Behaviour Management Inclusion Special Education

Long Read: A Critical Analysis of a Controversial Issue in Applied Behaviour Analysis

           As an Irish primary school teacher who has been working in a special education context for the past number of years, the subject of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) was of interest to me. While reading about the principles of ABA, the topic of punishment emerged as a controversial issue. In this article, the emergence of the issue is discussed alongside a critical reflection on the controversy noting three main observations. Furthermore, I suggest some ways that the issue could progress most productively. As a teacher, the topic of punishment is one of importance as there is a growing debate over how to meet the growing social, emotional and behavioural needs that are in our classrooms. The area of punishment is considered a controversial strategy so I enjoyed reading into the issue in the context of ABA. 

The Issue

ABA could be considered as having lived through a series of controversies, criticisms and debates since its inception. Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan (1997) wrote that there have been incidences where negative views may have been warranted whereas more may have been unjustified. These issues have led to ABA presiding through periods of acceptance and rejection along with spells of crisis. They believed at the time of writing their book that applied behaviour analysis still had not gained widespread acceptance and put forward seven hypotheses for this opinion. One such hypothesis was that ABA’s connections with punishment had led to much controversy over the years. Leslie (2002) subscribes to this theory stating that the use of punishment with individuals who have developmental disabilities had resulted in a controversy lasting over a decade. Central characters championing this view strongly were McGee et. al. (1987) in their writing and public speaking engagements (Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan, 1997). 

McGee et. al. (1987) could be considered scathing in their criticism of applied behaviour analysis and the controversy regarding ABA’s links to punishment could be viewed to peak when their book, Gentle Teaching, was published. In their work, they cite ABA as a practice that is to be viewed as evil and controlling. Their central argument appeared to be that ABA encouraged only contingently valuing an individual if the rules are followed and that behaviour is managed through restraining and restriction. Jones and McCaughey (1992) wrote that in McGee et. al.’s (1987) work, they even compared ABA to a methodology that condones torture. Baker and Allen (2012) remarked that the wider community could be seen to share these concerns as punishment was being increasingly used with examples including electric shocks, forced body positions and the removal of possessions or opportunities to engage in desirable activities.

The impact of these criticisms and how they were portrayed had a tangible impact on ABA’s popularity as Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan (1997) discussed particularly in the context of Irish psychology practice. McGee presented his thoughts at the Mental Handicap Group of the Psychological Society of Ireland Annual Easter Workshop in 1989 where he spoke of behaviourism as an evil practice based on punishment and one which would never benefit individuals with learning disabilities. The effects of this presentation were compounded over the next two years by Brandon and Lovett who shared McGee’s views and thus led to Irish psychologists listening for three years to anti-behaviourist views which inevitably affected its adoption rate. The same impact could be viewed in America where parent support groups began to take a stand against the use of punishment while several states banned punishment techniques in treatment (Leslie, 2002). It is clear from reading the literature that this is a keenly contested debate with both sides having their merits.

Critical Analysis

Reflecting on this controversial debate between the side led by McGee et. al. (1987) and applied behaviour analysts bring three key observations to mind regarding the dangers of marrying oneself to an ideology, ambiguity and the value of seeing both sides.

The dangers of marrying oneself to an ideology

Charlie Munger (Kaufman, 2005, cited in Clear, 2019) said that “this business of not drifting into extreme ideology is very, very important in life. If you want to end up wise, heavy ideology is very likely to prevent that outcome.” This piece of advice from a man who has ties to the finance world as opposed to the world of psychology came to mind when reading about the debate that occurred around punishment in the 1980s and 1990s. There were numerous descriptions of this ongoing debate that presented it as one which became rather unsavoury. Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan (1997, p. 94) described the debate as ‘acrimonious and divisive’ as well as featuring misinformation and objectivity while Baker and Allen (2012) also noted the presence of vitriol. One could consider that when tempers flare in debate and discussion turns into attack, reason and objectivity can go out the window leaving the quality of the exchange to be compromised. 

Munger’s quote may be relevant in viewing this controversial debate as Jones and McCaughey (1992) remark on the strength of the language used in the work of McGee et. al. (1987) while also, unfortunately, noting that there was wrongful reporting in their book regarding the use of ammonia spray as a punishment when it was, in fact, water. This could appear as a key point as the idea of spraying water mist in an individual’s face could evoke a different reaction than that of spraying ammonia. Interestingly, when McGee wrote his rebuttal, rather than acknowledging any mistake on their part, he stated that “whether involving water, ammonia, contingent electric shock, or any other aversive procedure, the point was to question critically any practice that might offend human dignity” (1992, p. 870). It could appear that the discussion had become so fraught that facts should not stand in the way of winning the debate. 

There is a shared responsibility between both sides, however, as Jones and McCaughey (1992) conclude that even though gentle teaching and applied behaviour analysis framed themselves as polarising sides which argued vehemently against the other, there are actually a number of overlapping principles that have not been observed mainly due to a misreading of each other’s philosophy. Proponents of the ABA methods who criticised gentle teaching may have been surprised to find that Jones (1990) and Mudford (1985) noted there were many procedural similarities between the two methods such as stimulus control and shaping while the differences existed mainly in the philosophical realm. One could speculate having reflected on this element of the debate that if both parties were less rigid in their devotion to their respective ideology and willing to unbiasedly review the other side’s principles and practices at the time, a less emotive and more valuable discussion may have taken place leading to improved wisdom and practice on all sides.

Defining Punishment

The debate may have been so heated that what was being debated may not have been so clear. Jones and McCaughey (1992, p. 862) believed that a core issue at the centre of the debate was defining the word punishment. This was a view that was mentioned elsewhere in the literature (Leslie, 2002; Alberto and Troutman, 2013). Leslie (2002) elaborated further saying that punishment in colloquial language can refer to an aversive stimulus delivered in no relation to behaviour or contingent to a response. Taking this into consideration, one’s opinion on punishment may differ greatly depending on which type of punishment one is referring to. If people believed that ABA condoned punishment in no relation to behaviour, it would be of no surprise that ABA would gain a poor reputation and people should rightly be vocal in their disdain and Leslie (2002) goes on to confirm that some believed punishment was used in the context of revenge, harm or cruelty.

Alternatively, Fisher, Piazza and Roane (2011, p. 348) present their view of punishment in terms of ABA. They discuss the two contrasting types of punishment: positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment refers to the contingent presentation of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour and negative punishment refers to the contingent removal of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour. Negative punishment typically refers to response cost and time-out. This definition of punishment appears far more reasonable and clearer as punishment is utilised to decrease a target behaviour and if harnessed appropriately, would have many advantages. 

Jones and McCaughey (1992, p. 862) put forward the thought-provoking view that depending on your perspective, many strategies can be considered punishment and cite O’Brien’s (1989) theory that any treatment that results in decreasing a target behaviour may be considered punishment regardless of how else an individual may describe it. Building on this point, Iwata (1987, p. 363) discusses how it can even be difficult to distinguish between positive and negative. If a stimulus is removed like in negative punishment, a stimulus must take its place which could be considered positive punishment. This discussion can result in a debate comparable to “is the glass half full or half empty?” where neither answer is correct or incorrect and could be considered dependent on your outlook on life. 

With all these different interpretations of the word punishment and the terminology surrounding it during such an important and worthwhile discussion, it would be difficult to ensure a coherent discussion. Agreeing a single definition of the word may have provided the most productive first step to an agreement as to how appropriate it is to use punishment as a strategy.

A Debate Worth Having

Bearing in mind the tone of the debate and the ambiguity surrounding the content, there is an apparent consensus that the nucleus of the discussion is one worth having as even within ABA, there are polarizing views regarding punishment as some applied behaviour analysts acknowledge that using punishment can be aversive and repressive – as can many therapeutic approaches (Dillenberger, O’Reilly and Keenan, 1997). Jones and McCaughey (1992) reinforce this view stating that there have been cases where behavioural principles have been applied in aversive and undesirable circumstances. To demonstrate how truly divisive the use of punishment concerning ABA is, one needs only to read that Skinner – a founding father of behaviourism – believed that punishment should ideally not be used at all because he believed that it does not work (Staddon, 2014).

Leslie (2002) endorsed the view that critiquing the validity of using punishment was important. Acknowledging that there were controversies attached to its use, the case was made that ABA had learned from these and had developed a set of principles that could aid the prevention of such circumstances occurring again. Best practice was developed through the guise of six fundamental rights (Van Houten et. al., 1988) for the individual being treated including the right to the best treatment available. The use of punishment was discouraged unless considered the best intervention to cause a significant behavioural change. This could be considered an important step in the right direction as ABA had acknowledged the need to mitigate the overuse of punishment or its inappropriate use. Of course, writing down a principle is very different from applying a principle and whether this principle is consistently used remains to be seen, as the literature states. Fisher, Piazza and Roane (2011) pointed to thirty-five years of applied research related to the use of punishment which divulged there were advantages and disadvantages to its uses. Whilst many applied behaviour analysts noted these disadvantages and the need to use punishment sparingly, Jarmolowicz and Tetreault (2015) note that in large-scale program reviews, punishment is still used more regularly than should be expected. They also provide an alternative view to that of Fisher, Piazza and Roane (2011) stating that punishment is underexplored in applied research and therefore, it is hard to advocate the use of punishment as an evidence-based approach of any value. Taking both sides of the debate into consideration, there are some ways that applied behaviour analysts could decide to progress this issue to a fruitful conclusion. 

Moving Forward

Throughout this article, there have been minor suggestions to move this controversy to a satisfactory conclusion or at least, facilitate a productive debate. These suggestions include being open to alternative and conflicting views along with defining punishment clearly for anyone outside of the applied behaviour analysis realm so they may better understand what is being discussed. Furthermore, I would also suggest that more comprehensive applied research be conducted around punishment procedures whilst always ensuring that punishment is only used in alignment with Van Houten et. al.’s (1988) principle that people receive the most effective treatment available.

Although Donnellan and LaVigna (1990) believe that there is no need for further research in the area of punishment because alternative methods such as extinction and reinforcement exist, one would agree with Vollmer’s (2002) assertion that there is no benefit to be gained from ignoring punishment as it is something that happens in everyday life. With this in mind, applied behaviour analysts have a responsibility to understand these procedures and their impact on behaviour change. As Jarmolowicz and Tetreault (2015) stated that punishment was an under-researched area, there are also concerns over the quality of the research that does exist. Research around the area of punishment can be difficult to interpret as it is often confused by its unwitting combination with extinction or verbal reprimands (Lerman and Vorndran, 2002). 

Regarding what specific elements of the punishment should be researched, there are many suggestions. Horner (2002) warns against over-specific and narrow analyses and instead points in the direction of analysing the most common and complex uses of punishment to ensure a more effective technology of applied behaviour change. Lerman and Vorndran (2002) alternatively recommend focusing on less intrusive punishment procedures and how to fade them out. I believe combining the two suggestions by analysing the most common punishment procedures and how to fade them out successfully would provide the most benefit at this time as this is an area of interest to all people – not just behaviour analysts. Indeed, Iwata et. al. (1997) experienced some success moving from a continuous schedule to an intermittent schedule of punishment and broadening this type of research would be of great intrigue.

It is worth noting that this article does not seek to unequivocally condone the use of punishment but merely cite the need to research its use. Vollmer (2002) believed that punishment should be avoided until avoiding it would be of greater cost than engaging with it which appears a reasonable view. Iwata et. al. (1997) were also wary of punishment and the ethical issues surrounding it but believed that it may be necessary when the reinforcers that maintain a behaviour cannot be identified or controlled.

Punishment should always be used in adherence to the principle of being the best practice available and when used be in line with Lerman and Vorndran’s (2002) guidelines. They recommend “the least amount of punishment that is effective (i.e lowest intensity, shortest duration) should be used” (p. 441). As a relatively unpopular practice (Iwata et. al., 1997), there are concerns over the acceptability of punishment and this may explain why applied behaviour analysts have under-researched the area. There is a suggestion that an unwillingness to publish failed punishment studies exists (Lerman and Vorndran, 2002) and this is understandable as successfully researching punishment is contentious enough without drawing criticism for research conducted that has demonstrated unfavourable side effects. Despite this, applied researchers need to make their work known for the procedures to be improved.


The topic of punishment and its efficacy is one which emerges in teaching staffrooms regularly. It is interesting to research the topic through the lens of applied behaviour analysis. Much like in teaching, there is no black-and-white answer to its use but there are guidelines to ensure it is not misused. Punishment is best served to reduce behaviour when other methods of intervention such as extinction or differential treatments have been used and proven ineffective. It may also be necessary when the reinforcer that is maintaining a behaviour cannot be identified or controlled. Using the least amount of punishment necessary is, of course, most appropriate and when punishment is used, it should be viewed as an intervention that is phased out as soon as possible. With this in mind, there is still far more scope for applied research to be conducted in this area and teachers – along with parents and other caregivers – would be served well by keeping abreast of the results if this occurs.

Like what you read?

Every Monday I send a short and free email with one strategy for behaviour, one for inclusion and one small thought, feel free to sign up here.

Success! You’re on the list.

Reference List

Alberto, P.A. & Troutman, A.C. 2013, Applied Behaviour Analysis for Teachers, Ninth edn,
Pearson Education, New Jersey.

Baker, P. & Allen, D. 2012, “Use of positive behaviour support to tackle challenging behaviour”, Learning Disability Practice, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 18-20.

Clear, J. 2019, , 3 ideas, 2 quotes, 1 question (October 31, 2019) [Homepage of], [Online]. Available: [2019, November 1st]

Cradden, J. 2014, May 20th 2014-last update, The battle over ABA: autism education in limbo [Homepage of The Irish Times], [Online].
Available: [2019, November 15th].

Dillenberger, K., O’Reilly, M.F. & Keenan, M. 1997, Advances in Behaviour Analysis, University College Dublin Press, Dublin.

Donnellan, A.M. & LaVigna, G.W. 1990, “Myths About Punishment” in Perspectives on the use of nonaversive and aversive interventions for persons with developmental disabilities, eds. A.C. Repp & N.N. Singh, Sycamore, Sycamore, IL, pp. 33-57.

Durkin, T. 2010, July 27th 2010-last update, Failure to tackle autism epidemic is a scandal [Homepage of The Irish Times], [Online].
Available: [2019, November 15th].

Fisher, W.W., Piazza, C.C. & Roane, H.S. 2011, Handbook of Applied Behaviour Analysis, Guilford Publications, New York.

Horner, R.H. 2002, “On the status of knowledge for using punishment: a
commentary”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 465-467.

ICEP Europe 2019, , Applied Behaviour Analysis – Critical Exploration and Practice [Homepage of ICEP Europe and University of East London], [Online].
Available: [2019, November 15th].

Iwata, B.A. 1987, “Negative Reinforcement in Applied Behaviour Analysis: An Emerging Technology”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 361-378.

Jones, R.S.P. 1990, “Gentle Teaching: Behaviourism at its best?”, Community Living, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 9-10.

Jones, R.S.P. & McCaughey, R.E. 1992, “Gentle Teaching and Applied Behaviour Analysis: A Critical Review”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 853.

Kaufman, P.D. 2005, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, First edn, The Donning Company, Brookfield

Lerman, D.C., Iwata, B.A., Shore, B.A. & DeLeon, I.S. 1997, “On The Status For Using Punishment: Implications For Treating Behaviour Disorders”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 187-201.

Lerman, D.C. & Vorndran, C.M. 2002, “On The Status Of Knowledge For Using Punishment: Implication For Treating Behavior Disorders”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 431-464.

Leslie, J. 2002, Essential Behaviour Analysis, Oxford University Press Inc., New York.

Leslie, J. & Tierney, K. 2013, “Behaviour Analysis in Ireland”, The Irish Journal of Psychology, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 156-162.

Maglieri, K.A., DeLeon, I.G., Rodriguez-Catter, V. & Sevin, B.M. 2000, “Treatment of Covert Food Stealing In An Individual With Prader-Willi Syndrome”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 615-618.

McGee, J.J., Menolascino, F.J., Hobbs, D.C. & Menousek, P.E. 1987, Gentle teaching: A nonaversive approach for helping persons with mental retardation, Human Sciences Press, New York.

Mudford, O.C. 1985, “Treatment selection in behaviour reduction: Gentle teaching versus the least intrusive treatment model”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Developmental Disabilities, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 265-27.

O’Brien, F. 1989, “Punishment for people with developmental disabilities” in The treatment of severe behaviour disorders, ed. E. Cipani, American Association of Mental Retardation,
Washington, pp. 37-58

Switzer, E.B., Deal, T.E. & Bailey, J.S. 1977, “The Reduction of Stealing in Second Graders Using a Group Contingency”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 267-272.

Van Houten, R., Axelrod, S., Bailey, J.S., Favell, J.E., Foxx, R.M., Iwata, B.A. & Lovaas, O.I. 1988, “The right to effective behaviour treatment”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 21, pp. 381-384.

Vollmer, T.R. 2002, “Punishment Happens: Some Comments On Lerman and Vorndran’s Review”, Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 469-473.

Behaviour Management

8 Ways to Motivate Children Without Rewards

Different strokes for different folks is becoming my new behaviour policy. What works for me as a teacher, might not work for you. Ditto if your parent. Definitely, if you’re a child. The more I have studied behaviour, the more I have come to wonder why would you marry a single philosophy when there are so many options out there? Handcuffing yourself to a single set of beliefs just limits your options. Develop preferences for sure. But if your strategies aren’t serving you, the adult you’re trying to advise or the child, it’s time to change it up and try something new. As long as the approach abides by obvious ethical parameters, its an option.

Reward systems usually evoke strong opinions. Adults can love or hate them. They can rely heavily on them or avoid them like the plague. The truth, as always, lies in the middle. I wrote a piece about developing top-quality reward systems but I acknowledge they are not for everyone and different strategies are needed. But how do we motivate children to behave and learn without rewards? Here are eight different options:

  1. Providing Choice is a strong motivator. It gives ownership to students over their learning and behaviour. Depending on the situation, you can offer them a choice over what they learn, how they learn and where they learn. (More on choice here)
  2. Providing Competition motivates students. The teacher can set a challenge for the child to overcome. They can challenge a child to beat their own personal best. In the appropriate contexts, they can even pit children against their peers. Healthy competition is part of life and should be harnessed positively.
  3. Technology always is appealing to students. They will jump at the chance to achieve learning objectives using technology instead of using pen and paper. Creating their work digitally, photographically or through video will inspire them to apply themselves.
  4. Art should never be underestimated. Whether it is creating work using new and colourful stationery or reacting to a stimulus through clay or painting, children are often motivated by presenting their work artistically.
  5. Drama stirs children’s imagination. A topic such as the Vikings can be very uninspiring in a textbook, but if it is brought to life through role-play, freeze frames and conscience alleys, it suddenly becomes a world of fun and motivation to get involved.
  6. Mysteries that need solving stoke a child’s curiosity. Give them clues and the resources and support to solve them and they will work like detectives to scratch the itch and find out what the answer is. 
  7. Surprises aren’t for everyone. Some children who are anxious need predictability. Depending on your class, however, inserting novelty and surprise activities can shake off the funk children fall into if they find routine monotonous. Variety is the spice of life and it adds motivation to the mixture too.
  8. Deadlines are simple and effective. Whether you introduce a short term deadline with a radial timer or a longer-term deadline, these can motivate children to achieve task completion before the deadline runs out.

Each of these eight options provides effective motivation on their own or paired with a reward system. Incorporating them into your daily routine will prevent misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Like what you read?

Every Monday I send a short and free email with one strategy for behaviour, one for inclusion and one small thought, feel free to sign up here.

Success! You’re on the list.
anxiety Inclusion parenting Special Education

Help Children With Autism Return to School

Anyone who sifts through social media will see an abundance of quotes and inspirational photos. I love the area of personal development and can’t get enough of podcasts, videos, articles and anything related to the area. One common thread running through all of them now is;

Control the controllables.”

Its a phrase that looks slick and is easy-to-remember. But what does it mean? How can we apply it at this very moment?

Children with autism are likely to be struggling with all the changes in routine and uncertainty of this pandemic. I wrote an article about the 9 essential questions that children with ASD like to know and as hard as we may have tried, it is impossible to give definitive answers to them as we ourselves can’t predict the future.

One thing we do know, however, is we will return to school. We don’t know when but we know we will. Talking to parents of children with autism, a common concern they have is about trying to get their children to return to school after the long lay off. How we try to smooth this transition is a definite controllable.

I suggest that schools prepare small stories for their children with autism (or any child they feel may struggle with a return to school) and aim to answer as many of the nine questions as possible. These include:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

It should be relatively easy to find out where their classroom will be and who the teacher will be in the next few weeks. Their favourite school activities can be included. The month (or date) of return can be included. The times that school starts at and finishes at can be included. The story can be made in conjunction with the parents to answer questions worrying them and start a conversation about returning to school. With this made and distributed to parents, they can start to read it with their child in the weeks leading up to a return. Each page should contain photographs of the information to increase the impact. This is a controllable.

Although we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. This is a strategy to promote inclusion and hopefully, prevent issues arising before they have a chance and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you’re a teacher, you can begin this process now and have it ready in lots of time. If you’re a parent or know someone that would benefit from this strategy, you might consider suggesting it to the appropriate person.

Like what you read?

Every Monday I send a short and free email with one strategy for behaviour, one for inclusion and one small thought, feel free to sign up here.

Success! You’re on the list.

anxiety Behaviour Management Homeschool parenting

Homeschool and the 80/20 Rule

Teachers, parents and children have been thrust into remote teaching, homeschooling and remote learning in most countries around the world right now and we rush to make sense of it all. How can we teach, facilitate learning and learn in our roles while also navigating the unavoidable stress of a global pandemic?

The first thing all three groups have to do is ensure that the keystones of self-care are in place. This can be done by making self-care a priority. Nothing will be achieved if you burn yourself out with anxiety and stress and I suggest six ways to do this here. Journalling is a personal favourite. Exercise is also paramount for me. I like one strategy for the mind and one for the body to keep a balance.

Once self-care is being looked after, we have to look at educating and being educated. Thankfully, lots of teacher, parents and students are full of enthusiasm, creativity and drive to make sure that we make the most of what we can with the internet providing a wealth of support and advice.

Filter it.

Being wary of taking on too much whether, in the role of teaching, parenting or learning is something that needs to be considered. All the best practice being championed online is fantastic: as long as we don’t try to do it all. As Greg McKeown wrote in Essentialism, “you can do anything but not everything”. We must have a filter where we can adopt the most effective ideas and draw a line where we are satisfied that what we are doing is efficient and sustainable.

Pareto’s Principle.

This is where Pareto’s Principle can come into play. Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was a distinguished philosopher and economist who can help us ensure that we are prepared for a marathon and not a sprint.

Pareto’s principle is that 80% of results will come from 20% of actions.

This is relevant to teachers, parents and students therefore as the opposite of this statistic could be true. 80% of actions are only getting 20% of our results. So as we try to juggle managing our self-care, home life, professional life, relationships and children, we should question every initiative we are using or considering and pose the question:

“Is this a lot more work for very little benefit?”

It is easy to fall into the trap of being busy but not productive and Pareto’s principle and the question it poses to every action we take right now can help us maintain our equilibrium and the equilibrium of our loved ones over the long-term. Absorb what is necessary and discard what is not.

Like what you read?

Every Monday I send a Newsletter with one tip for behaviour management, one for inclusion and one concept to get you thinking, feel free to sign up here.

Success! You’re on the list.
Behaviour Management

Coronavirus Kids

We are living in a strange time right now. In Ireland and many other countries, we have been thrust into school closures with the advice of keeping children apart to ensure that coronavirus does not spread. This places sudden and sizeable stress on parents and children alike. Although we could see school closures coming, it came quite fast and children may be at home now with no real school guidance on what the best course of action is. Here are a few thoughts below that may be of help to parents or teachers:

Anxious Children

The media sells fear. This is a known principle of how media drives traffic to their websites and purchases of their newspapers. Anxious children do not need to be exposed to a 24-hour newsfeed about a virus they do not fully understand. Adults do not either. Limit the amount of coronavirus related media that children (and yourself) are exposed to. Limit the amount of talk about the coronavirus around children also. There is no need for children to listen to speculation, repeated reporting and scare-mongering which can be sure to contribute to their anxiety. 

Energetic Children

Children are advised not to mix with other children as they can help spread the disease to the more vulnerable. If you have a child with ADHD, ADD or any abundance of energy, this does not mean that you have to lock them inside. The advice seems to suggest being outside is a safe environment. Go to big parks, fields, forests or anywhere in nature where you believe contact with others will be minimal. Teach your child the concept of social distancing like a bubble around other families and explore places that, otherwise, you might not have the chance to explore.

One of the best ways to maintain a calm, positive environment is to make sure a lively child gets an opportunity to burn off some of their energy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise is always a good tip.

Remember: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices!

Educational Activities

As this is an unprecedented event, teachers and parents have been left scrambling at what to do. There has been a noble effort by schools and teachers to direct learning remotely but I believe this is not the way to move forward. 

The teacher may be able to provide some beneficial guidance on applications and websites to utilise or pages in books to complete but this is a wonderful opportunity for your child to experience one-to-one learning that they otherwise would not get.

I would suggest the following list of activities that would be a more beneficial way to spend the bulk of “educational time” while at home:

  • Play board games to teach strategic thinking and problem-solving.
  • Bake or cook dinners together to teach healthy living and weight in maths.
  • Writing out shopping lists for practicing spelling and handwriting.
  • Gardening to teach about science or geography.
  • Paint a fence or a wall to teach about fo
  • Get out into nature for geography and P.E.
  • Play with Lego, mechano or any other construction for science.
  • Get children to dress up in adult clothes for a fashion show for drama.
  • Clean bedrooms and re-organise the house to teach executive functioning skills.
  • Read to your child or have them read to you for English.
  • Listen to podcasts and talk about them for oral language.
  • Bring home a few empty cardboard boxes from the supermarket and let them loose with colours, sellotape and scissors for art.

There is a list of exciting opportunities to entertain, education and enjoy time with your children over the next few weeks. Creativity and energy are needed but the chance to teach your own child should be grasped with both hands. It’s also important to note that the whole world will be spending more time watching television and on screens at the moment and we should reflect this with our children. There is nothing wrong with binge-watching television right now to entertain ourselves in the evening when everyone is tired out.

Control the Controllables

There is very little in our control at the moment regarding the wider world but we can control our actions. The important things we need to impress on our children is that there is no need to panic or worry but there is a need to be careful. We should educate our children to:

  1. Wash their hands with correct technique frequently.
  2. Cough into their elbow.
  3. Practice social distancing.
  4. Avoid mixing with their friends in person (encourage calling their friends on phones).

After these four points, there is very little else we can do right now other than take the positives where we can and enjoy the extra quality time with our loved ones. 

Behaviour Management

Making a game of Good Behaviour

There are many reward systems and strategies out there that claim to improve classroom behaviour. One system that comes with a bulk of evidence to support its claim is The Good Behaviour Game. This is a system which is proven to increase the desired behaviours and is relatively easy to implement: a win-win for teachers.

How to play

  1.  The teacher displays the list of desired behaviours in the classroom. As per best practice, these are few in number and positively phrased. They might include rules such as raising your hand to speak, eyes on the teacher when they are talking etc. 
  2. The teacher divides the class into groups with an even distribution of personality types (disruptive children, withdrawn children, studious children etc)
  3. The teacher initially plays the game for ten minutes daily for the first week. Teams get a point if they break a rule. If they have 4 points or more, they do not receive the reward. Visibly display the points so children can be reminded of the score and what is and is not acceptable.
  4. The teacher builds the amount of time the game is played for week after week. 
  5. The teacher slowly changes the rewards from immediate rewards – such as jellies, stickers or stationary – to deferred rewards such as additional free time at the end of the week, stickers, extra PE, access to iPads later in the day.

Key Considerations

Ensure that your rule list is small with simple-to-follow instructions. Ensure that the reward on offer is genuinely motivating to the target audience.

Do not overuse the strategy straight away, building up time slowly is essential to its success.

Changing the teams, times and rewards can manipulate the game to maintain interest over the course of a full-term if this is your desired strategy.

The beauty of the strategy is it can be explained in a very short time, does not require huge resources to implement and has research to back its effectiveness. 

Add it to the toolkit and pull it out when required. Enjoy!