For a trainer, the behavior population can be daunting but fitness is much-needed in this population.  Here are some things I have done, either as a classroom teacher or trainer, to work successfully with this population. Challenging behavior may be the immediate payoff if children or teens do not have their basic needs met such as kindness, nurturing, caring, and attention.

First, you need to rethink your perspective.  As someone who came from a somewhat stable small town, I was used to a nuclear family environment where the teacher and trainer were usually right and people respected others.  This is not the case in most of our schools and park districts every day.   Many children with behavior disorder (BD) challenges come from unstable family environments where simple needs such as food, stability, care, and love are not given. 

These children may also suffer from psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse­––from themselves or invitro­­––and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Neurological conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome, brain seizures, and ADHD––where parts of the brain have been damaged from poor prenatal care or drugs––can affect the children.  Medical and physical conditions such as infection and pain are also a factor.

When challenging behavior, it is important to keep an ABC chart.  A stands for antecedent.  What happens before the behavior is what we are interested in.  B stands for Behavior.  What  the person does is what we are interested in.  C stands for consequences.  What happens after the behavior?

I had a student who liked to destroy things.  Personally, I think she was craving attention, and even though it was destructive and harmful, she found it was a way to get attention.  I also think that due to her obesity, she would easily tire, and the tantrums would come out.  When she was removed from an stimulating to a bland environment she did not display the behavior.  Another student improved his behavior when he was given positive consequences for good behavior and realized that bad choices resulted in lack of opportunities. 

As a trainer working with the BD population, I have found that the following things are essential:  First, never raise your voice. Try to lower your tone and be neutral.  As much as possible, don’t take inappropriate behavior personally.  Being firm, fair (in their lack of understanding), and friendly work best.  I keep things fun, offer a choice of two desired activities, and have a very organized environment as well as a predictable schedule. Downtime is minimized. And loud, irritating noises and unpleasant smells or glaring lights are minimized.  

Also, consider  annoyances as strengths.  I have had students who are obsessed with things such as a video game, occupation, or food. I interject them into my instruction. Distractions work well with these children.  I have found that fitness or movement activities give attention to other emotions and the children are able to calm down and relax.

When dealing with a child or teen with special needs, I am sensitive to personal space and how I respond with open body language and touch.  I always command and communicate respect toward the other person, using tone, volume, and cadence in my words, body movement, and actions. I make promises that I can keep and always give a “when and then, if and then” option.

I work at keeping difficult situations at a minimum and seek advice from parents and other staff members who might be familiar with the students themselves.  I also know that at times it is important to walk away after I give a command or a direction and circle back.

Focus on your followers.  Most of the time, dealing with students with behavior disorder, only one or two had an episode at a time.  I praised those who were doing the right thing, and amazingly enough, those children proved to be the greatest support system during those times of stress.

Great things happen with kids who have BD needs.  First of all, they are super loyal.  They can change the wiring in their brains––and behavior can change.  I had one student who each day  was physically hitting students and staff.  At the end of the year, with proper medication, he was sitting, learning, and exhibiting self-control.  Secondly, they are looking for someone to believe in them.  And lastly, they will do things that you thought they would never do. 

Despite the challenges of working with this population, it is a great opportunity to have students like this who will positively change the world.  Students who exhibit these behaviors have become successful adults with meaningful lives and careers.  So take a chance on these kids.  They will be glad you did.

Christina Chapan

Christina Chapan

Christina Lee Steele Chapan is a certified personal trainer with four certifications from ISSA ACE, AFAA and SCW. She specializes with fitness for children and those adults and children with special needs. In addition to attaining her certifications, she is also a certified elementary and special education school teacher with a B.S. in Elementary Education, a minor in Biblical Studies from North Central University, an endorsement in Special Education, and an M.A. in Curriculum and Development from Governors State University. Her passion is for training the future of tomorrow. She is available for training, speaking and writing.
Christina Chapan

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