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Increasing positivity in students can be a challenge, and it might sound like a job for the school social worker or counselor. However, as special education teachers, it’s our job to make sure skills children learn in isolation are generalizing across environments. This is particularly important for students with autism who are learning coping skills and emotional regulation.
What do you think would happen if you only focused on the negative?
I know what would happen to me. I would burn out in a heartbeat because being a teacher can be really hard sometimes.
Of course, every job is hard, and we want to make sure our students have good coping skills.
Teaching them to be more positive and focus on good things can improve their ability to function in the world and get through the hard times.
It’s a vital coping skill we should teach our children.
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Why Does Positivity Matter?
Do you have a student that comes back from specials upset? Do they get angry about every little thing? It seems like nothing good ever happens to them.
I had a student like that. His life seemed horrible, and it seemed like nothing good had happened to him ever. Then when I started asking him to prioritize happy things, I found out tons of good things were happening to him; he just wasn’t focusing on them.
This is not uncommon for students on the autism spectrum, who can hyper-focus on specific details.
Studies show that focusing on positive things can reduce stress and can even improve physical health.
Teaching students to think positively can be a lifelong coping skill that will help them have better days at school and maybe even be something they carry with them into adulthood.
And at the end of the day, isn’t it part of our job to help our students learn ways to function and live good lives into adulthood?
Are We Teaching Them To Ignore the Bad?
One concern with increasing positivity in students is that we’d be teaching them denial. However, that’s not what positivity is about.
Increasing positivity in students is about helping them focus on the good, but that does not mean we don’t acknowledge bad feelings.
When the student who only focuses on the bad comes to me crying, we still do things to help him calm down and validate his feelings.
Positivity will not eliminate the bad. It’s just about improving overall demeanors and happiness.
Hopefully, as you teach positive mindsets to students, the number of meltdowns and or incidents of catastrophizing will decrease, which can improve students’ functioning and happiness levels.
Increasing Positivity In Students
So how does increasing positivity in students work?
The system that I have found works best is a behavior chart.
I have students who need more positivity respond well to the visualization. I have them tell me one good thing that happened at the end of every class. Afterward, they get a sticker. At the end of the day, they get a reward if they meet the goal we decided on together.
Expect a little bit of an adjustment period. The first few times I use this with a kid and ask to hear something happy, all I hear are complaints.
However, with some good old-fashioned positive reinforcement and consistency, eventually, we hit the point where they’re holding their chart up and saying, “I have been thinking of good things to tell you all day!”
The first time I heard that, I wanted to cry.
It was a busy day, and I had forgotten to ask after every period, but they’d remembered and been looking for the good all day.
And isn’t that the point?
Want to Save Time?
I know the idea of making a sticker chart seems like a lot of work, but that’s why I created one you can print from your computer, saving you hours of time!
And the best part is it’s completely free!
It’s a wonderful part of my free resource library! Everyone on my email list gets access to the password and all the free goodies that come along with it!
Of course, what works for one kid doesn’t always work for everyone, but this is as good a place to start as any!
Make sure to pick a motivating award, and see if this intervention improves your students’ outlooks!