All Behavior is Learned
Out of the clear blue, your student throws a tantrum. Another student sulks shyly and avoids eye contact. What do you do? Understand that all behaviors result from an underlying cause. Come to class armed with the perspective that you can manage your students’ behavior when you understand the underlying causes of your students’ behaviors.
A. Children will try with you what has worked out for them with others.
They’re going to repeat the behaviors that have received attention from others in the past. When this happens to you, remember that there is most likely a motivation for the acting out. Knowing what that motivation is can help you be sure to fill that need in another way and perhaps prevent them from trying that behavior again.
- They want to be physically comfortable.
Perhaps they are too hot or too cold and they don’t know how to say that to their teacher. They could act out because they have not been feeling well lately. Or, maybe they are overly tired. Rest is such an important part of their growth, and sometimes they will feel desperate when they are trying to do well, but are too tired to function.
- They want to satisfy emotional needs or wants.
Too many children come into my classroom every year with obvious emotional deficits. If they come from a home that is broken or from an environment where their needs are not prioritized, they will seek love and attention however they can get it. Inside, they are lacking the emotional care they need and it has affected their outward behavior. As sad as it sounds, they may never hear words of affirmation or encouragement from anyone else but you.
- Behavior habits are brought from home.
Some children come into your class with no idea about how to listen to instructions, how to sit still or to pay attention to an adult when they speak. You will find that more often than you would like. It is very difficult to train children to do things they never have to practice in their homes. They are habits that have been formed over time, but with enough time and guidance, they can be broken.
- Some will try to control those around them.
You may find that one or more of your students is very loud, pushy and bossy. Many times, the need to control means they themselves feel very out of control in their daily lives. A power struggle may emerge from this need, so the teacher has to be sure to stay on top of that kind of situation. You are in charge, you are in control, and your students must learn that they cannot run things in your classroom, even if they get away with that in other places.
- They will experiment to see if the teacher means what she says.
They will test this very early on in the year. Your students do not know you very well in the first couple of classes, so they will be compliant most of the time in that phase. As soon as they feel comfortable in the class, you will notice that a few of them try to bend the rules. There are teachers who allow this to happen, and they want to know if you are one of them. I have found that if, when this happens, I immediately refer back to the original rule we established a few weeks ago, they will back off and not try again. . . most of the time. Be firm with them and expect them to comply early on, and you may not have to do much correcting in this area later on in the year.
- Some of it will come from simple curiosity or exploration.
At times, their behavior just comes out of an innocent child’s need to know and their need to explore. You will have little ones who just love to ask questions and be inquisitive. Others will want to dance throughout the whole class and won’t sit still because they love to move. Be careful not to be so firm that you quench their hunger to learn and their innocent view of life and creativity. Correction should happen, but not without a big of encouragement and affirmation to foster a love of dance and learning.
B. New behaviors can be learned.
Undesirable behaviors need to not be reinforced. This plays out by completely ignoring wrong behavior whenever possible. On the other hand, desirable behavior must be reinforced on a regular basis. The only behaviors that continue are the ones the child feels have been reinforced, or “rewarded”.
Verbal affirmation is one of the best ways to do this. Just add a few words at the end of the desired behavior that indicate you are pleased with them and would like to see more of that. Other students will feel rewarded when you give them a responsibility like leading the line or helping to hand out props. The child’s idea of a “reward” or “payoff” may not be the same as ours. Try to see how your reaction might be perceived by the child.
Your responses to the child, and to the class will always be reinforcing something. Select the items you want to reinforce, and treat these items with positive attention, even when it wouldn’t be needed in an older class. The principles that they are learning will become valuable and timeless, no matter where they go next once they leave your classroom.
If you use negative reinforcement on these, be sure the child also sees it as negative. Negative reinforcement is a much more difficult teaching skill, and I would recommend using it sparingly. An example would be to remove the misbehaving child from the situation when their offensive behavior does not discontinue. Taking the child away from one activity to sit alone in the corner of the room is usually enough, and the students I’ve done this with do not often become repeat offenders. It can be damaging to their self-esteem, so I recommend using the more positive methods first.
The sensitive and knowledgeable teacher will find that their classroom of individuals can become much easier to manage when she is attuned to their social, emotional and intellectual needs. Remember that these small humans will one day be functioning members of our society and it is our job to make them feel valued, heard and loved.
- Improving Behavior With Consequences
- Ignoring Wrong Behavior—Does It Work?
- Win With Threes by Knowing Their Needs
- What Can I Do To Change Their Behavior?