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Test-taking is a stressful occurrence that some students handle better than others.

If you have one or more students who act out around test time, you may feel at your wits end! Tests are one trigger of emotional outbursts but perhaps the most common. It’s important to guide your students through stressful moments and help them regulate their emotions without acting out.

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Time and experience

Teachers mustn’t punish students who aren’t able to regulate their emotions properly, as this may be an area that is challenging for many. It takes time and life experience to properly regulate one’s emotions, and punishing children for not yet having developed these skills is unfair. Prompts can help give children a moment to collect themselves and regain their composure. Consider using prompts such as:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Let’s stop here for a minute and regroup

Transitioning

Many students also find it challenging to transition from one activity to another. This is another reason to have a structured classroom where children can get used to a routine and feel safe within its boundaries. On top of this, there are certain practices and methods that you can incorporate into your lessons to help your students learn more about emotional regulation.

Give students who have difficulty with transitions a little one-on-one time where you explain some helpful strategies and also allow them to talk about their difficulties. Even when they cannot put their feelings into words, knowing that you are there to listen to them can impact them. Work on helping them pin down their triggers and work together to find some helpful strategies to achieve calm transitions both inside and outside the classroom.

Strategies

Remind children that their emotions drive their behavior, not the other way around. It is not unusual for a child to feel like their emotions are uncontrollable and are just something or a feeling that washes over them.

Once they learn more about what causes these feelings, they can learn more about adaptive strategies. The first step, however, is to realize that they have some control over their emotions and how they handle them. This knowledge is important in providing them with a solid foundation to build their emotional health.

When children cannot feel in control of their emotions, the situation can spiral into even more behavioral issues. Helpful reminders and extra time spent with students with difficulty in this area can make all the difference in the world. Managing one’s emotions is a key part of healthy social interactions and interpersonal relationships.

When there is a time during class when a student becomes unsettled or begins to act out, stop the class for a moment. In a manner that doesn’t shame or embarrass the student, discuss how you understand why the situation is stressful and upsetting. After they know that you are compassionately treating them, invite the class to work with them to brainstorm ways that the transition could have been handled more successfully.

Children don’t like to feel like they’ve done something wrong, and when they feel like they’ve disappointed their teacher and themselves, they may become defensive and impenetrable. Do all you can to make your classroom a safe space where the students can feel vulnerable and ask for help when needed.

Incorporate activities

Incorporate activities that illustrate the emotion/behavior connection into the classroom lesson plan. Think of a few stress-inducing examples that can occur outside of the classroom, such as thunderstorms or getting separated from a parent at the supermarket. Let the kids talk about times stressful situations have happened to them and how they reacted.

Next, talk about other ways to react when they feel scared. This allows them to gain a greater understanding of the connection between behavior and emotion and helps them to gain insight into better managing their emotions.

It can be difficult for many children to grasp abstract ideas, so it is important to give them concrete examples of the topic at hand. Explore and discuss emotional triggers and how sometimes they deal well with them, and sometimes they don’t. Have them think about the factors that yielded different results and how to recreate the situations where they handled the triggers successfully. Helping children alter their behavior without criticizing or punishing them is a challenge but one that is well worth the time and effort.

Practice patience

Recognize that it’s often the children who act out the most that are the ones struggling more. When you do your best to approach every situation, no matter how difficult, with patience, the outcomes can be much more positive. The more consistent you are, the more likely the child will adopt positive behaviors that will become their new norm.

Of course, there may be instances where a student requires more intervention than you can provide. In such cases, it may be most helpful to call a meeting with the administrative team and the parents to discuss the situation and possible strategies for change.