As a teacher of more than 30 years, I have had many discussions where I sat at the table and informed a parent or parents that their child was becoming a distracting force in my classroom because of inappropriate behavior. In my early life, I was fortunate in that I had not experienced this conversation from the parent’s perspective. Then I had a child with ADHD. At that point I began to understand both sides of the coin.
That First Parent-Teacher Meeting
The first conversation usually goes something like this: “I don’t know if Johnny is like this at home or not, but he continues to disrupt instruction by doing inappropriate things. It has reached the point where we have to do something to change it. Here’s what I am seeing …”
Some parents are shocked because their child acts very appropriately at home, while others react as if they already know what their child is like and are only surprised that their child’s behavior wasn’t brought up sooner. In my case, my child was very appropriate at home: a bit impulsive, but manageable in the home setting. In school, however, the excitement was more than he could control and he was regularly in trouble for speaking out inappropriately, getting out of his seat when he wasn’t supposed to, not responding to directions, forgetting to complete homework, forgetting to turn in homework and so on. I was embarrassed and saddened. Even though, as a special education teacher, I was somewhat of a behavior management specialist, I wasn’t sure what I should do for my own child.
Finding a Solution with the Teacher
We were fortunate in that instead of just dropping the problem upon us, my son’s teacher knew how engage us to create a solution. She started by asking us what we did at home in circumstances similar to those my son faced in school. From there we crafted a plan, some of which was effective, some of which was not. We decided to talk regularly so that we continue to shape his behavior.
Behavioral issues require that the school staff and the parents work together, finding ways to support each other. The teacher interacts with the child for, at most, six hours daily. While that is a significant part a child’s waking day, this interaction takes place in a unique setting and can’t change behaviors across the entire day. Teachers need help from the home.
The process of finding a solution should start with a discussion of the child’s problematic behaviors in school. In short, this discussion should pinpoint the negative behavior, the assumed trigger of the behavior and what the child hopes to gain from the behavior. I am convinced that in order to change children’s behavior, you must have a handle on these three elements. Teachers should be able to tell you specifically what it is about your child’s actions that is inappropriate in the classroom. They also should tell you what seems to trigger the problematic behavior; however teachers often don’t recognize how their own behavior can trigger a child’s reaction. Parents come into this discussion with an in-depth understanding of how their child thinks and behaves, and they can help to provide insight into what the teacher may not see.
From this discussion, you should be able to come up with a set of interventions to implement to attempt to correct the behavior. Both sides (home and school) should be working together to reshape the child’s misbehavior.
Addressing Severe Misbehavior in the Classroom
The basic process I just described isn’t that different from what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act calls for when a child’s behavior is a distraction from his or her learning or the learning of the other students in class. Severe behaviors require that a team of school experts, including the parent, observe and examine the students’ actions. They determine which behaviors are the most disrupting, and isolate one, two or, at most, three to target for change.
This team then examines each target behavior to find out what triggers it. In other words, they determine what actions occur in the classroom when the target behavior appears. For example, a trigger might be the teacher giving the child some work to do or telling the student not to speak. Identifying the triggers or stimulus is critical to shaping any behavior change.
Finally, the team will try to identify what expected reward is linked to the behavior. In other words, what does the child believe he or she is gaining from this behavior? As you might expect, this may be the hardest part. This examination is called a functional behavior assessment, or FBA. Frankly, most school personnel do not conduct this process very effectively. From this information, a basic behavior plan is created, spelling out what is done when the behavior occurs, how the child may be corrected, what rewards are given when the child is compliant and what consequences are given when the child is not compliant. It should spell out what happens at both school and at home as a result of any behavior infraction or improvement. The is called a behavior intervention plan or BIP.
Tips for Parents on Behavior Management
Besides working with school personnel to correct your child’s behavior, there are some basic aspects of parenting that can help tremendously. First, just like any good teacher, you have to be consistent. If your child hits a peer, you need to react the same way every time. If you don’t react, the behavior will continue; if you react inconsistently, the child will probably increase the behavior. In fact, reacting to a disruptive behavior inconsistently can have a more powerful impact on a problematic behavior than punishment or no reward.
Second, your home should have some basic rules for behaviors. I used to be hokey and call them the rules of Bishop, meaning that if you are going to be a member of the Bishop family, this is the expectation. I created four or five basic overreaching statements, and incorporated them in my reward system. My home wasn’t perfect, but by trying to be consistent and insisting on good family values, it seemed to work.
Read “Tacking Behavior and Social Skills Sooner Than Later” to learn more about addressing behavioral problems. Also, check out the Behavior Suite of the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities website for a number of articles on behavioral issues.