Just One Thing at a Time…Please.

Child with gold star on head
Child with gold star on head

A friend that I volunteer with asked me recently for suggestions on how to respond to her young son’s teacher. The teacher presented her with a list of several behaviors that she considered disruptive. My friend was very worried and texted. Is her son that disruptive all the time? This could be a very long painful year for everyone involved.

I explained that behaviors are simply a way of communicating for children. Every behavior has a function or purpose. Choose one behavior from the list that is your top priority and look closely at it.

When during the day does it happen?
What happens directly before the behavior (a trigger)?
Where does it happen?
What does the behavior look like?
How long does it last?
How frequently does it occur?
What is the consequence? (How does the teacher do in response to the child’s behavior?)

Once she answered these questions, she was ready to focus on the “why” of the behavior.

He was either trying to get something or avoid something. Maybe the attention from a classmate was fun or he was avoiding transitioning to a low-preference activity. Ask the child for their reasons behind the behavior.

Once we define the behavior and it’s purpose, we can model for the child more positive replacement behaviors that give them what they need without disrupting the classroom. Role play and practice the new improved behavior.

It’s important to choose one behavior at a time to modify and to reward the child’s attempts (vs. perfect performances) at the new improved behavior as soon as they practice it. Giving choices of positive replacement behaviors and involving the child in coming up with suggestions are always good practices. Changes could take as long as 6 weeks of consistent practice. Praise and rewards can be thinned out over time. Consistency is key and please remember…work on one behavior at a time.

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