One of my most stressful moments of teaching is when a student is involved in a behavioral episode. I feel helpless, alone, frustrated, and often ready to throw in the towel. I understand how frustrating it could feel when it seems you have done all you could just for the child to continue acting out. Instructive strategies, or teaching strategies, are interventions to teach the child/student age-appropriate ways to get their needs met and provide coping skills for difficult situations. My goal is to provide you with techniques and opportunities for you to implement during those stressful times and to hopefully make your jobs and lives easier.
Welcome Back! This is the fourth post of six in this Behavioral Teacher series. Check back to continue gaining knowledge and resources to add to your behavioral management skills. In this blog, we begin to identify some strategies to implement during a behavioral episode!
Where we last left off in our behavioral series was just introducing strategies and interventions to put into place prior to behavior occurring. Hopefully, you were able to add some strategies discovered in 30 Preventive Strategies to do Prior to a Behavior to your behavioral plan. Remember, those were all strategies to attempt to put into place prior to the behavior occurring. We are about to move on to the next category in our behavior plan: Instructive Strategies.
As we discussed in What’s the Function of Behavior? students typically engage in challenging behavior because they learned that those types of behavior are more effective than other means. By teaching alternative skills or instructive strategies can help students to achieve their goals or needs met and often cope with difficult situations as they arise. There are three main types of instructive skills: 1) Teaching Strategies, 2) Coping and Tolerance, and 3) General Adaptive Skills.
Teaching Instructive Strategies
How do you decide when it is appropriate to teach your child or student when to use his/her words? You want to make sure that using words instead of using problem behaviors will still give your child the same outcome. The reason or function of the behavior is important. We need to make sure we teach them to use words in a way that matches the function.
Once you have the function of the behavior in mind, the next question is: Can You Honor The Request? You need to decide prior if it is appropriate to let the child get what they want by teaching them to use words. Let’s face it… if you aren’t going to honor the request after teaching them if they ask, what’s the point if they still aren’t going to get it? If you can honor the request then this next section is a great starting point. However, if you cannot honor the request you may need to look in the next few sections for some tips.
Gain an Item/Activity
Problem behaviors that are associated with gaining items or activities happen when children want something they cannot access without help or permission from an adult. You can teach your child or student more acceptable ways to get things. You can teach them to ask for an activity or item or to ask you for help.
Request for Item
- This strategy simply involves prompting students to communicate their wants and needs.
Request Assistance Gaining Item
- Requesting help or assistance is a great teachable moment. Sometimes we may take things for granted or assume that students or children have access to items they need. If they don’t have the language or skills to request assistance, it is time to step in and teach that skill. “Help, please” or “Can you get ____ for me?”. Some items may be out of reach of the child or perhaps they need opening items or containers.
Obtain Item/Activity Individually and Appropriately
- Some students may be engaging in problematic behavior because they are perceiving that they cannot access something. Often, students with disabilities sometimes fall into this category. After several prompts, students may learn that they can complete a task or activity without constant permission.
The way that children get attention and initiate or start social interactions with others is really important for creating positive, long-lasting relationships. However, some children may not have the skills to get attention appropriately from others or may not use these skills consistently.
Request in an Age-Appropriate Manner
- This strategy may require you to take some additional steps in order for it to be effective. Perhaps you need to prepare other adults that may come into contact with the child or even peers when appropriate. Provide consistent praise and model the expected behavior.
- You might not always be able to drop what you are doing to give the child attention. If you know that this is the case, then don’t rely on this strategy of teaching how to use words to get your attention. Use preventive strategies to plan a highly preferred activity to keep them busy, set up attention from another person, and occasionally give attention.
Our First Goal is to Extinguish Problem Behavior! Then We Can Teach Tolerance and Waiting!
The child has learned that they can get out of doing something if they engage in problem behavior. If your child uses these escape behaviors, and you can honor their request, you can teach them more acceptable ways to avoid unpleasant situations. Again, this is if you can honor their request.
Escape by Rejecting
- An option when the task/activity is not necessary. The replacement behavior might be the words: “No, thank you”. This may be a great start for students cursing to escape a task. Remember sometimes it is taking minimal steps to replace the behavior in a more appropriate manner.
Request a Break
- I am a HUGE fan of asking for a break. Teaching a student to request a break when providing longer assignments is a viable option for your classroom. A few things to consider is defining a clear place for a break and to set a limit of how many times they can ask for one in a period of time.
Request Assistance or Ask for Help
- An option for when the task or activity is necessary. Similar to rejecting, it is teaching the student appropriate ways to request help. Instead of crying, screaming, or escaping when receiving a difficult task or activity, we are teaching them to use their words and say “Help, please.”
Terminating an Activity
- Using terms like “I’ve had enough” or “No more, thank you.” are some possibilities to terminate an activity.
- This option is more subtle than the other options in this category. When there is a competing activity that is more appealing for the student than the less preferred activity, the student can negotiate with their teacher. Of course, this goes without saying, that this one is a little tricky. Teaching the child to negotiate a specific time like “I will finish this paper tonight at home so I can go to recess” is an example. Clear limits and modeling is required for this option.
The logic for teaching skills for sensory behavior is the same as that for other functions. For this category, you will ask yourself the following: 1) Is the behavior self-stimulatory or automatically reinforcing? 2) Identify which type or source of stimulation (auditory, visual, tactile, etc.).
- This task requires some trial and error. Observation requires you to problem solve and hypothesize what is the source of stimulation. The first option is to make available another, more socially acceptable means of obtaining the same type of stimulation – one that they can access themselves.
- Another option is to teach students to request an alternative means. They could make a request or gesture
Coping and Tolerance Instructive Strategies
Some situations must be tolerated by a student or your own child because they are important to their lives. This is the difference between what your child should do and what they need to do. We need to teach our students and children ways to cope and handle these unpleasant activities to increase the time they spend in a situation without behaviors.
- This means you start by keeping the individual in a difficult or non-preferred situation for short amounts of time or to challenge them to complete at first a small part of a task. Give them praise and then give them the reward of escape. Next time, increase this length of time, praising along the way. It is important to start off with realistic expectations and truly knowing your students.
- Goal Setting
- Determining their own self-goal. Ex: “When I get frustrated with math, I will raise my hand to ask for help”.
- Self Monitoring
- Using a checklist or form, the student can record the number of times they ask for help or needed a break.
- This involves the students identifying what they are doing well. Then provide themselves with positive self-talk.
- Self Cueing
- Self-cueing teaches students to use external prompts (picture cues, audio cues, self-statements) to prompt the desired behavior.
- Designed for older students, this intervention involves having the student identifying their: 1) triggers, 2) physical cues (“my face is feeling hot”), 3) use self-talk reminders (“stay calm-walk away”), 4) use anger reducers (walk away, ask for a break), and 5) self-evaluate (“I stayed calm, even though I was upset”).
- Teaching students to “de-stress” when upset or frustrated is a wonderful teaching tool. Not only for the identified student but for all your students in a whole group lesson. Deep breaths, movement breaks, releasing muscle tension, etc.
- If you are looking for some ideas check out: 25 Breathing Exercises to Calm and Focus Your Students
Social Problem Solving
- Another great option for older students. This intervention teaches students to identify problem situations or triggers. Once these are identified, the student(s) would provide solutions to the behavior of what they could do differently.
General Adaptive Instructive Strategies
Rather than adults modifying the antecedents / setting events – the student is taught skills to empower him/her to solve the problem.
You want to ask yourself:
- What skills might we teach to prevent the problem behavior?
- What general skills can we teach that will lead to meaningful lifestyle improvements?
Involving the student’s interests and preferences are important to make meaningful lifestyle improvements. Remember, this is shaping behavior and unfortunately, that takes time. I wish I could provide you with a magic wand of some kind to speed up the process. At times, it could be frustrating, but know I am here every step of the way and I understand! We need to celebrate the small steps!
Have you attempted some of these strategies in your classroom or home before? Have you seen any improvement of behavior based on introducing these activities/interventions? We would love to hear about them or feel free to share them in the comments below. We will continue this conversation of behavior management and discuss in detail how you could respond after a behavior occurs as well as how to put it all together in one comprehensive plan.
Written by: Christopher Olson
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