Reducing Avoidance Behavior in the Classroom

Why is this child distressed at school?

Students may display avoidance behavior in the classroom as a manifestation of various fears about their ability to cope in unknown social and/or academic situations.Their actions may include defiance, withdrawal and diversionary tactics. Unaddressed, this behavior can be detrimental to the child's long-term educational progress and can lead to depression and other behavioral problems. Teachers who notice students' with avoidance tendencies can intervene and help them work toward overcoming this challenge.

Determine the student's motivation for avoidance behavior by talking to the child and her parents. Transitioning from elementary to middle school, separating from parents all day or excessive worrying about academic failure are situations that contribute to avoidance behavior.

Design an intervention based on the motivation for the behavior. The UCLA School Mental Health Project contends that since avoidance behavior is a reaction to one or more stressful events, interventions should focus on one specific action at a time. For example, begin with an issue like class participation and set a realistic goal. If the student has a phobia about speaking in class, the goal might be for the student to ask one question every day during whole-group discussion for two weeks.

Use positive reinforcements, not punishments. For example, a child will usually respond to behavior modification methods like earning privileges, such as extra computer time or homework passes. Punitive measures like moving from green to red on a classroom management chart or loss of recess are rarely effective.

Make classroom rules that emphasize respect for others and discuss them often. Rules should be positively stated like, "Everyone's questions are important, so don't laugh or ridicule others." This may help troubled students have less apprehension about class involvement.

Refer student to the school counselor for further assistance if behavioral interventions are not successful. The source of the problem may be psychological as well as emotional and will need to be addressed by a professional.

Karen Hollowell has been teaching since 1994. She has taught English/literature and social studies in grades 7-12 and taught kindergarten for nine years. She currently teaches fourth grade reading/language and social studies. Hollowell earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Mississippi and her Master of Arts in elementary education from Alcorn State University.