7 Tips for Supporting Students' Behaviors

The biggest reason that kids struggle in their general education class is their behaviors. So here are some ideas to make behavior management a little easier.........

7 Behavior Tips

  1. Look at how things are arranged in the room. Are there problem areas?
  2. How are your desks arranged? Do you need rows or groups? How is the spacing?
  3. Is the environment itself calming or overwhelming? We are sensory creatures– loud, crowded, visually overwhelming classrooms can stress all of us out. 
  4. Do you need a cool-down area? That’s an area where kids can go when they need a break. Unlike a time out area, cool down areas are designed to help kids self-regulate. 

It is rarely just one kid in a room struggling with their behavior.

Start by looking at the whole group first. How many kids are on task? How many are struggling?

The easiest way to improve the behavior of a target student is to improve the behavior of the group– kids respond to social pressure better than to anything we can dream up.

So start with classroom management.

  1. Are there clear classroom rules? Are they posted somewhere obvious? 
  2. Are there clear classroom incentives? We all do better when we are rewarded for our good behavior whether through praise, group points, or an occasional extra recess. Clearly tie the incentives to your class rules and goals.
  3. Are there clear consequences? Consequences don’t need to be drastic– but for the rules to be effective they need to be certain. Consistency is the most important thing with consequences. 
  4. Does the classroom have clear procedures? If kids are getting in fights near the water fountain, start by figuring out if they actually know what they are supposed to do. Consistent, well taught classroom procedures prevent an impressive amount of behaviors. 

Relationships are like bank accounts– you have to make deposits before you can make a withdrawal.

The deposits are positive interactions and the withdrawals are the negative ones. If you try to overdraw your account, you will face penalties–like a kid not bothering to listen to you  or learning that the only way they get your attention is by acting up.

Behavior happens for a reason. If you don’t know why a behavior is happening, you can’t make it stop.

  1. Learn the ABCs of behavior— antecedent, behavior, consequence. Make sure you aren’t actually making the behavior worse by reinforcing it. This handout on the ABCs from Vanderbilt has a pretty nice overview of that. 
  2. Get to know the kiddo! The more you know about the student, the better you can manage their behaviors. Are they on meds? What do they like? Does calling home actually work for them?
  3. Can you figure out why they are doing the behavior? The behavior has a function for the kid. What is it? If you want to stop it, start by trying to figure out why it is happening.
  1. Our responses can make a situation better or worse. Just like the kids, we get escalated when behaviors happen. Learn your own triggers and think about how you are responding when that kid gets on your last nerve.
  2.  Learn about the crisis cycle. When a kid is escalated (freaking out) they really CAN’T understand what you are saying. There are great moments to intervene– and really cruddy ones– so save yourself a few headaches and learn when you should step in– and when you need to back away. This handout from Jordan School District has a nice explanation of the cycle along with how and when staff should interact. 

They work. Really. And they are incredibly easy to make too.

To make your life easier, we broke down how to create an effective contract into five easy to use steps. Step 5 Make a Contract has a link to free contracts for you to edit and customize! 

Go to the behavior contract page to learn more and see examples!


There has been a lot of work and time put into coming up with tools that help students with Autism build self-regulation skills. Pretty much all of those strategies are incredibly useful for other students as well– they are just excellent self-regulation tools. 

Here are a few (and how to get them for free!)

  • Zones of regulation: Zones of regulation is a pretty basic idea. Students learn to label whether their emotions are in the blue (sad/down), green (happy/calm), yellow (worried/excited), or red (panicked/angry/over excited) zone. Then they learn strategies to help them regulate their emotions to get back to their desired zone. Zones of regulation is very happy to take your money– but almost all occupational therapists have this! If you think a student needs zones of regulation, ask your OT and it is likely that they will be able to get you materials and train you on it for free!
  • The Incredible 5 Point Scale does pretty much the same thing with numbers but it is also super flexible. Like, you can make a five point scale for stress from things that don’t stress the student at all to things that make them explode or focus on identifying emotions and strategies. Even better, the company has a ton of free materials online! This base scale is super easy to use with students and really helpful as a tool to refer back to.
  • Social Thinking is a completely fabulous program that many speech and language pathologists own and can help train you on. One of the core concepts, one that is SUPER useful for behavior management, is expected and unexpected behaviors. Rather than talking about good and bad behaviors, you talk about expected and unexpected and teach students to identify the two and to learn to label their own behaviors as expected and unexpected. There are a lot of resources out there that folks have made related to this– but SLPs should have the real original material and can, hopefully, share. 
  • Finally, there are social stories. Carol Gray is one of the big people in social stories and her website has some good resources. Basically, social stories are a script that allows students to rehearse situations before they happen. Social stories can be about friendships, lining up,  challenging emotions, or really anything. While they are thought of for Autism, we all benefit from the opportunity to rehearse hard things before we  have to do them for real– and that’s what a good social story does for you (and for students!)

IEP Success Kit for PreK-5th Grade

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Accommodations & Modifications Matrix

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Socioemotional Goal Bank

32 strengths and skills focused socioemotional goals with intervention and baseline ideas!

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