How do I get control of my child (student) for school, they are out of control? (question submitted by email by L Thompson)

Negative behaviors are one of the greatest struggles parents and teachers face.  We must first determine if the student can’t do what is being asked or if they won’t do what is being asked of them.  There are 4 key items to remember in regards to negative behaviors.

  • Negative Behaviors usually serve one of two purposes.

To Avoid Something or To Control Something

  • Changing a behavior takes longer than learning it.
  • Many times the behaviors have worked and as a result been reinforced for years.
  • Consistency is essential in changing a behavior.

Some Sample Negative Behaviors and Interventions

Let’s talk about a variety of negative behaviors and some interventions to help in each of these areas:

Child crys when given assignments or says, “I can’t do it.”

 Things to do:

  1. Validate how they feel.  Feelings are something they are unable to control so don’t argue with how they feel or undermine their feelings, but move forward.
  2. Ask them to be specific about what they “can’t do” with an understanding calm voice.
  3. Break the assignment down into smaller parts or give them a certain period of time that you will not make them work past at that given time.
  4. Work through a few examples together having you coach them through the steps, piece by piece and then them coach you through the steps or even you coach one step, them coach the next until the goal is accomplished.

Child refuses to do the work. “You can’t make me.”

Things to do:

  1. Don’t Argue.  They are right, you really can’t make them. Arguing gives them more power.
  2. Provide choices that make it more beneficial to do it than to not.  For example, Your choices are complete your math homework and join us for family movie night or brush your teeth, get ready for bed and lights out.  No movie night and no playing other things, it is bedtime.  Sometimes providing a choice of how to do what has been asked is helpful, if learn to do this before the argument.  For example, “You have math homework to do, I can sit down with you and help you right now for the next 30 minutes or you can have the next 30 minutes to play and then you can complete your homework in your bedroom while the family watches the movie for family movie night.”  They are more likely to pick a choice and then they are choosing it and it avoids the argument altogether.
  3. Dig into why they are arguing, ask them if they understand how to do what is being asked or if they find it hard.  It might be their way of showing you that they are having a hard time.
  4. Break the job up into parts.  If it is like in the example above math homework and consists of 10 problems, maybe you ask for them to do 5 problems and then take a break, doing something fun, like playing their choice video game for 30 min and then coming back and doing the other 5.  If this is a chore at home.  Maybe it is breaking “clean your room”  into parts.  Make up the bed, then do something of their choice for 15min, 30min, whatever is doable and appropriate, then pick up the toys off the floor, etc.
  5. Use a behavior plan.  Will be discussed later, below.

Child becomes angry resulting in destruction, cursing, or screaming.

Things to do:

  1. Stay calm and do not argue.  It will only make the situation worse.
  2. Provide expectations that they will clean up any messes they make and follow through with having them clean it up after the situation has calmed. You can’t give in and clean it up for them, this will only make things worse.
  3. Provide a “cool off zone”. This is somewhere they ARE allowed to go and yell or scream or kick, but they must remain in that zone. They need to know the guidelines and rules for the cool off zone. When they are done and ready to leave the zone, they will be expected to return to the assignment given.  Cool off zones should be clear of anything they could damage or destroy and somewhere you are able to remove yourself so that if they are loud it is not as irritating for you. 
  4. They need short, clear, concise directions when they are upset to this degree so keep it simple and short. 
  5. Establish routines so that expectations are clear.
  6. Use behavior plan with strong rewards and consequences that matter. (will discuss later, below)

Child can’t stay still or get focused.

Things to do:

  1. Allow movement and way of work being done.  Parents: talk to your teacher about letting them sit on the floor, lay on the floor, stand, sit on exercise ball, maybe they would need to be in the back of the room for less distraction but maybe it would make a difference.  Give them a stress ball or kneaded eraser to squeeze and manipulate during listening and sitting time and accept this if they are able to do use it and listen while not distracting others.  Teachers:  Try it.
  2. Use a visible timer and have them work to beat the clock at the task.
  3. Give a specific amount of time to work on the task.
  4. Sandwich this less interesting task/activity with two likeable tasks.
  5. Give praise everytime you see possiblein regards to staying focused or being on task. 

Changing the Behaviors

  • Behaviors will not change if they are getting something out of it.  It is being reinforced.  For example, child has a fit in a particular situation so you take them away from the situation.  If they wanted out of the situation then you have just reinforced the behavior of having a fit.  Having a fit= Get out of it.
  • Rewards have to be something the student is buying into and helping to create in order to work.  You can draw limitations on rewards and definitely have the rewards be something that have to be approved, but they still come up with them.  Sometimes just telling them to brainstorm ideas of free rewards, gives you a lot to work with and isn’t getting into the pocketbook.
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency….If one time they do something and it is accepted and the next results in consequence and it isn’t consistently reinforced in the behavior direction you are looking for then they will continue to test the behavior because it might be the time that it is accepted.  This is why it is best to work on one specific behavior for a while before moving on to a second.  If you try to change too many behaviors at once it becomes difficult to keep track and stay consistent.  But doing one, then adding another and another gives you the opportunity to stay consistent with one that hopefully will not be being very tested by the time you get to the third behavior you are working to change.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Dedication It is essential that you realize that changing behavior will take time.  You have to stick with a new plan with new rules and boundaries for at least 30 days to truly determine if it is working or not working.  One day or even a week, sometimes two are just not enough to undue years of learned negative behavior. You may need help and don’t hesitate to ask for help. You must persevere to succeed.

Behavior Plans

A behavior plan usually consists of two parts.  One is a contract that is agreed upon between an adult and the child that has agreed upon rewards and consequences that hopefully the child was able to come up with.  This gives them buy in to the plan.  The contract should also have the rules and expectations.  What behaviors are wanted and which ones are not.  For example:  Johnny will follow directions without negative comments like, “This is stupid.” Johnny can say positive things or remain silent while following directions.  You will want these written in the positive, You don’t want to write the rule or expectation as, “Johnny will not state negative comments when asked to do something.” 

Second is the behavior tracking.  This is something created that can be marked with initials, simple marks, stickers, etc.  There is a positive side and a negative side.  After an expectation was seen or not seen, the situation is discussed and if the child is able, they would mark the negative or positive side appropriately.  The adult can too- but they seem to enjoy that part and if they take advantage of them having that control then this can be a consequence.  If you think this might be neccessary, it should be written in the contract.  

The contract should be reviewed on a regular basis, my recommendation is weekly, but sometimes daily is needed. More than a week is just too much.  At that time, the contract is reviewed and rewards or consequences followed through with if set on longer term goals.  If the rewards or consequences are immediate with each time a wanted or unwanted behavior is demonstrated then thiswouldn’t be neccessary. Then determine if rewards or consequences should be changed and change goals/expectations as needed. The expectation will many times stay the same for a few weeks and then you are able to up the expectation or move on to new expectations that need to be addressed.  Each time, it should be signed.

A note about consequences: Consequences are decided on prior to a rule being broken and are meant to eliminate negative behaviors. They should be logical.  A punishment is something that is done at the time of a rule being broken and was not agreed upon.  This is motivated by making someone pay for something they have done.

A note on rewards:  These need to be addressed on daily short term situations and long term situations and should have a variety, choices to choose from for the reward and my favorite, “free” Get to watch favorite tv show, computer time, video game time, etc.  For the long term goals given on weekly, monthly or just when they have earned them can include non-free things like going out to eat or to the movies or even having a friend come to spend the night.  You can not take away an award once it was earned, but can delay if neccessary due to an inappropriate behavior.  This can make some kids feel like there isn’t a point if it is just going to be taken away.

Last but not Least Positive Feedback and Praise

It takes about 10 positive comments to balance out 1 negative.

Positive feedback and praise must be specific, not just good job but “I really liked the way you cleaned up all of your mess after finishing your project, it made everything so nice.  You did a fine job.”

Good Luck and let me know if you use my suggestions and how they turned out.  





1 Response to “How do I get control of my child (student) for school, they are out of control? (question submitted by email by L Thompson)”

  1. 1 agree with July 5, 2013 at 5:23 pm

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Lynnette Crawley M.S. Ed

As an educational consultant, I work with families, students, adults, parents, teachers, schools and corporations in relationship to the many disabilities affecting their lives. Many times all anyone needs is a little coaching, direction or tools to close the gap between where they are and where they should be. Making progress is not good enough. We must be closing the gap. Email:

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