaving the rest of their minds available to pay attention and learn. Learn how to make your own fidget toy. 

2. Affirmations. Everybody likes to hear they’re doing a good job. For children, simple words of praise go a long way. Young children have difficulty thinking in the long term, which means it can be difficult for them to understand why they should follow rules such as “stay seated” or “wait your turn.” When caregivers consistently say “Don’t do that!” they create a negative association that can intensify challenging behaviors rather than help mitigate them. Instead, point out when children are following the rules. Comment when a child who struggles to sit still has stayed in his chair during a lesson; congratulate a child for making it through a whole day without hitting. The positive feelings that come from praise will give children more incentive to behave, teaching them to self-regulate and become aware of their behavior.

3. Weighted Stuffed Animals. Children have a tendency to get restless, especially after having sat in a classroom for a large part of the day. For some, this can lead to inappropriate behavior like running around the classroom or spinning in a chair. When restlessness becomes disruptive, teachers need a new method to encourage stillness. Weighted stuffed animals gently remind children when it is time to sit still and listen. When children hold the animal in their laps, the plush texture gives them sensory stimulation and the additional weight encourages them to stay seated. It’s a simple soothing strategy that serves both the need for stimulation and the need for stillness.

4. Aromatherapy. One of the oldest tricks in the book, aromatherapy encourages calm in the classroom. Our sense of smell is a powerful thing; certain scents can trigger memories, remind us of things we’ve learned, and influence our moods. Natural scents like lavender and eucalyptus are proven to help adults and children relax and focus. If there is a particular time during the day that things get rowdy, try introducing lavender to that time block. Simply place three drops of lavender essential oil in a spray bottle full of water, shake it up, and spritz surfaces like cushions or curtains. The comforting smells may sooth rambunctious children and help them focus.

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