Teachers occasionally call the office to get some support when a child is presenting some really challenging behaviour. They try to deal with issues on their own although when the behaviour is affecting the learning of the other students or if health and safety become issues they call to the office. The principal, or vice principal, responds for some form of temporary resolution. Recently I was called to a grade 3 class to help a child who was under a desk in a corner of the room. The child had been running around the class, pushing tables and chairs, throwing things, climbing on desks and generally distracting. As well shortly after this I was called to another situation where a K child was running around his class and spitting at his teaching assistant as she tried to calm him and stop the running. I was able to go to each class and thankfully both these children responded to my requests to calm, go for a walk, get a drink and help me understand the problem. Of course it isn’t easy to do this when the teacher has another twenty-four children to deal with.

Whether at school or home the teacher or parent needs a plan to deal with the problem so reoccurrence becomes less likely. Teachers and parents often devise plans that include rewards and punishments to try and modify the behaviour. Common strategies include stickers, choice or preferred activities, checklists, pictorial schedules, a “first-then” approach to work completion, timeout or short breaks and a need for consistency. These and many other strategies are intended to motivate the child to want to behave. Sometimes they work for a short period, sometimes not at all as the child may not be invested. There are many other strategies that have been found helpful for kids demonstrating challenging behaviours so there is value in trying different approaches depending on the needs of the child.

Research has shown that Collaborative Problem Solving helps reduce challenging behaviour yet it is often not included in the child’s plan. Obviously a parent/teacher may not be familiar with CPS or may not feel confident to try a Plan B problem solving conversation. The adult does not need to be an expert to talk with the child, to learn what may be causing the challenges and try to understand the child’s perspective or concerns. Dr. Stuart Ablon tells us that doing the Plan B conversation poorly is better than not at all. As well, believing that “kids do well if they can” and changing your mindset about the child and the challenging behaviour is an important first step to helping the child. Sometimes the most obvious way to find out why something is happening, talking to the child, we don’t do. Talk with the child, build your relationship and get a clear understanding why the challenging behaviour is happening.

Plan B is hard, especially at the beginning. Using conventional approaches are an easy fall back that we are familiar with but have had limited success. Using Plan B will not only reduce challenging behaviour but will build the child’s cognitive skills and your relationship.

Update : Recently I was back at this school and noticed how the challenging behaviour of both students had been reduced. I learned that the kindergarten child was being supported with a planned structured program developed by teachers and support staff. The teacher of the grade 3 child told me that she had essentially been using more Plan C ( ignoring, dealing with later) and less Plan A ( imposing will) and in doing so found less challenging behaviour occurring. Hopefully Plan B would be part of her repertoire at some point this year.