Behaviour Management Strategies

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Many children develop learned responses, which are often socially inappropriate or disruptive, as a way of reducing their anxiety. These responses can be modified so these children can operate more effectively in the classroom, while simultaneously reducing their anxiety.

Judy Sakalidis (B.Ed., Specialist Literacy Teacher) shares some ideas for effectively managing the behaviour of ‘at risk’ children that she has successfully used in the classroom.[divider]

  • Structure the child’s day so he/she know what is coming next and when. Visual timetables using small pictures on Velcro can be useful as it enables the order to be changed.
  • Make instructions very specific and positive and give them one at a time. For example, instead of saying, “Stop running and start writing,” say, “Show me how you can walk slowly and quietly to your desk and sit down.” Once the child has sat at the desk, say,  “Get out your red writing book and pencil.” Then, “Write a sentence starting with… Last night….”
  • Write contracts that are highly specific to address 3 specific behaviours. Once the child is consistently behaving on any one of those behaviours, substitute for another behaviour you would like to change.
  • Try to put procedures in place that will minimise disruptive behaviour occurring in the first place. Take time to reflect on why disruptive behaviour might have occurred and steps that could be taken to minimise the behaviour in the future.
  • Use as many non-verbal cues as possible. Reprimand quietly (standing close to the child) and praise loudly.


  • Give a general one minute warning that you are going to stop the current activity. Quietly follow up with the ‘at-risk’ child and make sure he/she verbally acknowledges the information.
  • Discuss with the child a pattern of behaviour for transitioning.
  • Write a list of 4 actions. For example: a) Stop, b) Put equipment away, c) Tidy desk, d) Sit with arms on desk (reading a book or drawing – to occupy the child till you are ready with your next instruction.)
  • Practise the planned behaviour as a separate activity.
  • Have visual cue pictures in the order of the tasks attached to the child’s desk with Velcro or Blue Tac.
  • Ask the child to leave first so he/she has extra time to get organised.
  • Ask the child to tell the rest of the class what they have to do.
  • Have every child, including the ‘at-risk’ child put up a finger for every instruction to be carried out. Limit this to a maximum of 4 activities and for ‘at risk’ children limit to 1 or 2 instructions.

Staying on Task

  • Chunk the child’s work into smaller time slots with regular breaks. Over time, these ‘work chunks’ can be extended.
  • Schedule sensory/refocusing breaks. Using a large 10 minute sand-timer, challenge the child to produce 15 minutes of quality work and then provide them with a 1 minute break. You could have a list of ‘break ideas’ in a box that the child pulls out at random or have a die that they toss so that there is variety.
  • Again, ensure the child follows a specific order of action after the break.
  • If during the 15 minutes ‘work time’, the student goes off task, turn the sand-timer on its side. Remind the student of the task and ‘restart’ the timer once the student returns to the task. Often the child will stop working because he/she is having difficulty, so make sure that this is addressed first.
  • Consider the placement of the child’s desk in the room. It is can be useful to have the desk up the front and to the side, so that you can stand by the child’s desk to give instructions, yet keep the child on task. Alternatively, it might be more effective to have the desk at the back of the room, so there is no ‘peer reward’ for misbehaviour. It is better for the child to have or not have a partner? Be careful about allocating ‘the good’ child to always be seated with an ‘at risk’ child.

Writing Tasks

  • Be very specific.
  • Give the child a sentence beginning to be finished independently. Often once the child has started, it is easier to continue.
  • Poor working memory is often an underlying issues. To assist with this, ask the child to verbalise the sentence to you first, while simultaneously writing down the first letter of each word. For example, the sentence might be: Today I played soccer with my friend. The child would write:
    T        I     p        s        w           m    
  • Walk away and let the child complete the sentence. Encourage the child to use the strategy independently.
  • Let the child draw a quick picture first of the topic. This gives the child time to organise his/her thoughts. It also gives the class teacher time to help the rest of the class whilst the ‘at-risk’ child is carrying out a non-threatening task that can be managed independently.


  • Provide a ‘low cost’ reward (e.g., marbles in a jar is quick and easy) when you notice the child doing the right thing. Initially, this could be as simple as, ‘Thank you for walking back to your desk quietly and keeping your hands by your side.” Be very specific with why the reward is being provided. Be alert for these reward opportunities.
  • As the child’s behaviour improves, reduce the frequency of the physical reward.
  • When the child obtains a pre-determined number of marbles (or other low-cost rewards), this can be converted to a larger reward (e.g., some type of puzzle, a ball game outside, teacher reads a story, constructing with Lego, special job, etc.). This could be a reward that the whole class can enjoy or enjoyed with another child. However, it should be a different child every time.
  • Do not remove sensory breaks nor remove marbles from the jar.
  • Have high expectations and be consistent. If the child runs back to the desk, ask the child to return and practise walking back quietly.
  • Time-outs should be used from the perspective of giving the child the chance to regain equilibrium and prevent harm, rather than as punishment. Identify and label the child’s emotional state. For example: It looks like you’re feeling very frustrated at the difficulty of this task which is making you angry. Just take a few minutes until you feel calm again and then we can retry the activity together.

A Few More Ideas

  • Have a soft rug (sensory stimulation) that defines the area on the floor the child will sit when engaged in ‘mat work’.
  • Have several similar rugs. The ‘at risk’ child can select a buddy to sit next to. Have a class list (A3 Size ) so that the child ticks off a class member’s name, so different children are selected and the whole class become part of the solution. The teacher can select several other children from the class to sit on the other rugs to ‘normalise’ sitting on a rug.