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Classroom Management: Expert Answers from Expert Teachers

Janelle Cox

At times, being a teacher is like being a surrogate parent. Things happens in and out of the classroom, and sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or say to a child. Children can experience bullying or abuse at home, the death of a loved one, or even just the simple disappointment of not being included at playtime. When our students are hurting, there’s a good chance that they are going to come to us for support -- so much so that oftentimes, some children make a Freudian slip and call us “Mom” or “Dad.” We have collected some expert advice from some expert teachers on how to use classroom management to handle specific traumatic and non-traumatic situations with your students. Here are few classroom management suggestions.

Q: How can I help my 3rd grade student deal with the upcoming divorce of her parents? She used to come to school with a great attitude and now I see that she is struggling and always full of anxiety.

A: As you know, children thrive on routine. If her parents are in the process of a divorce, then her home life is probably pretty inconsistent right now. You are most likely the most consistent thing that she has in her life at the moment, so it is essential that she is able to depend on you for support. Try and give her ways to let out her anxiety at school. Teach her some breathing techniques or yoga poses that will help her calm down when she needs to. Or, if you see that she is struggling, then give her a moment to take a break during class time.

Suggest to her parents that she see the school guidance counselor to help her work through some of the questions that she may have. While you cannot control what happens in her home life, you can control what happens in her school life. Your guided support will mean the world to her right now, so just showing her that you are there for her, and that she can come to you at any time, will be a great support for her.

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Q: How can I support my 5th grade student whose parent just passed away? I can’t even imagine what she may be going through, and I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing.

A: Dealing with the death of a loved is hard for anyone, let alone having to deal with it as a child, especially the loss of a parent. The support of the school community will help ease the grieving process, but all you can really do is allow the child to grieve on her own. Referring the child to the school counselor or psychologist is, of course, recommended.  The website Grievingstudents.org has a plethora of valuable information that can help educators support grieving students. This website has fact sheets, advice, and videos which will make it easier for you to support the grieving student.

Q: How can I support a student in class who I know is getting physically abused at home? I have overheard the child talk about what has happened to his to their classmates, and I feel this not a good idea for the child to share this with his peers, for it makes them uncomfortable?

A: It is totally understandable that you want shelter your other students while still supporting the abused child. This is a very difficult situation to be in. However, your best bet is to take the student aside and let them know that you support them and are there for them. But you must also be direct and let them know that there is a time and place to discuss their home-life situation. Let the child know that it’s OK to talk about their problems with the school counselor, a best friend, or a teacher, but it is not appropriate to talk about with their classmates. Explain that some children may feel uncomfortable, but that’s it OK to share, but it must only be with the people that you suggested.

Q: I have a student who always sits by himself at lunch, and never has anyone to play with at recess or on the playground. I feel awful for this student. What can I do to help this child make friends?

A: Studies have found that having friends can help ease the stress of children who are neglected at home or have a troubled household. They also suggest that friendships are a developmental advantage for children. So with this information, it is essential that you are on the right track for wanting to help out your student. The first thing that you can do is to create opportunities for the student to mingle and get to know his/her classmates. Try playing a getting-to-know you game. Sometimes all it takes is for a child to learn that the “Lonely” child in class has more in common with them then they thought. You can also try using a “Talking stick” where students sit in a circle and each have the opportunity to talk about and share a personal story or comment upon a topic. This will help all of your students really get to know one another.

Being a constant in your students’ lives as well as a consistent support for your students is the best way that you can help them. Life is complicated and you are not always going to know what to say to a child or what to do. But one thing that you can do is just be there for them. Sometimes, that is enough.

Do you have any tough questions that you need answered? Please share your questions in the comment section below and we will do our best to answer them.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.