Being able to understand behaviour and setting appropriate expectations, plus adding in positive behaviour intervention strategies (PBIS) is key to knowing how to effectively support a child's behaviour. Whether a child has SEND needs or not, behaviour management is a key skill for anyone working with children, however it is important that you do this in the right way. Here are 9 positive and practical strategies to support behaviour in the classroom and ensure all children are ready to learn.
Behaviour is Communication
Before you can intervene and use any of the strategies we are going to explore in this article, you need to understand WHY behaviour (positive or negative) is occurring in the first place.
The main thing to understand regarding behaviour is that all behaviour is a form of communication. Children, especially those with autism or other developmental disorders, often lack the functional communication skills to express themselves, needs, or wants in an appropriate way. Therefore, they often turn to behaviours in order to get or avoid something, express their emotions and thoughts. You need to know exactly why a child is doing what they’re doing before you can choose and use a strategy to help them.
However, keep in mind that the reason may not always be what it appears to be.
A child may scream or cry when they're told it is time to go and wash hands before snack. This could be interpreted as attention-seeking behaviour and ignored. However, the real reason could be to avoid washing hands. By ignoring the behaviour, the child is actually delaying washing their hands, even if only by a few minutes, and so they are technically achieving their goal.
Common Reasons for Behaviour
Biological/medical problem - thirsty? hungry? in pain? feeling sick?
Sensory needs or self regulation
Physical items - i.e they want something they can't have
Think of behaviour like an iceberg - you are only seeing and experiencing the very tip of the real issue. You need to know what the function of a behaviour is because, in order to stop an inappropriate behaviour long-term, you need to teach a child a way to communicate and/or get their wants and needs met that works better than the behaviour.
Remember too that children, just like adults, will have their 'off days'. They will have days when they are grumpy, moody, act disrespectful and make mistakes but keep in mind that we have days like that as well, so we need to afford children the same benefit of the doubt that we may give ourselves.
Managing Behaviour is not the same as 'discipline'
It is extremely important to understand that the discipline I am discussing in this article is not referring to punishing a child. No form of discipline should involve any suffering or retribution for behaving a certain way, especially for behaviours children can't control like meltdowns or shutdowns. True, positive discipline is referring to providing guidance, problem solving skills and teaching regulation strategies to children when they are most receptive. The misconception about what discipline is may cause some people to be hesitant to use it, but it is necessary.
This is where PBIS is considered and is considered to be the gold standard by many professionals when it comes to effectively managing behaviour, especially for children who are autistic or have additional needs.
What is PBIS?
PBIS stands for Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports. Sounds complex, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. It is a three-tiered framework that offers differentiated behaviour support so that students are met where they are.
With PBIS Tiers, every student receives Tier 1 behavior interventions support, which is also called universal support. If students need more specialized or targeted interventions they then would move into Tier 2 and possibly Tier 3, dependent on their needs.
10 PBIS Strategies
Relationships are everything. If you can establish yourself as a safe, predictable and reliable person who takes genuine interest in a child's well-being, development and interests then you will have a fantastic foundation on which to build a great relationship with a child.
2. Individualise Motivators
Motivation is what drives us to do the things we do. It is the reason why we work hard, make goals, and strive to be good people. Sometimes, what motivates your child when they have ADHD or autism is different from what would typically motivate their peers. The best motivators to use are things linked to their Special Interests.
3. Optimise Language
Being able to communicate effectively with an autistic child, however, requires some adaptations in order to ensure that you can understand them but also that they can process and understand what you are saying or conveying as well.
4. The Premack Principle
You’ve probably heard about The Premack Principle before, only it was probably described to you as “first-then statements”. It works very well when properly implemented - the key is finding a reinforcer valuable enough to evoke the desired behaviour. In essence, the Premack Principle fins that “high-probability behaviours (those performed frequently under conditions of free choice) can be used to reinforce low-probability behaviours.”
The key is to structure the sentence in a first-then format. Although it’s used in ABA therapy, anyone can apply this technique to increase the likelihood of a behaviour or demand to occur.
Some best practices to keep in mind when using first-then statements:
Keep statements short and easy to understand
Do not attach a punishment onto the statement
Repeat the statement if you need to, using the exact same wording every time
If your child needs help completing the task, help them. They should still get the “then” part of the deal even if they needed help.
5. Redirect Behaviour
Ultimately, it’s easier to prevent a behaviour than it is to react and stop one that’s happening. Over time, this tends to deter the behaviour because children begin to naturally go towards the other activity.
When redirection is done perfectly, you’ll be one step ahead of your child. You will distract your child from the behaviour they’re about to engage in, and direct them to a more appropriate behaviour that serves the same function. You need to know your child’s behavioural triggers and be watching for the earliest signs indicating what they’re about to do.
6. Use Social Stories
Social scripts help pre-teach new skills in a quiet, calm environment. They primarily teach socially acceptable behaviours and calm down techniques. The strategy is based on the concept of positive reinforcement of learning and visual supports.
You may like: What Are Social Stories and How to Make One?
7. Use Prompting
Using prompts, new skills are taught one step at a time, before combining the steps to complete the whole skill. A prompt is something that is done immediately after giving the instruction to help the child perform the task correctly. It helps clarify the expectations you have and ensures your child is successful – this is very important when your child is trying something new. The goal is to fade out the prompts until your child can do the task independently.
8. Use Transactional Supports
Transactional Support is the planned supports and strategies that adults use to help the child participate in social interactions and everyday activities. The SCERTS programme focuses on ensuring that the adults within school provide the correct supports for children at all times in order for children to achieve set objectives.
You may like: The SCERTS Model - A Comprehensive Overview
9. Set Up Learning Stations
This strategy about how to structure learning is based on the TEACCH program (which is a program used at schools all over the country). This program was developed to help students with limited interests who struggle to follow adult-directed routines to be successful.
The TEACCH philosophy focuses on the individual’s strengths to enable the development of independence and supports areas for development to enable maximum success and reduce stress.
Structuring learning based on the TEACCH program is highly successful for six key reasons.
It helps autistic children understand expectations.
It helps autistic children to be and remain calm.
It’s tailored to individual learning styles.
Structure helps children with autism to build independence.
Structures are a form of behaviour management. They teach a child appropriate behaviours and then generalize the behaviour through visual systems.
It promotes flexible thinking.