How to teach protesting in the special education classroom
how to teach protesting in the special education classroom

Protesting in the SPED classroom

Teaching a child how to say no is a very important skill to teach our students for them to become independent. Protesting is a vital skill, and we need to make sure that everyone is on board when we start to teach this skill in the classroom. 

What is protesting?

By definition, it is the complaint or objection against an idea, an act, or a way of doing things.  Basically, it is the ability to say no to something you are not comfortable with. 

Protesting can be as simple as saying no to a game you want them to play or something as big as not wanting to go to school when the bus comes to the house.  However, we want our students to be self-advocates and to stand up for themselves so that they feel safe and have autonomy.  

Even typically developing adults, like myself, have a hard time saying no.  I used to be the”yes man”.  I was saying yes to everything even though I didn't want to do things. 

💚Stay late for parent-teacher meetings…YUP!

🧡Work on the weekends grading papers … YUP!

💜Join voluntary groups after school… YUP!

💛Do a home visit on my time…YUP!

I said yes, to too many things, and it ended up hurting my personal life and health and so I am now taking time to work on my own protesting skills. 

Read this blog post, What is Functional Protesting, And Why is it important? to learn more about what protesting is!

how to teach a child to say no when they are having a behavior

Teaching protesting at every level

Whether you are teaching the babies or the big kids in high school, we want to make sure that we are teaching students how to protest at every single level.  This might be a huge mind-shift for both you and your paraprofessionals at first.  

For so many years, these students have been taught to say yes to everything, because we don't want them to say no.  We want them to be compliant little robots.  Unfortunately, it's not healthy and doesn't promote autonomy.  We need to change our mindset to say, “it's okay for our students to say no sometimes”. 

You want to make sure that you are working in this skill as a team, so make sure that you have everyone on board. 



Rhetorical questions

I want you to stop asking the students questions that they can say no to. 

For example,

  • Are you reading to read?
  • Are you reading to go home?
  • Do you want to eat your broccoli?
  • Do you want to go to the bathroom?

When we are asking these rhetorical questions, and the student says no, we usually make them do it anyway, right?  They don't have a say, these are things that they have to do! You are setting yourself up for failure if you are asking these types of questions. 

By doing this, we are essentially teaching students that their “no” doesn't really mean anything at all. This is teaching them that they can't even stand up for themselves. 

However, there is the Power of Choice!

The easiest way to teach this skill is to put it into your daily routines.  Give them opportunities to protest. 

The Power of Choice!

Let students make choices and be in control of some situations.  As humans, we love having the power of choice and making up our own decisions every single day.  , as an adult, get to choose what Netflix show to binge watch, which ice cream flavor I will be eating, and where to watch, said show!

We love making choices every single day.

Offering your students choices throughout the day will teach them how to protest without making the day harder for you.  Think about the things that you do every day, and make those options for things for them to choose, simple and easy.  

For example:

  • It's time for breakfast, ask them if they want to try some French toast sticks, and they say no!  Great, that gives them an opportunity to protest. 
  • It's time for math, you ask them if they would like to use a pencil for their math, and they say no! Great, that gives them an opportunity to say no.
  • It's time for recess, you ask them if they want to play hopscotch with you and they say no! Great, one more opportunity for them to say no!

These are all little choices that they can make throughout the school day that is meaningful to them.  I would much rather be in a classroom where I can make choices in.  Offering choices throughout the day will also decrease all of those behaviors. Imagine a classroom where your entire day is scheduled and all your decisions are made for you and you have no choices and no opportunities to say no.  That sounds like a miserable day.  Teaching your students to protest appropriately will make your classroom run smoothly.  Remember, we want to make sure that we are offering them opportunities that are both big and small.

It is okay to say no that is one of the biggest life skills that we can give our learners!

Using Visual Aids

If you are looking for visual aids for your special education classroom, I have put these resources together for you. Using visual aids to set boundaries and help students visually see how to protest, has been very successful in my classroom!

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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