It’s the phone call you dread—the school calling to tell you that your child had a “bad day” again. If the teacher feels that your child’s behavior is hindering his ability to learn or interfering with the classroom environment, she may suggest a behavior plan.
If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the behavior intervention plan (BIP) will be written into his IEP. If your child doesn’t have an IEP, a behavior plan can still be developed through a similar process. Learn the keys to developing a behavior plan for your child that will help your child thrive in school and beyond.
Meet With the Teacher
The first thing you should do is ask the teacher what she thinks is causing the behavior, says Angel Jannasch-Pennell, president of the Phoenix, Arizona, education consultant organization KOI Education. Even if the teacher’s assessment seems harsh, give her the benefit of the doubt that she has your child’s best interests in mind. Put your feelings aside and don’t get defensive.
Observe Your Child in Class
Ask if you can spend some time in the classroom to observe your child’s behavior. This will help you to identify the cause of the problem, says Jannasch-Pennell, whether it’s another student, the lecture style, or something in the classroom. If you can’t be present in class, consider a Skype or video observation.
Get the Facts
Gather all the data that’s been taken on your child’s behavior. Beyond the school’s reports of your child’s incidents, teachers may collect their own notes and can do Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). An FBA looks at the underlying purpose behind certain disruptive behaviors. For example, your child may interrupt the teacher or another student because he feels that he must refocus the attention onto himself. This information will help you and the teacher to develop an effective strategy that addresses your child’s motivation instead of just reacting to his disruptions.
Find Out: Can’t or Won’t?
Is your child’s behavior a “can’t do” or a “won’t do”? For example, if your child has trouble sitting in his desk for 30 minutes at a time in school and has never been expected to do this at home, he may acting more out of more frustration than defiance. Get to the bottom of this question to help you determine your next step, and make sure your child isn’t being punished for something he can’t control. If your child genuinely can’t do something, focus his behavior plan on practicing and rewarding appropriate behaviors that are challenging for him.
Set a Realistic Goal
When you set a goal, remember that no one is perfect and change takes time. The goals should be instructional, says Renelle Nelson, parent advocate at the PACER Center. Rather than setting a goal that your child follow every classroom rule, for example, set the goal that he cut down on his angry outbursts. Making goals will help you and your child set a healthy pace for exercising the right behaviors and keep perspective when there are bumps in the road.
Plan Positive Interventions
Behavior plans require “interventions,” such as breaks during the day, a behavior tracking chart that gives him feedback on whether or not his behavior is appropriate, or a system for your child’s teacher to communicate his behavior to you so you can reward him at home. Whatever the interventions, encourage your child’s progress through positive reinforcement instead of threatening him with punishment.
Do Your Part
A behavior plan outlines the responsibilities of everyone involved, not just the student. Remember that you are part of a team, along with your child and his teacher, says George Giuliani, executive director of the National Association of Special Education Teachers.
Once you’ve found a system that improves your child’s behavior at home, make sure you share that information with his teacher. If your child has consistent expectations at home and school, it becomes easier for your child to monitor his behavior in different settings, says Jannasch-Pennell.
Stick to the Plan
Once the plan is in place, give it at least four to six weeks to settle in. “These behaviors didn’t happen overnight,” says Giuliani, “and they won’t go away overnight.” Ultimately, however, you want to see your child’s behaviors change for the better. If they don’t, it’s okay to revisit and revise the plan.
Throughout the process, as you see how far your child has come, always celebrate the progress he has made. Dealing with behavior problems can seem overwhelming, but with a positive attitude and a thoughtful plan, you can help get your child on the path to success in and out of the classroom.