Can elementary-aged kids learn to make good choices by teaching them the “ABCs” of behavior? In my opinion, absolutely! As I’ve mentioned before, it’s all about teaching children patterns. A good place to start is by explaining the “ABCs” of behavior. Kids learn that there is always an Antecedent, or trigger, for a particular Behavior. For every behavior, there is a Consequence. Students may not be able to control the antecedents, but they can learn to control their responses to them. Then, by their responses they can either gain access to favorable consequences, or escape and avoid negative ones.
Most children naturally desire more control over their lives, and effective parents and teachers show them how. Learning to make choices about their behavior helps children gain the independence they want. A key element in all this is teaching students what is considered appropriate or acceptable behavior, and what is considered as inappropriate behavior. For a lot our kids, this may be their first time learning how and why they should behave differently. For others, they have learned through experience that misbehavior has gained access to or escape certain conditions.
Therefore, you have to establish what is and is not acceptable from the beginning. A good recommendation is to discuss classroom and rules of the house:
- What specifically do they look like when performed properly?
- What should you hear when performed properly?
- What are the expectations for when they go from one place to another or one classroom to another?
Clear and simple explanations with their examples and non-examples leave nothing open for misinterpretation. To accomplish this, video modeling, role-play, and contrived real-life situations help make this information tangible for the students. You can also pre-plan or debrief scenarios and real-life events using behavior maps. A behavior map provides a visual of the antecedent-behavior-consequence chain. You then guide them to identify what to fill in for each part of the map, the trigger, their behavior choice(s), and the consequence obtained.
From here on out it’s a matter of follow-up. You can pre-teach situations in which they must use the skills they have learned to gain positive outcomes. Once in those situations you can reinforce through praise or providing access to those desired outcomes. Initially some form of tangible reward will help to reinforce the behavior. Many people use token economy systems to provide immediate feedback, tokens can be later exchanged for backup reinforcers (prizes, activities, etc). Over time, tangible rewards can be faded out and social rewards faded in until eventually “good” behavior often becomes reward itself.
Now I make this sound easy and like it happens overnight. Unfortunately, behavior change takes time and patience, as well as being fairly systematic in your approach. There is a degree of precision required, and before starting any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.