A Better Behavior Plan

plan

In my years as a school  behavior consultant, I’ve seen a wide variety of behavior plans.

I’ve seen the simplest of plans: basically, a statement  saying “I promise to behave”, followed by a list of consequences that will result if misbehavior occurs, and the student’s signature.  In my experience, this strategy has not yielded much success.

An improvement to this approach recognizes that a lot of misbehavior is due to a skill deficit, and therefore, the plan outlines not only the expectations, but also how they will be taught.  I’ve seen students with this kind of plan learn to go to a designated “cool-down” space to calm down rather than engaging in an argument.  Much less coercive, and much more understanding on the part of the adults.  These plans can work reasonably well.

But I’ve also been fortunate to be part of what I believe to be an even better behavior plan.  When we understand that all behavior is meeting a need, rather than looking for a child to simply “stop” or replacing the behavior with a more acceptable one, we can start looking to uncover the source of the behavior.  In this kind of planning, we ask ourselves:

  1. How is this child meeting their need for belonging?  Do they feel part of their peer group?  Do they feel connected to staff?  Is the concerning behavior meeting these needs in some way?  Is there a part of our plan that can help address this need?
  2. How is this child meeting their need for power?  Do they feel competent and successful, and like they can contribute something important?  Is the concerning behavior meeting these needs in some way?  Is there a part of our plan that can help address this need?
  3. How is the child meeting their need for freedom?  Do they feel they have some control in their life?  Do they feel they have choices, and can make decisions for themselves?  Is the concerning behavior meeting these needs in some way?  Is there a part of our plan that can help address this need?
  4. How is the child meeting their need for fun?  Do they have the opportunity to laugh and enjoy themselves?  Are they able to engage in activities that bring them joy?  Is the concerning behavior meeting these needs in some way?  Is there a part of our plan that can help address this need?
  5. How is the child meeting their need for survival?  Are they getting enough sleep?  Are they hungry?  Are they sick?  Do they have appropriate clothing, school supplies and other essentials so that they do not feel embarrassed or different than their peers?  Is the concerning behavior meeting these needs in some way?  Is there a part of our plan that can help address this need?

When we plan for behavior in this way, some very different plans result.  An older peer may be found to mentor the child.  A teacher may set aside a special time to check in with them.  The student may be given a role as a helper working with the school secretary or with younger students in the school.  Different options for assignments may be provided, or a child may be given options for how their day will be structured.  A winter jacket or hot lunch may be provided, or a comfortable place to grab a nap may be found.

While these strategies may not seem related to behavior, it’s amazing to see how often kids behaviors can change when their basic needs are met.  When kids feel loved, important, in control, happy and cared for, often misbehavior vanishes.  I’ve heard so many adults say that what really made the difference for them when they were struggling students was someone who understood them and helped them get what they needed.  I’ve got to say, I’ve never had someone share that signing a paper saying they promised to behave better was a huge turning point in their life.

What other ways have you found to help kids meet their needs?

 

 

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