Let’s start with the basics: we’re all human, and we’re all entitled to rough days every now and then. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that kids can have tough days too. Think about the last time you reminisced about your childhood. Did you remember something positive? Chances are you did, and you didn’t remember the time you got frustrated with a word you were struggling to read or an equation you didn’t solve correctly on the first try. In my own experience, I’ve seen how much pressure is being put on students not only by adults, but by the kids themselves. That pressure is pretty heavy, and sometimes, it’s overwhelming. Most of the time, I can spot frustration before it has been reached, and I am armed with strategies for them to employ. I thought this would be a great space to share them.
- Provide a framework
Most of my students reach frustration without always knowing why. Was it really that I asked them to complete a task or was it something else that happened before they even walked into speech? I give them the frame “I feel ____ because ______.” This requires them to think about what is causing the emotion. Sometimes it’s something simple, like, “I need a fidget to focus.” Sometimes it’s “I need to go to the office and call home because I left my library book in my room, and it’s due today.”
- Provide the student with choices.
If the student is frustrated, I give them choices for navigating the moment. Do you want to work, or do you want to take a two minute break? If the student says they need a break, then by all means, please take it. If they’re ready to work, I ask them if there is something that will help them complete the task, and provide it as appropriate.
- Ask them what they need.
Sometimes, my students will point-blank tell me they’re frustrated or that something just isn’t working. My response is “Okay. What do you need?” This response varies from situation to situation, as well as by student. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s taking deep breaths, sometimes it’s a fidget toy. It can be just about anything, but by identifying the need, they can identify a potential solution which leads me to my next strategy….
- Problem solving diagrams
These are simple and easy to make. I usually use a dry-erase board and ask the student to tell me the problem. I then give them the time and space to dictate to me potential solutions to the problem. This gives us the opportunity to walk through all of our options and arrive at what the student will do to solve the problem. We can discuss how to react in the future, and the varying “sizes” of the problem. We can give it a scale and brainstorm when it’s appropriate to take which action. This allows the student to feel empowered and truly own their actions and reactions.
- Change the activity.
I will usually move back to a task the student feels confident completing as we work through the moment of frustration, or take a break. This break can be silent or it can be to discuss the issue at hand. The alternative to this is ask the student what they’d like to do for the last 5-10 minutes of the session and have them work towards that reward. Mad Libs and Bingo are always a hit with my students.
- Follow their lead.
If the student doesn’t want to talk to you about the issue, don’t force it. Do they want to talk to the counselor? A teacher? Let them. Do they just need a break? Allow them to take it. Adults don’t like to work while frustrated either, and allegedly, we’re better at emotional regulation. Does the student want to throw the lesson out the window and talk to you? Listen. Listening makes a world of difference. If you can get back to your lesson, great. If not, there’s always next time.
Working well under pressure isn’t for everyone, and my students are still learning how to regulate their emotions. If they’re visual learners, I will break out the “How Is Your Engine Running?” or Zones of Regulation tools I have at my disposal. These frameworks allow their feelings to become more concrete to them so they can better express themselves. As adults, we forget how much is expected of a student throughout the day–transitions, multiple subjects, homework, independent work, social interaction, assessments–add any pull-out service to that, and of course it’s stressful. My challenge this week is that we observe and listen to the feelings of others and see if we can come up with additional strategies, or identify what strategies work for you and your students.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP