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Front Line Staff / Staff Leadership and Management

Behavior is a Form of Communication

assess, behavior

Nine years ago, when my son was in 4th grade, he had a homework assignment that involved reading a newspaper article and bringing it in to school.

He spread out the newspaper on the kitchen table and IMMEDIATELY my big, fluffy, 13 pound cat jumped on the table and spread out as far as she could over the newspaper (cat owners have surely seen this phenomenon.)

Now Kasha, the cat, had done this to me MANY times. And no matter how often I pushed her out of the way or picked her up and moved her, she would just keep coming back.

But, when Kasha did this to my son, he looked at her and said “You just want some attention don’t you?” So he scratched her under the chin, and behind the ears, and petted her on the back. And do you know what that cat did? She jumped off of the table and walked away.

I watched with amazement and realized a very important lesson. I was responding to Kasha’s behavior (with very poor results.) While my son responded to Kasha’s need and changed the behavior.

We all know children whose behavior is as annoying as Kasha’s was to me.

When this happens, do you respond to the behavior, which is likely to just lead to more annoying behavior? Or do you respond to the need, and change the pattern?

Learning to respond to need rather than the behavior of children and youth in afterschool programs can be challenging. But a wealth of research and support is available.

The Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention has developed a methodology for addressing challenging behaviors in young children called “The Pyramid Model“.

The Office of Special Education Programs in the US Dept. of Education promotes the use of Positive Behavioral Support as a systematic approach to addressing behavior issues during the school day.

Another excellent resource is your local school district.

Just as afterschool programs are encouraged to “link to learning” during the school day, we should also connect with school day efforts to promote positive behavior. Doing so offers consistency for children who need assistance navigating social situations and provides guidance for staff struggling with challenging behavior.

And of course creating a team approach with parents is crucial. No one knows the child better or is more vested the child’s success.

It may sound like a lot of work, but learning how to step back and assess the need behind the behavior is a skill that is useful in all relationships, not just those with children. I certainly wish I was better at it!

For breakfast, I have tea in my special BOOST Breakfast Club mug. And I’m trying to lose weight, so I’ll have a Jennie Craig meal. Oh, and Kasha is sitting on my desk, spread out on all the papers as I write.

Author Profile: @janesharp

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