Last week I was at a school doing some staff training on developing positive behavior systems based on understanding personality style. I had a conversation with the principal about the role of ISS (in school suspension) and how effective it is as a deterrent to misbehavior. Most school personnel would agree that it is not very effective. Sure it gets a child out of the classroom for a period of time and hopefully impresses the child with the fact that the behavior has consequences that are undesirable… but does it really teach a child how to behave differently? So if it’s ineffective and difficult to staff (no one really wants this duty)… why don’t we do something else?
What if it were possible to use ISS time to teach better behavior skills?
Here are some ideas:
- Create a worksheet that even the youngest child can complete about the behavior that landed them in ISS. Use a comic strip layout with a box for each of the following questions:
- What happened first?
- What did I do?
- What have I learned?
- What do I plan to do in the future?
- Young children can draw a picture in answer to the questions. Older children can write about the experience.
- The teacher in attendance reviews the sheet with the child. This is a time for learning from mistakes, not a time for scolding for bad behavior. Challenge perceptions and pat answers. Encourage creative thinking and personal responsibility for feelings and actions.
- Make the child a copy of the sheet for them to review later perhaps with their parents. Keep a copy in the ISS room. If the child is back in ISS for a similar behavior, have them complete a new worksheet, then compare it to the old one. Discuss what happened and why the old plan didn’t work. How will the new plan make a difference? What do they need to do differently? How do they need to think differently?
- Use a growth mindset and frame the entire experience as an opportunity to learn from mistakes rather than as a punishment to teach a child a lesson.
- Before the child leaves, have them role play or act out how they will handle a similar situation in the future based on their answers on the worksheet.
- Anticipate with the child what they will do when they encounter a similar situation again. Frame it as a test of the plan that they have come up with. Have them set an intention or a goal as to how they will handle it better. Discuss how they will feel after they successfully handle the next challenge.
- Rather than have children do busy work during any remaining ISS time, have them read books on positive behavior. For example, an excellent series on bullying is the Weird Series which has great suggestions for bullies, bystanders and victims of bullying. Trudy Ludwig and Julia Cook write a number of books on improving behavior. And of course, I also recommend the Wyatt the Wonder Dog books:)
Good behavior is often something we just expect that a child should understand. After all, we told them the rules, right? Why can’t they just follow them?
What if we thought of behavior the same way that we think about math or reading? We’d never give a child a book, explain briefly how words and sentences work together and expect them to pick it up and start reading. We’d never tell a child how to add and subtract and expect that they could answer math problems right away. Yet we expect that all children should understand and follow behavior rules. Some children do manage to pick up how to behave without a lot of guidance just as some children seem to be born reading. But most of us could benefit from some intentional teaching of behavior skills. By applying the growth mindset concept to behavior challenges, we can frame misbehavior as a chance to learn from mistakes and an opportunity develop better behavior skills.
How to create a better behavior plan
How do you change a child’s behavior?
Creating a growth mindset in kids
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation
Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.
I once was counseling the parents of a child who didn’t want to come to school. After investigating the situation and making sure there wasn’t a bully at school who was intimidating him or a problem with academics that was discouraging him, we talked about setting up a reinforcement program where he could earn something for attending school without morning complaints and tantrums. The parents were eager and cooperative. They wanted to get Johnny back in the school routine as quickly as possible. The next day I met with Johnny and asked about his new program. He informed me that if he came to school as planned for the next few weeks, he would earn a vacation on a cruise ship over spring break with his parents. Obviously, I had failed to clearly explain a reinforcement program and how to choose a reasonable and sensible reward…
In today’s affluent and savvy world of parenting, we are creating what Tim Elmore calls in a post the ‘encore problem’. As parents we want to create better and better experiences for our children. We want each year to be better than the next. We want to wow them. Even when we are impacting a behavior with a behavior plan, we feel the need to create the ultimate reward. The problem? We are setting the stage to continually up the anti and soon kids start expecting more and more. If the reinforcement program that Johnny’s parents had designed had worked (and it didn’t-I’ll explain why in a moment), what were they going to do as an incentive for the weeks after spring break? A trip to Europe? Spaceship to the moon?
Here’s what a behavior reinforcement program is designed to do and how to set up a successful one:
- A behavior plan helps to clearly identify the behavior(s) that is a problem and holds the child responsible. It does this by recognizing that the behaviors are a choice and the child is making a choice to cry, whine, not follow directions, throw a tantrum etc. This seems basic but often behaviors are seen as almost involuntary by both the parent and the child if they have become an established routine.
- A behavior plan clearly identifies the proper and expected behavior. For example, in the school avoidance problem described above, we clearly identified how Johnny was expected to act in the morning by describing the best case scenario or a good morning routine. Making a checklist or writing down the expectations is recommended so everyone is on the same page.
- A behavior plan sets clear consequences for both expected and unexpected behavior. The plan should be discussed and written down. A positive reinforcement or reward should be reasonable and as close time-wise to the positive behavior as possible. I often recommend earning extra time in the afternoon after school to do something the child enjoys. Improve the reward by involving the parent in the activity. For example, parent and child could spend extra time outside playing basketball, they could enjoy a movie or video game together, read a book, cook together… really the possibilities are endless. Set a reasonable time limit for the activity of 30 minutes or so . Make sure the reward is not something you do routinely anyway and then make sure you follow up. Notice that you don’t have to spend money or create an elaborate plan as a positive reinforcement.
- What if the expected behavior doesn’t occur? Again there should be a consequence as close to the behavior as possible. In the school avoidance case mentioned above, it could be no video games or tv for the evening. It could be no play time outside. It could be extra time spent studying. It could be an earlier bedtime. The consequence should be delivered without lecturing. There should however be a thorough review of the plan for the next day with an expectation that learning will have occurred through the mistakes made today. Set the stage for and expect a positive experience in the future.
- What can go wrong?
- No follow through and lack of consistency–you have to adhere to the plan long enough for it to work. How long is long enough? Until it works. Seriously. That doesn’t mean you don’t review and revise it as needed. But it also means that you don’t throw up your hands after the first few days if there isn’t a dramatic change in behavior. It takes time to change behavior. Think about the last time you tried to change your behavior and do something differently…
- Creating an impossible or complicated plan— Offering a cruise for good behavior falls into this category. If the behavior doesn’t occur are you going to cancel the family vacation? Offering to spend all afternoon shopping with your child for toys if their behavior improves also falls into this category. Create a plan that is easy to deliver, won’t break the bank and is going to enhance the relationship on many levels.
- Depending on extrinsic rewards exclusively rather than fostering intrinsic rewards. A reinforcement program is not meant to last forever. Ultimately the goal is to establish better behavior as a routine. That is why rewards that encourage better behavior while also developing a closer relationship are ideal. Continue to process the experience and encourage a learning and growth mindset.
3 Steps to Helping Kids Develop Self-Discipline
Change Manic Mornings to Tranquil Transitions
Do Your Kids Push Your Buttons?
Wyatt Learns about Being Organized
It’s time to catch the school bus and Wyatt can’t find anything. Where is his backpack? his lunch money? Wyatt is about to learn a valuable lesson about the importance of being organized and the benefits of planning ahead. This adorable story offers simple helpful ideas that kids and parents can use to make life less stressful and more fun.
Leadership Lessons for Kids Based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Successful People
Does it seem like your kids just naturally know how to push you buttons?
Do they know that nothing makes you more crazy than…
waiting until the last minute to do a project,
leaving toys out where you trip over them
begging you for candy while you are checking out a month’s worth of groceries,
or what ever your pet peeve is?
While supplies last… end of the school year special!
Four of my best selling books:
Wyatt Learns about Cooperation, Wyatt Learns about Good Manners, Wyatt Learns about Winning and Wyatt Learns about Being Organized.
Plus Wyatt’s Little Book of Lesson Plans, Worksheets and Games
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