Defiance. Anger. Fits. Aggression. Do you ever feel like it’s hard to know what to do when kids are acting out? Do you ignore them? Bribe them? Argue with them? One thing we definitely don’t want to do is give up on them.
Obviously, there are many many different specific reasons and situations kids demonstrate challenging behaviors. Here are the overall 4 main functions for various behaviors (as told to me by a certified ABA specialist):
- Attention seeking
- Sensory stimulation
- Access to materials
Understanding why they behave a certain way can often help you come up with a plan to intervene with that behavior more easily.
Sometimes the function or reason for their behavior is obvious. In some severe cases though, you may need a school psychologist to complete a functional behavior assessment to determine why the student is demonstrating the problem behavior. A crisis plan or behavior intervention plan will need to be done, protocols will have to be put into place, the cavalry will have to be called when things escalate, the whole enchilada.
Today, though, we are going to talk about some ways that you can possibly avoid getting to that point of escalation! The key to preventing those difficult behaviors for me has been positive reinforcement and consistency. Here are a few tips that I use in my speech room and that have helped some of my SPED teachers in their classrooms. Many of them can be implemented regardless of the function of behavior. 🙂
1. Token boards
One of the easiest ways to implement positive reinforcement is with a token board. The student earns a token or “star” for each positive behavior, and then gets rewarded after so many tokens. They can work for their favorite toy or candy (if your school allows) or whatever is reinforcing to them.
The difference between a token board and bribery is the fact that are working for the reward, and the rules and expectations are explained before any negative behaviors are exhibited.
Want your own? A free copy of a token board is available in my resource library!
Timers can come in handy a lot, especially visual timers. These can be used to give them a visual of how long they have to do certain tasks. For example, we might do 5 minutes of work, then 3 minutes of play. The timer helps to give them a clear picture of what is expected, especially if they have trouble with abstract skills (like time).
Also, sometimes I use a timer if they are refusing to follow a direction. You can use if/then statements to make sure the limits are clear. “If you come to the carpet like I asked, then you’ll be able to earn your sticker. If you do not come to the carpet, then you will not get a sticker. You have 1 minute to decide.” And I set the timer and follow through.
My favorite timer is the one pictured above. It’s small enough to carry around campus. Plus, the back is magnetic so it’s easy to just stick on my filing cabinet or white board.
3. Visuals and schedules
With many of our language delayed kids, it’s difficult for them to complete directions or follow a schedule without support. Visuals are great for this. I make visuals of their expectations, different rules, and even reinforcement choices.
If a student has difficulty making transitions, I like to make sure they have a visual schedule to which they can refer. I usually make my own, but if you can’t THIS ONE by Nicole Allison is great!
Schedules and routines in general are great for managing tough behaviors. They may be less likely to throw a fit when they already know what is coming up next. (Hey, it’s worth a shot! 😉 )
4. Stay consistent & follow through
Being consistent with your limits and expectations has been huge for me in handling those behaviors. This is especially important with rules and consequences. It’s confusing for kids when they are allowed to do something one day and not the next. For example, don’t let them constantly bounce out of there seat one day, then yell at them the next day for not sitting still. It can be especially hard for students with social difficulties when you are inconsistent with enforcing rules.
Always follow through with your consequences. I make sure my students understand the consequences of breaking a rule and try to be consistent with following through. I usually give them a warning first to remind them. For example, you might say “Remember, our rule is you must keep your hands to yourself to get a sticker. If you can’t keep your hands to yourself, you won’t get your sticker.” Try to avoid saying “if I have to tell you again” more than once. lol
Now, I’m definitely not perfect and mess up all the time. Being consistent as much as you can does help though!
5. Lots of praise
Verbal praise is always good. It’s positive, motivating, and free! Praise can be even more powerful though, if done the right way. Get down on their level, smile, and be specific. Instead of a “great job” in passing, it’s so much more reinforcing to kneel down and cheerfully tell him/her, “Good job walking quietly all the way to the classroom! I’m super proud of you.”
It’s also important to give your students encouragement and tell them how much you care about them at unexpected, unsolicited moments. Telling them “You are such a great kid. I love working with you.” can mean the world. Doing this from time to time shows them that their worth is NOT dependent on their behavior or accomplishments. 🙂
Confession, I wrote this blog post for myself. As lead SPED teacher at my school, I’ve had to learn a lot about behavior really quickly! Sometimes kids can be very challenging. I needed to remind myself of things that I’ve learned and what has worked for me (cuz it ain’t easy!). Hopefully, it helped you as well!
I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any behavior tips for me?