Emotional Disturbance in The Classroom

Reaching Students With Emotional Disturbances

The phrase “emotional disturbance” is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and it refers to substantial difficulties a student may have in both their behaviour and their mental health. We can generally trace a developmental history back to the cause of emotional disturbances in children. This history may reveal that the child’s attachment and connection to an emotionally healthy caregiver was severed during early development; alternatively, a significant traumatic event may have caused the child to develop a survival brain state that persisted throughout his or her early life. These young folks never seem to get out of their perpetual state of panic.


The reassuring news is that young people have a natural ability to pick themselves up and move on after experiencing adversity. By assisting students in gaining an understanding of how negative emotions can get in the way of learning, you can foster an atmosphere that is both secure and connected. At the moment, I work as a teacher for young adolescents, many of whom struggle significantly both emotionally and behaviorally. We establish standards, procedures, and engagement systems for the class in order to support an environment that is predictable and consistent. This ensures that each student is aware of the expectations and routines for the class. The following are four methods that I have found to be quite successful with my students.


The pupils in my class have access to a quiet area where they can go to refocus and get over any unpleasant feelings they may be experiencing. Because the amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for our “fight, flight, or freeze” responses, this spot is also referred to as the “amygdala first aid station.” In the “hippocampus area,” which is named after the portion of the brain that memorises new information and relates it to what we already know, there is a quiet area with tables where students who need a place to study or complete their work can go. Students who are prepared to discuss projects or ideas, watch documentaries, and collaborate will find tables and spaces designated for group work in the “prefrontal cortex area,” which gets its name from the region of the brain that is responsible for problem solving and is home to the area’s namesake. When we educate kids about the functioning of their brains and help them make connections between those functions and certain activities, we help students become more self-aware and more proficient in their own cognitive processes. Check out my blog post titled “Brain Labs: A Place to Enliven Learning” for a resource that will be useful to you as you consider how to establish predictable and safe places for people to learn, socialise, and recharge their batteries.


If the pupils in our class are in a negative brain state, we need to manage their behaviours before any learning can take place. My experience has taught me that the most effective method is to begin by attending to their emotional temperature and reassuring them that I am present and available despite their bad behaviours. I use waiter and prescription pads as a means of customising communication throughout the day in order to connect with and provide consistency for a varied assortment of children who have varying needs. This allows me to meet the requirements of all of my pupils. These are especially useful for reaching pupils who don’t respond well to verbal communication because they are written. In order to keep individualised continuous ties, it is helpful to exchange notes, little goals, affirmations, and requests. After the activity or the objective has been ordered and obtained, you will have the ability to think of amusing ways to make a payment or provide an incentive.


Raymond Wlodkowski, a psychologist, came up with the “2×10 Strategy,” and it is a wonderful brain-aligned strategy that may be used with our most tough pupils. Every day for ten days in a row, teachers conduct a personal chat with a student, either written or in person, about anything the student is interested in, as long as the topic is G-rated. This talk lasts for two minutes and can be about anything. Wlodkowski discovered that one student’s behaviour had improved by 85 percent over the previous year. In addition to this, he discovered that the conduct of every one of the other students in the classroom got better.


When we put our thoughts and feelings into writing, we make room in the frontal lobes of our brains for more positive sentiments and higher-level cognitive processes. Students can find a healthy outlet for their stress and keep their sense of autonomy and control over their private lives by writing in a journal that can be locked. We talk about how this journal can become a trusted friend, and how they might be able to use it to prototype creative forms of expression that can be shared when the time is right. If a student decides to write or draw their feelings and thoughts through this format, we discuss how this journal can become a trusted friend.


Your approach to teaching will have a significant impact on the outcomes of your work with the students. Written notes may elicit a better response from students who are emotionally shut off and insensitive to words. You can make note cards for explanations, choices, or directions, and then provide the kids the chance to write their comments rather than speak them. Every single action is a form of communication. Even though it’s possible that a kid won’t respond to me verbally, I never stop trying by offering the alternative of exchanging written notes and letters.

What I am learning every day—even as a seasoned educator—is that I must regulate behaviors before any learning will occur, and the strategies above have helped immeasurably. Students who struggle with emotional disturbances are some of our most vulnerable, but when we can create predictable and consistent supports for them, their inner resilience can shine.