Student Behavior Amid COVID

children in school during COVID
Cross Country Education
August 02, 2021 00:48 AM (GMT-04:00)
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all in various ways. One major impact to students has been a profound interruption in their education. For many students, it has also meant an interruption in their social development and enrichment, as well as other services such as nutritional programs, therapy, and access to a safe environment on a daily basis.
Understanding student reactions and emotions is essential to properly addressing their needs. Current COVID-19 surges, increased positivity rates in children and additional or new mandates in many parts of the country may cause students to exhibit more behavioral challenges than usual. Specific behaviors which may increase are clinginess, distraction or inattention, and withdrawal or apprehension.

Behavior 101: A Refresher 

To help you meet your students’ diverse behavioral needs, we’ve put together this helpful Behavior 101 Refresher. Here, we’ll cover some of the main tenets of behavior, explain the possible “why” behind each specific behavior listed, and suggest methods for addressing the behavior. 
  1. All behavior is a form of communication.
    Through behavior, the student is conveying a need, and it is important to account for their needs.
  2. All behaviors have a function.
    The child is trying to solve a problem the best way they know how.
  3. Behaviors can be improved.
    Understanding the function of the behavior can guide you in knowing which replacement behaviors to encourage that can help fulfill the child’s need.
  4. Improvements or changes in behavior can be tracked over time.
    Be sure you have the supports you need to make and track these changes needed for your students' behaviors. 

The ABCs of Behavior

The ABCs of behavior stand for: 
  • Antecedent: the trigger or what happens right before the behavior
  • Behavior: the student’s response to the trigger
  • Consequence: the response to the behavior (which can serve to reinforce the behavior or drive the student to change the behavior)
ABCs can be tracked to help prevent unwanted behaviors. A replacement behavior must be provided – one which is as easy or easier for the student to engage in to attain their need(s). Positive reinforcement is key, and students respond to encouragement. 
Note: If a student displays more severe behaviors, speak with the school administration, as the student may need further evaluation and intervention. It is critical that students receive appropriate screening and treatment for behavioral or emotional disturbance/disorders.

Behaviors to Watch for as a Result of COVID-19 

The three main behaviors to look out for as a result of the impacts of COVID-19 are: 
•    Clinginess 
•    Distraction or inattention
•    Withdrawal or apprehension
Here are possible functions of each of these behaviors and how to address them:
Clinginess can be geared toward you as an educator, to one's parents or peers, or even to inanimate objects like cell phones. 
Function: The student may be seeking validation and a sense of security. 
How to address: 
  • Encourage students to help one another and provide certainty as to how they are to engage in tasks
  • Reinforce peer interaction and consider giving individuals unique tasks or roles that allow them to feel important
  • Under certain circumstances, planned ignoring can be effective for clingy behavior; however, know that each student does have a genuine need for comfort and validation
  • Provide certainty, clarity, praise and reassurance
  • Provide 1:1 attention, either directly when possible or through classroom aides
  • Ignoring the student's need for attention
  • Reacting directly to every attempt at your immediate attention; you can choose to redirect them to peer interaction or assign a special task
The effects of COVID-19 mean that students are even more preoccupied with their immediate circumstances, and therefore less readily able to relate certain aspects of the curriculum with what is going on in their own lives. 
Function: Distraction often arises out of a social or emotional need and causes an inability to pay attention or stay focused. 
How to address: 
  • Foster social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, collaborative interaction, effective communication, and developing and expressing empathy
  • Provide more time to complete tasks and positively redirect as needed
  • Give clear, step-by-step directions
  • Offer positive reinforcement at every step of the way
  • Find ways to relate new information to their lives, which increases engagement
  • Losing your patience when a student is distracted or not paying attention
  • Removing items that have previously provided them with comfort
Keep in mind that a student’s attachment to their distractions may have provided that student with much comfort, so the job of educators is to provide that student with an alternative behavior which is easier or just as easy for them to attain that need. 
This behavior may manifest in many ways: through absenteeism, tardiness, or lack of interest. School refusal rates (such as truancy) tend to be higher after vacations or sick days, because students have a harder time coming back even after a few days away. 
Function: Withdrawal can be caused by factors over which students may not have control. For example, they may not have access to reliable transportation. Other causes for withdrawal may include the increased stress levels in their lives, which may be related to socioemotional or socioeconomic concerns.
How to Address: 
  • Provide students with more opportunities within their control, which promotes a sense of agency
  • Recognizing each student’s individual strengths, build confidence and promote a growth mindset 
  • When possible, use collaborative games to alleviate the sense of isolation and build social connections 
  • Try different activities that promote physical movement or use music therapy such as singing to reduce the worry, fear, and stress that the student may feel 
  • Activities or assignments that may cause additional stress or worry
  • Missing the warning signs that the student is withdrawn; when you notice this lack of interest, try to re-engage with the student
  • Holding the student accountable for factors which are largely beyond their control

Providing Behavioral Support During COVID

In some states, students will be returning to school in the next week or so. With the recent surges and additional concerns about the Delta variant, it’s impossible to predict how each student will respond and you may experience a higher need for behavior management. In these times of uncertainty, provide clarity and consistency, but be flexible and creative when you can. Take the time to connect and engage in order to foster an inclusive environment. Make time for schoolwork and learning, as well as, getting some fresh air (while respecting social distancing) and doing some physical exercise together, whether you are in person or virtual environment.
Come from a place of empathy and take the opportunity to give your students an individual sense of importance, foster resilience, and teach coping skills. 
While we all face unique challenges during these times, it’s important to remember that children are particularly vulnerable. In addition to evaluating overt behaviors, look out for other signs that a child may need intervention or further resources. Do what you can to address student behavior, and know when to refer to other resources such as a counselor. 
Reach out for support when you need it. We are all in this together!

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