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It would be great if every day was full of rainbows and butterflies and unicorns, but we know that just isn’t the case. While good days do happen and should be celebrated, bad days happen too, and they need to be dealt with appropriately. As an adult, we’ve learned to deal with bad days by focusing on the positive, pushing forward to do what we need to do, and controlling our emotions rather than letting them control us. But children often haven’t learned many of these skills yet, and teachers and parents are responsible for teaching them how to handle bad days and frustrating situations. Not only do we need to equip our children to move past unfortunate circumstances, but we need to help them cope when they’re in the midst of overwhelming emotions or extreme stress. Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, you’re bound to face a child who is having a terrible day at some point. Here are some great tips for how to help a student through a bad day.
Recognize It for What It Is
Even if the student is typically a little rowdy, if you recognize that something is different on one particular day, recognize it for what it is. Don’t write them off as a bad student or a negative influence on your classroom. Everyone has bad days, and we can all stand to offer a little grace to others who are dealing with something. Stating it out loud can sometimes help your students recognize it for what it is too, since they may not realize it on their own. Say something like, “Sally, I can see that you’re having a hard day. Maybe it would help to take a deep breath and collect your thoughts so you can try to get past your bad day.”
Don’t Handle It for Them
Some students may be used to their parents handling things for them. That’s all fine and dandy for now, but those children will be adults one day, and if they don’t know how to handle bad days on their own, they’re going to face a tough reality when they’re older. Don’t allow students to simply get away with anything because they’re having a bad day, and don’t excuse them from facing their challenges and trying to deal with them. This may sound tough, but remember that no one ever grew as a person by having something done for them.
Listen to Their Concerns and Validate Their Feelings
Rather than ignoring the problem or fixing it for the student, allow them time to talk. Let them vent or cry or write out their thoughts, and truly listen to them. Let them tell you about what happened that day or why they’re grumpy, disruptive, or sad. Sometimes, you’ll find that they just needed to talk about it and then they can move on. Other times, you’ll see that some sort of intervention needs to occur to keep them from harm or to help them out of a truly difficult situation. Validate the student’s feelings as best you can without encouraging a pity party or justifying incorrect actions. Everyone is allowed to feel any emotion, but children need to learn that they cannot act on every emotion or let their emotions drive them. Encourage them to think through the situation and problem solve by brainstorming some ideas to make their day better.
Avoid Criticism, but Try to Understand the Situation
Try not to accuse the student of causing the problem themselves. Sometimes, they may be the cause, but when in the midst of an overwhelming emotion, criticizing them or blaming them is not going to be helpful. Try to understand the full situation. If it’s a conflict between friends, it may be helpful to get the other students together and allow them to talk through the problem with you as mediator. Be careful not to be judgmental—it’s a big deal for students to trust adults with things that are important to them. Rather than get frustrated by childlike ideas or what you see as silly frustrations, try to put yourself in your student’s shoes and really seek to understand where they’re coming from.
Put It in Perspective, but Don’t Belittle
After the student has explained to you the situation and has gotten control over his or her emotions, it can be good to have a rational conversation about perspective. However, the goal is not to belittle their struggle. You may know that their middle school boyfriend saying their hair is ugly won’t matter in the long run, but to that student, that was a huge moment. Try to help your student focus on the big things that matter, like having a family that loves them or doing well in school. Help them talk through their own lives to put the situation in perspective for themselves, which will help them to move forward with more positivity.
Give Them a Chance to Be Alone & Regroup
Sometimes, we all need a time out. Let your student know that he or she is not being punished, but rather being given an opportunity to regroup. Occasionally, we all need a moment to gather our thoughts, give ourselves a pep talk, and regain our composure before continuing our day, and students are no different. Give your students an opportunity to take a walk across campus to run an errand for you, or to sit by themselves for a few minutes before joining the class for lunch. Encourage them to make good use of this alone time and to prepare to return to class with a more positive outlook and attitude.
Encourage Positive Thoughts & Self-Talk
It’s so easy to get caught up in negativity, especially when you’re surrounded with other naysayers and negative thinkers. Encourage students to think positively and to talk to themselves positively. Come up with some positive phrases students can say to themselves when they’re feeling down, or something they can start each day with. This could be a great activity for your entire class to do to combat negativity, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. Especially if you sense a lot of bad days or negativity amongst your students, having them participate in this exercise can do wonders for classroom morale.
Plan Ahead for How to Have a Better Day Tomorrow
Have students come up with an action plan, even before their bad day is officially over. Tell them to take the bad day and use it as motivation. They likely don’t want to feel that way again, so give them some time to come up with actionable steps to improve their current day and approach tomorrow with more positivity and happiness.