Talking out, non-compliance, out-of-seat behavior, and fighting are all behaviors typically listed when teachers are asked to name their students’ most challenging behaviors. While extremely challenging for the teacher, externalizing behaviors are visible and can be addressed by the teacher and other school personnel. On the other hand, internalizing behaviors, those not readily visible, are the most difficult to recognize and address. In fact, because of this, some would say they are the most detrimental to the student.
Students who experience internalizing behaviors typically do so in silence; making it difficult for others to offer assistance. Consequently, these students suffer alone and in silence. Internalizing behaviors are associated with problematic internal feelings, such as anxiety, sadness, reticence, fearfulness, and oversensitivity (Davis, Young, Hardman, & Winters, 2011). While there are many side effects of internalizing behaviors, they are especially detrimental to students’ academic performance, physical health, future psychological adjustment, and future employment opportunities (Merrell & Walker, 2004).
Although externalizing behaviors dominate a teacher’s attention, it is important for teachers to understand and recognize those students exhibiting internalizing behaviors. Further, teachers who are aware of students who are withdrawn, anxious, fearful, and unassertive can help school teams identify them so that early interventions can be put in place. Many of the internalizing behaviors co-exist with one another, making it difficult to pinpoint the student’s main problem. The following are a list of the most prevalent internalizing behaviors:
The identification and understanding of students exhibiting internalizing behaviors is an important role of teachers and other school professionals. In order for early identification and intervention, schools should use school-wide or class-wide behavior screenings to help identify those students exhibiting such behavior. Implementation of such screeners is a more proactive approach to identification allowing for teachers to intervene much earlier, thus providing students the help they need in a timelier manner.
Once a student has been identified as exhibiting internalizing behaviors, teachers and other school personnel should intervene immediately. Various strategies are available which could help the student. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of the student’s condition will allow the teacher and other school personnel to make the most appropriate decision regarding intervention selection. The following are strategies that might be implemented:
The identification of students exhibiting externalizing behaviors is an easy task for teachers. Identifying students exhibiting internalizing behaviors is a much larger challenge. All too often students experiencing internalizing behaviors suffer in silence and go unnoticed. It is important that teachers and other school personnel be educated and proactive in identifying and intervening with these students.
Davis, S., Young, E., Hardman, S., & Winters, R. (2011). Screening for emotional and behavioral disorders. Principal Leadership, 12-17.