Supporting young people with challenging behaviour

A reflection on an incident in a school for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties

I have been working in a school, which is specifically for secondary age students who have been diagnosed as having emotional and behaviourial difficulties, the students are 99% boys and we have been working with seven boys age 14 years old. The programme has been really good, we designed it around the Arts Award Discover framework, and all of the boys have passed the criteria and gained the award. Working in this way motivated the students as they knew they would gain a certificate for their work, and also allowed us to explore different styles of music and investigate a range of artists and art forms that they were interested in.

During our workshops we had no serious behaviour problems at all, the worst we had was two students chatting and becoming a little distracting, this was fairly easily controlled. But I had a significant reminder of the challenges these young people and the staff who work with them daily face. I was on my way to the photocopier and when I stepped into the corridor one of the students who had previously been involved in our music work was being attended to by 3 members of staff, and was having a very emotional and upsetting outburst. I waited for a few minutes to see if this passed, but then went back into the classroom and waited for the situation to calm down.

I thought about what I had seen quite a bit that day as I had found it upsetting and ‘moving’. I was so impressed with how kind, calm and supportive the staff were with this student. He was lashing out very aggressively and they had to physically restrain him, they did this so well, holding him safely and preventing him from hurting himself or anyone else. Whilst this was happening, the head teacher (one of the 3 restraining the student) was constantly saying reassuring things to the student such as “It’s o.k., this will be o.k., we can sort this together, this will get better, you can change this, this will pass and you will be o.k.’

 It was this that made me feel emotional, as I reflected on how as a child when you step over a line, it can seem like that is the end of everything, that you will no longer be o.k., that you have ‘blown it’ and things will never again be right. Their kind reassuring words gave the student the opportunity to know he was still cared for, he hadn’t blown it forever with his behaviour, that when calm again things would be o.k. and he would be fine again. I am so glad that we didn’t have to deal with any particularly difficult behaviour in our workshops, but aware that we have a very different role to the staff who work daily helping and supporting these young people who so need to feel safe and valued and helped with their emotions and behaviour. 

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