Difficult students are not bad kids – they simply want to be heard and often seek attention the only way they know how.

Though children who are considered to be difficult students are often disruptive or odd, they are not bad. Often, these kids fall through the cracks in a system that rewards those who are more typical and well-behaved, yet punishes problem children without uncovering the root of or providing solutions for undesirable behavior. This cycle allows these kids to transition from difficult students to misunderstood adults. This process doesn’t have to exist, as many of these misunderstood, difficult students simply need positive attention and direction.

Many of these students seek attention by fulfilling the role of unruly class clown or angry agitator – provoking other students to behave badly. A seemingly difficult student might also exhibit the opposite qualities: somber, disconnected, and eerily strange, but doesn’t follow directions nor is he or she the shy, polite child. By reaching out to connect with difficult students, educators can shift the outlook held by these children and put them on the path to becoming engaged and successful adults. Try the following methods to connect with and improve the lives of difficult students:

1. Time for Some One-on-One Face Time

difficult studentIt can be difficult, but it is important to make time to speak with each individual student face to face. Though difficult students are often looking for attention, singling out children is not usually helpful. By devoting equal time to each student, teachers will not be viewed as favoring a particular child. During this time, ask difficult students about their interests, parents, and home environment. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t open up to you right away. Many students who demonstrate disruptive behavior have trust issues with adults, so view relationship building as a marathon, not a sprint. Once your students start sharing some information with you, use it to help develop a plan of action with the following tactics.

2. Show Interest in Their Interests

After learning about the interests that make difficult students tick, try engaging these children through valuing them. Incorporate their interests into lessons plans and encourage all students to explore these activities or topics. As other students begin to value these interests, difficult students will feel more included as part of the class and have more elements that connect them with their peers. They will also recognize that you were paying attention to what they said and will be more likely to open up to you in the future.

3. Study Their Home Lives

difficult studentsAs we meet with each student, teachers will develop an idea of how the student’s home environment might affect school performance. Difficult students might come from families in which guardians work long hours, might live in a single-parent household, or endure an environment in which siblings abuse and bully defenseless children who channel these experiences into bad attitudes in class. Remember that difficult students can come from any socio-economic background, so don’t make assumptions or set expectations based on stereotypes or misconceptions. Even students from wealthy families could be dealing with issues like neglect, abuse, and anxiety. Make an attempt to contact parents and discuss the concerns regarding their child. Explain that by working together, the adults in the lives of these children can nurture, heal, and engage difficult students.

4. Provide Study Help

If a difficult student is struggling academically, extend a helping hand to improve study habits. Work with the student to develop a study schedule to use each day outside the classroom. If possible, devote a portion of class to grouping students together for study time once or twice each week. By allowing students to interact and work together, teachers will promote camaraderie between classmates and provide opportunities for difficult students to learn new study habits.

5. Expand into Extracurriculars

difficult students

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Once teachers learn about the different interests of students, they can help connect children with other adults who can cultivate these ideas into hobbies. Introduce difficult students to sports coaches, troop leaders, art teachers, or dance instructors to help children engage in activities that will allow them to channel their energy into a positive opportunity in which they can excel. Through challenging difficult students in extracurricular activities, teachers can help them increase confidence, promote interest in schoolwork, and develop new friendships.

Remember, approach is everything! These suggestions will not work without an interested, non-confrontational demeanor. Using techniques based within trauma-informed teaching, implement an approach that shows a desire to understand, not punish.

When devoting additional energy to the well-being of students in need, teachers can ignore their own mental health. Be certain to dedicate time to heal from the experience of going the extra mile to help difficult students. If an educator experiences compassion fatigue, he or she will not be able to help any child excel, and difficult students will certainly remain lost.

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