LEAven Blog


How to Help a Student Change Behavior

Struggling with student behavior? This post is for you! Whether the behavior is acting out, incomplete work, or social in nature, thinking through these steps can help you bring about change.

Let’s start with some basics.

  • Does the student understand your expectations?
  • Have you seen him or her do what you expect appropriately without assistance or reminders?
  • Have you made your expectations multisensory or visual? (posted in classroom, shown example, demonstrated, etc.)

Next, clearly define the problem.

  • Specifically state your concern.
  • How often does it occur?
  • When and where does it occur?
  • Is it disrupting class or affecting other students, or just annoying you? (If it’s just you, try to ignore it.)

Set your frame of reference. Think of behavior as a form of communication. Assume that most children will do what is expected of them when they can. Set aside your knowledge of human nature and put the best construction on the situation. Is this a matter of refusal, not knowing how, or not able?

Now think about the A, B, C’s.

A = Antecedent – What is the trigger of this behavior?

B = Behavior (You’ve already clearly defined this.)

C = Consequence – What does the student get from this behavior?

Finding the consequence is key if we want to effect a change. In terms of consequences, most behavior is used to obtain something or escape something. Is your student avoiding sensory overload, afraid of failing, afraid of looking stupid, avoiding social interaction, or avoiding frustration? Does your student have a need to obtain attention even if it is negative? Are they seeking comfort, stimulation, control, or communication? Do a deep dive into what the student gets out of the behavior that makes it worth doing.

  • Build in other times to make choices.
  • Provide movement breaks.
  • Give ways to gain positive attention.
  • Give the student an, “I need a break,” pass.
  • Help this child get started on the work that is expected.

Now for the challenging part: find a replacement. The best way to bring about a change is to provide a replacement behavior that gives the student the same result in an appropriate way. How can we fill this need at an appropriate time and place? Here are some possibilities:

Finally, make sure that you explicitly teach the new behavior.

  • When everyone is calm, demonstrate the new behavior.
  • Find a way to provide a visual reminder. (Note on desk, card, picture, signal)
  • Practice the new behavior together.
  • Remind the student of the new behavior prior to the antecedent.
  • Reinforce the new behavior. (If we want it to be repeated, we need to let them know! We also need to be consistent in reinforcing and encouraging the changes we are working toward.)

Obviously, you would not do this deep analysis for a one-time behavior. But when you have a student who is truly struggling to behave appropriately, these steps will help you address your concerns and lead them through a change for the better.

Mara Springer serves students, parents, and teachers as an education specialist for Lutheran Association for Special Education (LASE) in St. Louis, Missouri. She is passionate about making a Christian education accessible to as many children as possible, regardless of their learning needs. She also enjoys being a wife and mother.

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