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Proactive Behavior Management

Children and youth with problem behaviors merge in classrooms of all grade levels, lunchrooms, playgrounds, media centers, computer labs, and other settings within the school. As a paraeducator who works in these settings it is likely that you are confronted with the issue of how to manage the behavior of children and youth. I would like to share four suggestions for promoting positive, non-coercive management of behavior.

1. Establish Expectations

All behavior is learned, sometimes incidentally and other times through formal or informal teaching. Reasonable expectations give directions and help to set limits so students do not have to guess what it is you expect of them. Establishing and discussing expectations up front will also minimize the chance of conflict. The ultimate purpose of establishing expectations is to give students the skills they need to be responsible for managing their own behavior. I suggest the following:

  • Choose four or five expectations that you feel are critical
  • Write them in positive and observable language: "keep hands, feet and other objects to yourself" rather than "no hitting or kicking"
  • Post the expectations in a visible location and discuss them with your students. Allow students to give input and if appropriate, make changes
students raising hands in a classroom
  • Discuss examples and non-examples for each expectation. I have the students do role plays demonstrating what expectations look like and do not look like. They typically enjoy this activity. Teaching an expected behavior before a student's needs is a proactive way to manage behavior.

2. Circulate and Monitor

A paraeducator who is visible to students serves as an excellent reminder of the established expectations. When the adult who is responsible for the classroom is sitting at a desk rather than circulating throughout the room, students are more inclined to lose attention from their assignment, wander or talk. The same applies to playground supervision. Active moving and looking around allows you to monitor students and encourage appropriate behavior.

3. Provide Positive Feedback

When you move and look around you will find students using appropriate behavior. This is a great opportunity to offer positive feedback or praise. This serves a variety of functions. It strengthens the desirable behavior that you want children to learn and use; sincere praise increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated. And it helps develop strong, positive relationships. When a person calls attention to the positive actions of another person, a positive relationship is created between them.

So how can you, as a paraeducator, use positive feedback effectively? Immediate praise is more likely to improve a student's behavior and helps strengthen the adult-child relationship than delayed praise. You ask a student to put his books away and he quickly does it. You immediately say to the student (in a calm, pleasant voice), "Dave, I see you put your books away as soon as I asked. Thanks!" Be attentive to student's socially appropriate actions and follow through with praise as soon as possible.

In addition to being immediate, effective praise must be sincere, specific and contingent. Furthermore, you should reserve praise for appropriate behavior. If a student returns his homework as required, you could say, in a sincere manner, "I appreicate the way you returned your homework." If the student does not return his homework it would be inappropriate to deliver the same praise in hopes that the student would change his behavior in the future.

4. Provide Corrective Feedback

girl writing math on a whiteboard with help from woman

Along with observing appropriate student behavior, you will also witness inappropriate behavior. It is important to deal with inappropriate behavior in a non-coercive manner. I believe that when a student chooses to challenge an established expectation, an opportunity is created to teach appropriate behavior and review the expectation.

Dr. Glen Latham, a former professor and favorite lecturer for parents and educators, gave four guidelines for selecting and implementing consequences. First, consequences need to be understood by educators and students to reduce misunderstandings and prevent educators from imposing illogical consequences during frustrating moments. Consequences must align with class expectations and meet the needs of the instructor and students. Positive consequences might include playing a game, earning "no homework" or a video; negative consequences may include having privileges taken away, being refused access to the computer, or having to change seat location.

Second, consequences must be reasonable and aligned with the student's behavior. If the student uses art supplies and leaves the room without cleaning up, a logical consequence would be to have the student return and put away the supplies. An illogical consequence would be for the student to be put on a timeout. A third guideline for establishing consequences is that they must be manageable. If the consequence for a student arriving late for class is that the he will owe time at the end of class, you must be certain that you can monitor the student at that time. When selecting a consequence you must make sure that others, including yourself, are not "penalized" when the consequence is put into effect.

Finally, consequences must be delivered in a precise, accurate and consistent manner. A paraeducator who follows this guideline increases the probability that the student will hold fast to boundaries and expectations; a paraeducator who is inconsistent in delivering consequences tempts the child to test limits through inappropriate behavior. This also applies to appropriate behavior. If you promise a student free time if all his math problems are completed accurately in an allotted time, the free time must be awarded as promised. This type of follow-through is critical.

These four strategies will help you to enhance your behavior management skills. Through the consistent application of these strategies you will experience positive relationships, well-balanced and socially competent students, and a pleasant classroom environment.

The author of this article, Dr. Michelle Marchant is an Associate Professor at Brigham Young University. She specializes in providing training in positive behavior supports for schools. These are research-based strategies.

When a Child Misbehaves

Alen Hofmeister

Alen Hofmeister  
Center for Persons with Disabilities  
Utah State University





Most children who misbehave have learned to misbehave. The following shows how a child may learn to misbehave:

Adult: What do you say, Johnny? Do you want to go home now?  
Child: No.  
Adult: Well it's time, so get your coat.  
Child: No.  
Adult: Johnny get your coat right now.  
Child: No.  
Adult: If you don't get your coat, I'm going to spank you.  
Child: (Crying.) No! No! I don't want to go home.  
Adult: All right. Just stop crying. We can stay for five more minutes, but you have to stop crying right now.

Here is what the child might have learned from this exchange:

  1. When a grown-up asks a question, I don't know if he wants an answer or not. Sometimes he asks a question but really doesn't want an answer. It's very confusing.
  2. If I say "No" to a grown-up, I get a lot more attention than if I just do what he tells me to do.
  3. If I cry, I get to stay for five more minutes.
  4. If I cry really hard, I won't get spanked.
  5. If I cry enough, grown-ups will care more about getting me to stop crying than about spanking me or taking me home.

The key to disciplining a child is teaching appropriate behavior before inappropriate behavior has a chance to occur. Since this is not always possible, we need to know how to deal with misbehavior when it does occur.

Here are some general rules to follow to help you teach a child good behavior:

  1. Watch for good behavior and tell the child what he is doing that you like. Never take good behavior for granted. We adults have a tendency to ignore good behavior and focus on misbehavior. Make a conscious effort to reverse that tendency. Teach the child that your attention comes as a result of good behavior, not as a result of misbehavior.
  2. Provide the child with good models. Although this is not always possible, it is important to provide the child with as many good models as you can. Try to expose the child to playmates who are good "players," "workers," "learners," "talkers"-in other words, good at whatever behavior you would like the child to imitate. Avoid exposing the child to inappropriate models; for example, play mates or adults who consistently demonstrate inappropriate behavior.
  3. Teach the child how to behave by keeping him actively involved in situations that promote appropriate behavior. Provide him with a variety of stimulating activities and praise him for playing and doing things in an appropriate way.

Teaching procedure: When you tell a child to do something and he cannot or does not do it alone, you may need to teach him that skill. The procedure to use when teaching a child something new includes three steps: SHOW, HELP, and TELL. When teaching the skill, first SHOW the child how to do it. Then give him a chance to try it alone. If he cannot do it, showing him may not be enough. You should then HELP him by moving or guiding him in practicing the skill. Then TELL him what to do and give him the chance to do it alone.

Prevent misbehavior by spending time teaching the child how to behave. Play with him. Engage him in productive, enjoyable activities in which you can both take part. Always praise a child when a task is completed. Even if you help him, praise him for trying. The goal is for the child to be able to do something alone when you tell him. You should insist that the child be able to do more and more each time on his own before you praise him.

Let Common Sense be Your Guide

You need not be a child psychologist or attend numerous classes or seminars in child development in order to work successfully with youngsters. Let common sense be your guide. You know that reward for good behavior is more effective than punishment for misbehavior. You know that you must keep any promise you make to a child. If you try putting yourself in the child's place and try feeling what he feels, you will be in a better position to know how to cope.

For information about this book - and other resource materials, go to

Editor's note. Although this book is intended for parents and focuses on the years from 3 to 11, many of the areas it covers will sound all too familiar to educators. Among the topics covered, you will find advice on how to teach a child to follow directions, pay attention, pick up, share, and work, and how to deal with arguing, interrupting, swearing, and teasing.