Reaching At-Risk Kids

Discipline, Deeds, and Disagreements

The way you handle a child’s discipline, deeds, and disagreements will largely determine whether you’ll ever connect with that child.

Monitor your behavior.

David was a self-proclaimed teacher’s nightmare. He interrupted, mimicked, name called, and randomly walked out of class. One day, he threw a pen at a classmate’s head. The teacher, Mr. Adams, blew up. In a rage, Mr. Adams punched the chalkboard and shattered it. To the other kids’ dismay and fear, he hauled David out of the classroom by his shirt, calling him worthless, stupid, and “out of here.”

All over a thrown pen.

Adults are more likely to overreact to a child’s behavior when that child has a history of poor behavior. Don’t fall into this pattern. With each instance of misbehavior or conflict, assess the infraction independently and follow your discipline policy as you would with any child. For a sample discipline policy, go to Web Extras at

• Don’t be indulgent, permissive, or indifferent. Kids can’t build healthy self-esteem when they don’t understand which behaviors warrant value because everything they do is praised, rewarded, or ignored. Poor behaviors typically increase if adults constantly award “another chance.” Kids’ aggression is viewed as appropriate when it’s paired with an adult’s retaliatory aggression. A child’s inattention becomes status quo when it’s constantly overlooked.

• Don’t be lured into conflict. Often, children at risk initiate conflict as a self-protective mechanism. Rather than entering into conflict, use the issue to make a personal connection. Earn your kids’ trust. Wield your power selectively and compassionately. Be predictable. Set fair limits and maintain them. Show kids respect, and you’ll earn theirs.

Friendship and Fun

Every child craves friendship and fun–and at-risk kids will often thrive when they experience it.

Make joy an integral part of your curriculum.

Give your kids thousands of reasons to exercise their “smile” muscles. Use your activities, lessons, games, and crafts as an excuse to inject joy into kids. Use activities that build a caring classroom. Celebrate. Intentionally create genuine joy.