Second Installment: How to Deal with Difficult Public Behaviors

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

Welcome to the second installment in my series which discusses how to manage some difficult public behaviors. As a quick recap, I have decided to write a few blog posts on this topic as we start to re-enter spring and summer. We will explore how to help guide children in the process of learning how to control their environment in a socially appropriate way. For a couple of weeks, I will illustrate a specific situation and provide a solution I have found to work in my teaching. You can read the first post of this series about creating a Plan B.

Last week, I suggested that we work on being a little less judgmental and a little more supportive of each other. So as a reminder, I’d like us all to be mindful that so many parents are working hard for their child and their family. All too often I see glaring glances or hear ugly comments made to parents who are doing the best they can with a child that is having a meltdown. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be supportive rather than judgmental?

Let’s try this: When you see a parent working through one of these situations, walk up to them, give a little smile, tell them you know how hard it is, and say “Well done.” Simply offer your solidarity through a quick positive interaction when a parent is feeling at their lowest. Keep up the good work!

And now we arrive at scenario #2:

Paul attends a sports summer camp which meets a couple times a week for a month. He seems very excited about camp until the daily activities begin. As soon as the students are told the activity for the day, Paul removes himself from the group and refuses to participate. At times, Paul may return to the group, but not follow the prescribed activity and do what he likes.

Photo by Liam Macleod on Unsplash

Activities such as sports, music, art or any activity that has an element of surprise can be a struggle for children that are trying to control their environment. Behaviors that are not seen during predictable or routine activities may come to light.

It may be that Paul has constructed his version of what will be coming up in the camp session. Upon arrival at camp and learning the plans don’t fit his version of what was going to happen, Paul struggles to change and adapt to go along with the teacher's plans.

A good defense for helping Paul through his sports camp is Pre-Planning.

In this situation, pre-planning would involve staying in close contact with the sports teacher. Before Paul joins the camp, speak with the teacher to request that he/she sends you a brief summary of the plans before each session. Emphasize how this will help Paul be able to participate better in camp. Be quite specific about the information you are seeking from the teacher. If the teacher simply says they will be working on kicking a ball, that is too abstract for Paul to visualize. It is typical that a few activities will always be the same. It will be helpful to put these activities as part of the overall daily plan as well.

I know this seems like a lot to ask a teacher, but if you send a quick reminder email the morning of camp: “Thank you for a quick summary of today’s activities. Paul loves to be able to plan and think about what is coming up!”, it shouldn’t take the teacher more than a minute or two to respond.

Once you know the activities, you will be able to pass this information onto Paul. Creating a visual to help Paul see the activities which will be performed before going to camp should help set his mind at ease as well as give him a mental visual for what is to come.

One of my favorite mediums for visuals that can be used again and again is a metal cookie sheet. I use this as a magnet board with magnets that have pictures glued to them to represent, in this case, sports activities. These can easily be manipulated to help Paul see what will be happening in sports camp before going. Involve Paul in printing out pictures to paste to the magnets. He will feel more ownership in the process.

After Paul has learned the activities in sports camp, he can practice putting the magnets in the order of his choosing and make is own sports camp at home. Allow Paul to be the teacher and you can be his student. He can choose the order of the activities and you need to follow his directions. These roles can then be reversed, played out with a friend or a sibling as well. The goal is the more Paul becomes comfortable with the prescribed activities, he will be more likely to perform the activities during camp.

This Pre-Planning skill can be generalized to other areas of Paul’s life. I know some families that pre-plan before going to a restaurant. Printing the menu from the restaurant’s website or even stopping by to grab a copy can help. This allows Paul to choose his meal before arrival and therefore have a mental picture of what to expect in the restaurant. If you are stopping by the restaurant, snap a few photos and allow Paul to scroll through them before arrival.

What activities can you help your child to Pre-Plan? Share your success and struggle stories. We all can learn from both!

April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. Please feel free to share this blog post by giving credit to the author and the website link:

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