Teaching Strategies for Working With the Emotionally Disabled


While many aspects of teaching are difficult, most teachers have a strong educational background that provides many clues, hints and strategies to provide the best learning environment for all students. Many times students who exhibit emotional and behavior problems are difficult to reach and may cause classroom disruptions. Inappropriate verbalizations, challenges to authority and outbursts are all characteristic of students with these issues.

Helping the Emotionally Handicapped Student

One way to help a student with these types of behavioral concerns is to offer the student an emotional vocabulary so that the child is more able to label feelings. Tension is often expressed verbally or behaviorally by students with emotional issues. By providing the student with the proper labels, frustration may be reduced.

During class, it is important to approach the child as often as possible and ask him if there is something bothering him that he needs to talk about. Offering an opportunity to discuss issues will deflect the need to “spotlight” behaviors.


Deflecting Confrontations With Students

Teachers should structure a time for emotionally disabled students to be able to speak freely to the teacher without an audience. This will provide the student with an opportunity to talk about concerns without others hearing. It will also allow the teacher to defuse any possible confrontations that may arise.

Before the student starts his or her day, explain in private what is expected during class time. This is also a good time to make the child aware of rewards and consequences. Time-out areas are best placed within the child’s classroom. It is important that timeout be something that can be controlled.

Help students understand that behavior is their responsibility and that being appropriate is within their control. Clear classroom rules that state rewards and consequences are a must for any classroom, but are especially important when dealing with students who experience emotional and behavior conflicts.

Helping Students Stay Seated

If a student is experiencing difficulty staying seated, it is important that the teacher discern the pattern for when this happening. Once the pattern is discovered, the teacher can provide an errand during this time or simply move the student within the room. Sometimes movement is a way to ease anxiety and once the student realizes there is no penalty for moving around, some of the disruptive behavior will be eliminated.

Egg timers are useful tools when trying to control behavior. They give the child an anchor to help control behavior. Some teachers have found it useful for each student to have their own personal egg timers; however other teachers have found it more distracting to deal with the noise than the behavior of the student.

Many times close proximity to the teacher will also help the student to stay seated. This might even mean that the teacher needs to stand close to the student’s desk when giving a lesson.

Strategies for Social Situations

To help students find ways to develop social relationships, the teacher could start the child in a small group activity with only one child and slowly increase the size of the group as the child becomes more comfortable. Assigning goal-oriented projects where students must work together to accomplish a task will be helpful after the student is comfortable working with one partner. When working one-on-one with students who have emotional issues, a teacher can provide a “toolbox” of responses and options for typical social situations. When the student is interacting in an appropriate manner, it is necessary to use praise as often as is realistically possible

Helping this type of student to pay attention takes a variety of visual and auditory techniques, for example, tape recorders, computers, and even hand held games. It is important that the teacher makes sure the materials being presented are compatible with the child’s learning levels. Never exclude the student from being part of the lesson; randomly question the child and have him participate as often as possible. It may be necessary to provide work areas with fewer distractions for when group work is not being successful.

Checklist of Behavior Disorders

A list of characteristics of students with emotional and behavior issues is as follows: (please note that this is a general list for information only)

  • open defiance of rules and /or authority
  • rigid behavior patterns
  • verbal aggression
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • poor social relationships
  • resistance to change
  • academic underachievement
  • confrontational behavior

While many behaviors can cause disruptions in class, it is important for teachers to be aware that children with emotional disabilities can run the gamut of behaviors from withdrawal to aggressive tendencies. It is up to each teacher to determine which behavior should be minimized or possibly even eliminated for the best opportunity for success.