Classroom Strategies to Increase Positive Behavior in Children

When children experience a loss of control over situations, we as adults may witness an increase in challenging behaviors.

When a student refuses to complete math problems, write sentences, or attend a speech session, the situation may translate itself into, “This is too hard and frustrating” as an argument for not doing the activity.

As adults insist that the task must be completed, the student may start to feel trapped by the situation. They feel as if they have no control over their surroundings and may feel backed into a corner to do something they don’t want to do or have difficulty doing.

These feelings may be expressed through challenging behaviors that many adults could interpret as acting or lashing out.

A solution to this scenario is to give your student some sense of control over their situation. To do this, offer structured choices to the student so they can make decisions within a given scenario.

Here are a few examples of how this could work:

1) Your student cries and hides under their desk whenever it is time to complete the designated math papers that are assigned that day in a folder.

Instead of reacting to the challenging behavior, ask the student if they would like to change the order of the papers and the days to complete each one. This gives your student independence and control over the order in which they complete their assignments.

2) It is time to go home but your student is crying because they want to play with a toy right now! If you tell the student that it’s too late and they need to go home so they can’t play with the toy, the crying may increase and other behaviors may begin to appear.

Instead, offer your student a choice for tomorrow. For example, ask them, “When it is time to play tomorrow, would you like to play with the train or with the puzzle?”. This offers your student control over the play situation and interrupts the behaviors before they can escalate. Once your student responds with their choice, show them that you are writing it down so you will both remember the next day.

Ask your student if they’d like you to write down the reminder on the board or on a piece of paper. This again offers them control over the situation and keeps them focused on making choices.

3) A student is coloring a picture when the speech therapist enters the classroom. Your student sees the speech therapist enter, but continues to color. When you tell your student that it’s time for speech, they refuse. If you and the therapist try to stop your student from coloring, they may become more adamant in their refusal to stop and behaviors can escalate.

Instead, ask your student if they would like to keep their picture on the art table, on your desk, or in your desk drawer until they get back from therapy and can continue working on their art.

Continue offering structured choices until your student complies and attends their speech therapy session.

Although it may take a few moments to think of appropriate structured choices in given scenarios, once you begin this strategy it will become easier and more natural.

And best of all, a potentially trying situation for all involved can become an empowering and positive experience for everyone.

The special education resources on this page were authored by Watson Institute’s special education consultants and faculty.

Children Making Choices to Increase Positive Behavior

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