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Building a positive environment

Here we will discuss topics on how to create a calm, regulated classroom and home and how to proactively manage challenging behaviours. This includes proven systems of management, like the Zones of Regulation, in addition to more general methods, like positive reinforcement and body breaks. We will also take a look at some of the compounding factors of behaviour such as self-sabotage and sensory issues.

Many of these concepts transfer to home life, so as a parent or caregiver please browse the available topics to identify what can be successfully implemented at home to increase the likelihood of success in working with behaviour.

Classroom management techniques

Be proactive! Know your student!

Many children do not know what it looks like to be well behaved, to exhibit appropriate behaviour, to do their job and to understand expectations.

They must be shown, taught the very basics.  Structure and consistency is the key to running a smooth classroom.

Classroom Management

Rules and expectations


  • Have visuals of classroom expectation and rules posted where all students can see them.

  • Go over them every day for the first month, then weekly. An effective way to achieve this is to cover the classroom expectations every Monday morning. When there is a break, such as winter or spring, go over them daily again for a week or so to start out.

  • Ask: what does it look like to sit at the carpet? What does it sound like to sit at the carpet? What should it feel like…?

Use these questions for all classroom expectations. Allow them to show and tell you their thoughts on how this should look.

What does it look like when you are doing your job? What does it sound like? Etc...

  • Use role modeling.

  • Teach what is expected and what is unexpected at school.

This Social Thinking article offers examples of expectations, perspectives to take, and instructions for making social behaviour maps. 

Teaching students how to recognize what Zone of Regulation they are in helps when discussing expectations.

  • Make sure that students always know what to do when work is done. Always have a plan and make sure that everyone understands it.

*You could have them read, you can have a lego table. Older students could do some computer time or listen to music. Whatever works for you as a proactive measure that prevents behaviours and classroom disruption/boredom.

  • Always prepare students before any activity with a reminder of your expectations. What is expected and unexpected in this activity? This is especially important before events such as field trips. You can use social stories as well for younger children or those with complex needs.

Noise challenges

Try using a visual on the smart board that displays how loud students are and what zone their voices are in. Have explicit guidelines for what is an acceptable noise level in each. Role-play to help them understand what each sounds like.

For example

Task time is a 1

Snack time is a 3

Reading is a 1 etc.

Neave interactive offers a fun bouncy ball web app that can be used to offer students a visual for classroom noise levels, as TeachBytes discusses. Or you could use ICT Games' Calm Counter.


Visual schedules


The daily schedule should be clearly marked and posted where all students can view it; in pictures for young students and words for older. Many students act out when they do not know what is coming next…what’s ahead for the day. It also prevents asking. Below is an example.

Classroom schedule visual
Daily Schedule example. Drop Everything And Read (DEAR). (Kerry Orchard, 2017)

Students who require personalized scheduling for ASD, communication delays or behaviours, should have their schedules attached to their desk or near their desk for easy viewing and less confusion.

Using stop signs and social stories can be helpful for young students who touch inappropriately or leave the class without asking.



A helpful plan is to have an attention signal: ring a bell, choose a word or a phrase, such as, "hands on top, that means stop". If they are slow to stop and listen, have them sit with heads down for a moment and try it again.


Have transitional warnings. We will be stopping in 5 minutes. We have 2 minutes left…etc.


Lining up can be very challenging for many students. A good way to avoid issues is to have line up numbers. Each student has a number and always lines up in that order with perhaps the exception of first place, which can change depending on the "student of the day". Choose who stands by whom carefully. If they do not line up the way you desire, have them return to their desks and try again. If you continue to have issues, use natural consequences:  you wasted my time, I will waste yours then practice lining up and walking quietly throughout the school during the first part of gym or recess. Typically, you won't have to do this very often.


Quiet voices outside of the classroom can also be challenging. Asking young children to walk with their finger on the lip and hand on the hip is often a very helpful way to move through the school and a reminder that we need to be quiet to not disrupt learning for others.


Getting ready to leave the classroom: day end, lunch or recess. An easy way to avoid issues here, is to have numbered desk groups so that all students don’t change at once. If you have a target child who is triggered by this event, you could have him go first and return before the others. You can also have desk groups earn points for being ready first, cleanest area and so forth.


Consider having the smart-board on while waiting get ready. Perhaps a book/story site.

Use chaining event visuals for getting ready for students who require it.

Daily routine visual

Morning Tasks example. Created with Smarty Symbols.

(Kerry Orchard, 2017)

Teach and model self-regulation


Many children do not know what it looks like or feels like to be calm, mindful and in control of their own bodies and feelings. Teaching self-regulation is perhaps the most valuable lesson we will ever guide a child through.

  • Teach students breathing techniques like THESE or THESE for times of stress.

  • Teach them chaining events to calm: use visuals.

  • Use the zones of regulation and the language.

  • Use mindfulness teaching and language.

  • Create a calm classroom.

  • Teach yoga and brain gym. Have students lead.

  • Consider heart math.

  • Use tips from the sensory diet.

  • Have students return after recess, lunch or period breaks, to lowered lights and a session of mindful, deep breathing. This can be simply a minute or it can be five. It’s up to you. For very young children, I like to use bubble blowing to teach breathing…in through the nose and out through the mouth. If you blow too hard you pop the bubble. Plan snack after recess rather than before.

Chaining event example:

Calming visual
Chaining event example. Created with Smarty Symbols. (Kerry Orchard, 2017)

Body breaks


It is difficult for young children (k-6) to sit for long periods of time and they often become fidgety and disruptive especially if there are attention issues involved. The younger they are the more challenging to manage longer periods of sitting.


  • Break up learning with quick body breaks. A game of, Simon Says, a dance video on the smart-board. A wiggle and stretch. Shake the sillies out. Whatever works for you.

  • Use break/hall passes for students who have attention issues. Offer them frequent breaks and easy access to the pass so they are not disrupting learning.

  • Have a defined bathroom break system. Use cards or an object to put on desks. Have certain times of the day that all students can go together.



Students thrive when they are valued and appreciated and it sets a precedent for those struggling with appropriate behaviour. There are many ways to achieve this. Make it fun and rewarding.


  • Student of the day.

  • Little notes of success and appreciation. “Caught you doing well!”

  • Points on the board for table teams.

  • Class-wide positive reinforcement plans


Carpet time and curricular tasks: sitting and learning


As we discussed previously, this can be very challenging for some of our students.


  • Strive to create engaging tasks! Learning should be fun.

  • Make sure that the instructions are concise and understood for young children; using a multi-step visual on a white board is helpful. Limit this to three steps for younger children.

  • Work with small groups of children who are likely to not understand the instruction or disturb learning, leaving the others free to get on with the task. Use support staff 1-1 or in small groups.

  • Use peer support by placing helpful peers at the table group with peers who may struggle with learning.

  • Ask, do my tasks fit the student or students?

  • Break up learning time with body breaks.

  • Allow for choice where necessary, especially with students struggling with behaviour.

  • Ask, am I addressing learner needs in my classroom or am I using a one-size fits all approach?

Multiple intelligence: understanding our learners


  • Know the seven learning styles. Know your own.

  • Identify your learner needs, program and teach in ways that support them.

  • If you have a class of hands on kinesthetic learners; have lots of building and movement tasks, use more games and interactive smart-board activities, if available to you.


The Seven Learning Styles

  • Visual (spatial): Student prefers using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

  • Aural (auditory-musical): Student prefers using sound and music.

  • Verbal (linguistic): Student prefers using words, both in speech and writing.

  • Physical (kinesthetic): Student prefers using your body, hands and sense of touch.

  • Logical (mathematical): Student prefers using logic, reasoning and systems.

  • Social (interpersonal): Student prefers to learn in groups or with other people.

  • Solitary (intrapersonal): Student prefers to work alone and use self-study.


Learning style and multiple intelligence tests:

Programming with target students:


Some students require individual support to be successful in the classroom. Identify them early and strive to meet their needs to prevent as much behaviour as possible.

  • Create or purchase individual support plans.

  • Use visuals wherever they will be helpful. 

  • Include support staff in your programming and training for students in working through the program.

  • Use positive reinforcement.

  • Use observation (ABC chart) and know what function the child’s action is serving so that the programming or replacement behaviours are appropriate. Replacement behaviours are meant to replace a negative behaviour with a positive one. This is very effective in ASD in particular. You must understand the purpose of the behaviour to change or replace it.

Classroom arrangement


  • Make sure your space is not visually overwhelming.

  • Have a calming (break out) area.

  • Make sure that the space is maneuverable and not crowded.

  • Consider lighting and sound.

  • Consider your students: do you have ADHD, ASD, Complex needs?

  • Do you have a space for students who wish to work alone or in small groups?

  • Do you have an area that encourages reading?

  • If students are able to move to another task such as a lego table when finished working, is that set up to not disrupt those still learning?

  • What desk set up best benefits you and your students? Consider what you want to be the focal point. The white board, the smart-board, you? When deciding this it is important to consider your teaching style. A horseshoe works very well for many. Some teachers prefer clusters of groups. Some classes need to return to the straight line to best benefit their learning. Can you consider a mix? Does your desk need to be at the front or behind?

  • Make sure that student materials are accessible and placed where learning will not be disrupted as students move around.

  • Discourage clutter.

Calming space

Assistive technology


Assistive technology is very useful for many students. Use what is available to you as needed as teaching devices or motivators, matching learner needs.




The use of visuals is highly effective for an array of students. You can use them for behaviour programming along with first/then. You should use them in ASD or any communication delay as needed. They are effective in ESL and students with challenging cognitive issues. Many schools have boardmaker or a password for lessonpix to create what you need. I also have visuals for purchase on this site or will personally design what you need.


Natural and logical Consequences

Natural consequences are the experiences that naturally follow a choice or behaviour. For example, going out in cold weather without a coat naturally leads to feeling cold. Logical consequences are consequences chosen to follow behaviours that violate the acceptable behavior within a group.


Here is run down of effective ways to use natural consequence rather than punishment.


  • Consequences should be as natural or logical as possible to the behaviour. You break a chair, you fix it or help around the school to ‘pay’ for it.

  • Consistency is key. Always follow through.

  • Refrain from removing a body beak period such as PE from students with ADHD or extremely busy behaviours.

  • Aggressive behaviours should have self-isolating consequence: If you cannot behave appropriately within the group then you cannot be with the group.

  • Have a strong behaviour support plan.

  • Have a consistent, reactive plan. Get parents on board: If John harms anyone he will work in the office for the remainder of the day. If he cannot calm his body and attend to his job, parents will be called to speak with him. If this is ineffective he will be sent home with homework to complete. If Darren is disruptive and unwilling to perform non-preferred tasks, he will finish this during choice time or centre time or recess. If he cannot complete the job, it will be sent home. 

Behaviour management


Know your triggers – class wide and for each student. 


What is effective: All moments are teachable.

  • Always be proactive! Have plans in place to diminish or eliminate behaviours.

  • Behaviour management first, then curriculum. In order to learn we must be in control.

  • Have a very clear set of consequences and always follow through. The child must be able to predict 100% what will happen 100% of the time.

  • Avoid power struggles.

  • Always remind the student it is completely their choice and under their control as to what happens next. They can choose to get the job done or not. They can choose to be appropriate or not.

  • Consider a communication book with parents of children struggling with behavioural issues. Refrain from putting only negative notes in the book.

  • Use positive reinforcement, visuals and programming to change and eliminate or decrease behaviour.

  • Use choice. Allow for some freedom and sense of control wherever possible.

  • Use planned ignoring where possible. Acknowledge the good rather than the bad

  • Always acknowledge responsible, appropriate behaviour – I like the way john is sitting at the carpet. I like the way Jan raised her hand and so forth.

  • Use proximity. Have disrupters sit closest to you. Move closer to students who are off task.

  • Have fidget tools available for those busy students. Sometimes all it takes is a wiggle cushion and a stress ball or being allowed to draw while the teacher is teaching. Many ADHD kids can draw and listen. Know your student.

  • Try sound reducing head phones for students who are triggered by sound.

  • Use hurdle help to get students who struggle started. I will write the first sentence.

  • Evacuate in a crises. Allow staff with TCI (therapeutic crises intervention) to assist the student if possible. This allows for privacy for the student and takes away the audience.

  • Allow choice in seating for disruptive students, or set them in a space you know that they can be successful at, at all times. This may be their desk, a special chair, or near you.

  • Use Collaborative Problem Solving.

  • Consider a problem solving corner or desk.

  • Avoid open-ended questions with ASD, cognitive and language issues as well as some types of behaviour. First this, then that. Would you like this choice or that choice.

Questions to ask problem solving

  • What happened?

  • How are you feeling about it?

  • What is your part in it?

  • What was expected and what was unexpected?

  • What size is this problem?

  • What is the others part?

  • What could you do differently next time (brain storm ideas)?

  • How can I help, what do you think I should do?

  • Suggest to the student what you would like to do.

  • What comes next? What do you need? Is there anything that needs to follow? Apologies, meetings, etc.

  • Flow charts often work very well in this process.

  • Develop a class sharing time ritual. A chance for students to be heard and known.

  • Always prepare students well in advance for field trips, etc. What it looks like, the expectations, and the consequences of negative behaviour.

  • Have a sound understanding of poverty and cultural awareness.

  • Practice flexible thinking and model this for your students.

What is ineffective

  • Avoid embarrassing children – speak in private.

  • Avoid calling out the target behavioural child – move others away or make a point of speaking to another about the same behaviour.

  • Avoid speaking about the child in front of him or within earshot.

  • Always encourage teamwork and respect – never allow children to laugh at or taunt another student.

  • Avoid responding with anger or panic.

  • Avoid the belief that compliance is all that matters. Compliance can look many ways.

  • Avoid starting any sentence with the word no or a negative. Check your language. What is your tone saying? What is your body saying?

  • Once a problem has been dealt with, by you or another, let it go. Do not rehash repeatedly with behavioural students as this is an escalator.

Create a job board


Rotate jobs weekly. Students need to feel responsible for their classroom and proud of it.


Words matter: Always remember; it is never about you.


  • Avoid the use of the word no, especially to start a sentence and particularly with children with behavioural challenges.

  • Focus on what students are doing right rather than wrong.

  • Five to one positive to negative comments.

  • Focus on accepting what they can do rather than can’t.

  • Is it truly a won’t or is it a can’t? Crises or trauma create many types of "cannot" situations.

  • Learn to speak in a collaborative problem solving way.

  • Make the child accountable for themselves in "you" language.

    •  It is your choice. Only you can control your body. Only you can decide what comes next. Your body is telling me you are... Your body is telling me you need…

    • Ok, let’s talk about that after carpet or lunch or teaching time. That’s a thought, I will think that over and let you know after… Let’s discuss that after teaching time and see what we can come up with. First we need to finish our job then we will discuss your request and come up with a plan.

Defusing a crises

  • Evacuate if necessary.

  • Remain calm.

  • Call in anyone with TCI training.

  • Use few words – encourage the student to simply calm and breathe.

  • Teachable moment – identifying feelings and what to do in a crises.


Words to use: 5 words or less in crises where possible.

  • Breathe with me.

  • How can I help you? What do you need?

  • Can we go somewhere private to discuss this? Your body is telling me that you are very upset.

  • Your body is telling me that you are, angry [or sad, or whatever you see]. I can see that you are very angry at the moment, let’s take a break and we can talk when you are ready.  

  • Check your own body and tone.


Students feed off the way we are emotionally on any given day. Respond with calmness. Ask another person to come in and step out if you are feeling agitated or stressed.


Model the behaviour you wish to see.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Is my language inspiring and accepting?

  • What is my core belief about teaching?

  • Have I been clear about the expectations?

  • What kind of atmosphere am I creating?

  • What are my core beliefs and how are they being triggered in triggering situations for me? 

For example, do needy students bother you? Angry ones? Sad ones? Etc.

  • Why is he pushing my buttons?

  • Am I a flexible thinker?

  • Am I using confidence, strength based building language?

  • Do my tasks fit the student? Are they engaging?

  • What am I hoping the students will learn from this task or this teaching method?

  • Is it effective for them as learners?

  • Is my body language calm?

  • Am I respecting myself, as well as my students?

  • Am I being proactive or reactive?

  • Am I open to trying new ways to work with certain types of students? If not, why?

  • What mindset do I have about behaviour?

Positive reinforcement

We cannot "do" or achieve when we fail to understand the process or the concept, the how, either as student or teacher. We are, as Jampolsky so eloquently said, "all students and teachers to each other."

In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.

Positive Reinforcement

"Positive reinforcement is the most important and most widely applied principle

of behaviour analysis" (Cooper, Heron and Heward, 2007)

Ask yourself: How can I create a win/win with this student so we both get what we want? What can I let go of and what is non-negotiable? Are my expectations of this student achievable? What are my teachable moments?


In positive reinforcement, we want to reinforce the target behaviour not the person. The idea of positive reinforcement is to reward and acknowledge that which we want and to ignore and extinquish that which we do not want. Consistency is key.


Behaviour issues must be resolved before learning can begin and this often means a letting go of curricular expectation in the short-term while working to solve behaviour for the long-term.

Identifying reinforcers

A behaviour change intervention is only as effective as it’s reinforcer. Before deciding on your reinforcer and the set up of your token economy make sure you know and understand what the child values. For some students this can be very difficult to find.


Choose a currency that is highly motivating. In many cases currencies need to be changed up once a child becomes used to it. Always provide choice when possible, no more than 2 options typically. These can look like anything from a favourite toy to lunch with a favourite person to technology breaks. I prefer to teach children that it is not a reward but a body-break choice time for working so hard to achieve their goals.


The best "rewarding" or "breaking" choice, and we try to refer to the reward as earned time, break time or choice time, is to have a few chosen options for the child or a class, that they love and that they can only choose technology once per day or at those natural concluding times of day. This way they are doing many things that involve body movement, fine motor, learning and just a brain break. Technology is not a true brain break, it's more of an alert. It’s also challenging for some students to stop and move back to the non-preferred task.


Positive reinforcement offers a currency or payout (token economy) to children who are not intrinsically motivated by a desire to achieve for themselves or to please those they respect or care for.  In positive reinforcement we are only reinforcing the positive. We do not take away…so if a child earns a check mark for doing a job, we don’t then take it away when the next time he does not. He has already earned that mark…he simply is reminded he cannot earn another until he is doing his job. We reward only the positive.


In complex needs, it teaches the child which behaviours will get the desired object or event.


There are many ways to apply positive reinforcement. The idea of any reinforcing or rewarding system is that it is not meant to last forever, however, most behavioural programming and training takes a minimum of 6 – 8 weeks to begin to see regular lasting effects. In many cases it takes several months before a consistent result is seen. It is with baby steps we move forward.  Any reinforcing system must be achievable for student success in order for them to buy in. Over time the difficulty level is increased.


  • We begin with reinforcing every occurrence.

  • Once the target behaviour has increased, we move to reinforcing every second time…moving to fifth, etc.

  • We then move to reinforcing randomly. The child does not know when he will receive the token.

  • Finally we remove the reinforcer and the child is working for an intrinsic motivation.


There are some children who will never be healthy enough emotionally or needs wise to work without a reinforcer but it is always our goal to reduce or eliminate.


What is the target behaviour? The target is any behaviour you wish to increase and reinforce or any behvaiour you wish to eliminate. Let’s say it is raising a hand rather than calling out. Every time the hand is raised the reinforcer is given always with a verbal reinforcer,  “thank you for raising your hand”, as well to teach an intrinsic link to verbal praise or reward. If it is an elimination requirement, then the reinforcer is a consistent consequence that the child does not like. Let’s say, if a child hits his peer every time the smart board comes on, you may consistently remove him from the smart board area at each occurrence. Alternatively, you could simply have him remain in his seat away from students.


So, in reinforcing the positive target behaviour, every time the hand is raised, the reinforcer is given. When it is not, a simple reminder is necessary. You are not earning your break, choice time whatever you choose to call it, if you are calling out. It must be easy to achieve at first and consistently given at every event.  A popsicle stick each time the hand is raised. A sticker for three sticks and a break with a desired object or person when three stickers is achieved. It can look however you desire as long as it’s consistent and achievable.


first/then visual

First/Then visual. Created with Smarty Symbols.

(Kerry Orchard, 2017)

This can go hand in hand with First/Then language and training. Using a first then visual with a behavioural chart helps the child identify what they need to be doing to gain the reward. You can make this look however you desire.

Some ideas on visuals connected to positive reinforcement:

You are looking to make the “then” something the child values. If a child is working to correct five behaviours that disrupt learning, those behaviours are charted visually and to earn the break he must first meet the criteria of the chart. To start out you may say he must reach two of five, then increase over time.

positive reinforcement visual

Positive reinforcement visual. Created with Smarty Symbols.

(Kerry Orchard, 2017)

Always achievable, so that there is buy in from the student.

Often we look at positive reinforcement as the child winning or getting away with something, this is where a paradigm shift is required; an altering of perception. It is simply about currency, motivating the student to success through tangible currency: a token economy. Giving a child who struggles with intrinsic desire to achieve or succeed a reason to do so. As adults, our token economy is our pay cheque, that’s what we work for.


Reinforcement can be used in many ways. The reward (break) can be tangible, (token economy) such as a popsicle stick or sticker every time the target behaviour is seen or it can be used as a daily event, such as meeting with a favoured staff member or computer break or lego time. It can be used as a First/Then or a break at the end of the morning and day.


In my programming plans I have designed and listed systems that work for different types of behavioural challenges and walk you through them step by step. You can find them in my online store.


Class wide positive reinforcement plans

Positive reward systems are natural consequences to appropriate behaviour. Most children will buy in effectively and be motivated by these systems if the currency meets a need they have or provides something they desire. They are effective and excellent to use. There are some students, however, in which finding a motivator or currency is extremely difficult and it will not matter what you put in place they will not buy in or it just doesn't last. These students often require 1-1 programming.


The idea and management of such programs, is only to "give" points not to "take them away". You just don't earn if you are not performing to expectations. “Sorry, John I can't give you a point because you are not at your desk.”, rather than, you worked hard and earned all of these points but I am going to take one away because you are acting inappropriately.


What happens when a negative is introduced into positive reinforcement is that the child learns that no matter how hard he worked to earn his point, he can lose it just as easily so over time they begin to lose interest in earning. This is highly challenging for social emotional kids and confusing in complex needs. It can also be highly escalating in some students.


It is much more effective to use the language of earning. You just can't earn if you are not doing the work. Jerry got 10 points because he worked hard today and followed instructions, you got three because you were not on task. It's about teaching the harder we work, the more we are on task, the more we follow instructions, the bigger our reward. This is a natural consequence of hard work throughout life.


In 1-1 reinforcement, whether first/then or 1,2,3 tasks, the reward comes more quickly to help a non-(intrinsically) motivated child buy into non- preferred tasks or to assist an ADHD child or complex needs child to receive the break from task their brains need.

To be intrinsically motivated we have to have good role modeling and feel valued in our lives so that we want to perform well. This is not the case for many students.


Using rewards in this type of programming has to be about what is valued. A classroom that is struggling with behaviours and getting on task may value a program of earned points toward a pizza lunch or movie Friday once a month. Free choice time for 15 minutes at the end of each day, whatever motivates our children.


On the other hand if you have a child or class who cannot get off the computer or IPAd, or is ramped up by it, and that is the main currency then this should be used with other choices and the IPAD or computer should be limited to once per day or just before lunch or at the end of the day as the time to get off is a natural conclusion and the child or class will most often willingly move onto the lunch period or home.


Positive reinforcement is an effective and beneficial way to increase behaviours we desire and decrease behaviours we do not.

Looking for more on positive reinforcement? Discuss this topic in the forum!

Understanding behaviour plans/programming

Behaviour comes in many forms and it comes with a diverse array of root causes, which can be singular or multidimensional.  It is challenging, as successful programming must find a way to meet the needs of each root cause, yet be generalized enough to be effective in the classroom or home.

The foundation of behavioural training through programming lies not in teaching what 'not' to do but rather teaching what ‘to’ do and how to do it.

Behaviour Plans

It's not about punishment, it's about natural consequences and teaching; teaching the value of becoming intrinsically motivated, the value of positive behaviour. It's about natural consequences in life, growth and learning about simply being human and understanding ourselves, and how to be in the world. How to get our needs met calmly and gain confidence and the belief we 'can' do what we are being asked to do.

  • Always offer choice that you can live with. Allow that sense of control.  Would you like to this now and that later? Would you like to do this page or this page?  This will avoid power struggles.

  • Avoid power struggles.

  • Build a strong relationship with the child; this goes for any staff involved. They will often comply for those they respect. You are a team.

  • Teach and model self-regulation. (Mindfulness, Zones of Regulation, social thinking.)

  • Words matter. Avoid starting any sentence with the word ‘no’. Look for alternative language. How about if we discuss that after circle time. I can see you would really enjoy that, how can we make that work for both of us?

  • Create a specific program targeted at behaviours you wish to increase or decrease. Positive reinforcement. Visuals as needed.

  • Use First/then language and training. First task/then break. Timers as needed.

  • Find and notice the child’s strengths, what he loves, and let them guide you in his daily work and your conversations. Know their currency!

  • Teach and model flexible thinking (social thinking) and size of the problem. (zones of regulation, social detectives, lagging skills – Ross Greene). Use role-play, flow charts and work sheets from any of the listed programs.

  • There must be consistency and common language throughout the building. Everyone on the same page.

  • Five to one positive to negative remarks.

  • Acknowledge the positive behaviours quickly.

  • Make thank you part of your classroom vocabulary. Thank you for putting up your hand. Thank you for joining us at carpet. Thank you for lining up. Notice and mark all socially and structurally appropriate behaviours.

  • If overt compliments are a trigger (as in attachment disorder) find alternative ways to value the child.

  • Modify work to what they are capable of at the moment so that they can feel success. Don’t get stuck on the amount being done but focus rather on building task enjoyment. Engaging tasks.

  • Engage or enrage

  • Understand behaviour is often a, can’t rather than won’t. Kids do well if they can

  • Hurdle help where necessary while avoiding dependency and learned helplessness.

  • Have a strong “behaviour support plan” in place.

  • Effective transitions – give warnings, consider extra time for those whom transition is a trigger.

  • Be consistent and have a structured set of consequences for negative behaviour that are natural to the function of the behaviour.

  • Understand the child’s triggers and build in ways to avoid them. Use observation techniques to truly understand the trigger and the function of the behaviour.

  • Create ways for him to be successful in the building that meet his needs, skills and abilities. Perhaps he loves younger children and can help in kindergarten. Or loves the library and can assist in there.

  • Help him build a sense of importance and value at school.

  • Consider having a "check in" person before he enters the classroom daily. A time to prepare, chat, check his mood. Slow entry.

  • Create a calm classroom environment.

  • Post and address classroom rules daily. Have clear concise rules in place.

  • Create a daily visual schedule for students so that they know what is coming and what to expect.

  • Teach daily what is expected and unexpected in the classroom. (use zones of regulation or social thinking )

  • Always ask students to tell you what it looks like, sounds like and feels like to be in the green zone with expected behaviours and following classroom routines.

  • Make sure there is a calming area  (break space) that he can retreat too. This is for calming, try not to have it become a punitive measure but rather a place to calm and be safe while regulating. Use language that is reflective of controlling his body and using his words rather than, ‘Time out’. Your body is telling me that you need a break and an opportunity to calm. When you have completed the task of calming we can talk.

  • Try not to call attention to inappropriate behaviour by calling him out. Speak in private. Move other children away from him and speak to them unless the situation is aggressive.

  • Evacuate the classroom in an emergency so there is no audience, everyone is safe and the situation can be defused calmly.  Have any staff with TCI – (Therapeutic crises intervention) come in. These staff should have a strong relationship with the child. If staff do not have TCI, consider investing in it.

  • Make sure that you offer plenty of body breaks for the student and the class as a whole.

  • Offer 1-1 support when available for triggering tasks.

  • Teach and model social skills.

  • Make use of assistive technology where you can.

  • Use proximity placement.

  • If ADHD or high anxiety are involved make sure that fidget tools are in place: wiggle cushion, stress ball, anything helpful.

  • Allow the student some control in situations that are likely to trigger him. Sit at his desk rather than carpet. Always first in line with a job to do for the teacher.

  • Always remain calm and check your own tone and body language.

  • Repair work is imperative. Negative behaviour must be repaired. An apology in person or a note or picture. Repairing or replacing a broken object. Cleaning an area that was damaged. Working off damage by doing chores around the school. Allow for choice in this work, how it will look and be completed by the student.

  • Five words or less during a crises – really as often as possible. Less is more.

  • Always work to student independence in all programming.

  • Arrange the physical space of the learning area so it is more conducive to responsible behaviour.

  • Build in a weekly or daily classroom sharing circle. You can use the circle of courage model or any model you choose.

  • Remind yourself that every day will be different and though the road you are on may seem long and challenging it is the most value and rewarding one you will ever walk.


Programming, is not meant to be used forever, but with many students it is required for long periods of time before a consistent success is reached; sometimes several years of school or for the entire school span. This is why many people abandon programs and give up leading to the failure of what’s in place.


It can be a frustrating place to be when you feel that you are doing everything you can week after week with little movement. It is with baby steps that we often walk forward with these special children and every moment, every success, no matter small must be recognized and celebrated because it matters and it is growth.


The ideology of positive reinforcement programming and collaborative problem solving (Dr. Ross Greene) is to offer choice, work together with your student as team and be very consistent, and this consistency should include all staff, family members and all common language such as the Zones of Regulation. It must be administered with quick, achievable goals (breaks, choice time) and verbal approval to start, then as the student achieves and meets goals; calm body, using words, some curricular goals, things are made more challenging. 


View the collaborative problem solving framework HERE

Six Steps of the Collaborative Problem Solving Model:

  1. Define the problem in terms of needs not solutions.

  2. Brainstorm possible solutions.

  3. Select the solution that will best meet both parties needs and check possible consequences.

  4. Plan who will do what, where, and by when

  5. Implement the plan

  6. Evaluate the problem-solving process and at a later date how well the solution worked out.

We want to teach self-control and the intrinsic desire to learn for learning’s sake, to find pride in their success and a willingness to collaborate with the teacher and parents. For our students this is often very challenging and they are often misunderstood and unsupported in their learning in a way that makes sense to them. Teaching intrinsic desire, therefore, is done through a tangible reward the child will value as currency, positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior, including controlling their body and using their words and the ability collaboratively solve problems with staff or peers.


When you are dealing with students living in active crises behavioral change is extremely difficult to achieve with any speed but it is possible with consistency, understanding and flexibility, though the setbacks may be many.

No child is ever lost.


Behaviour programming fits well within the adage: if it's not broken don't fix it.


It is truly important to remember that program plans are specific to a student for specific reasons and that transitioning forward has to be done at specific times and very slowly allowing the student time to adjust and settle. They also often have to take a step back to previous goals if a student begins to enter a new phase of life or a new crises develops. Two steps forward, one back.


When you see the beginnings of progress and change, it is ineffective to abruptly start scaling back what you were doing. You want to run with the consistency for a longer period then slowly start to move forward taking your time to build the students strength and confidence through each transition until hopefully programming is no longer required.


It can take years to achieve a true difference in a student and for some it will be a lifelong battle in which we simply manage to achieve some peace and safety in the classroom for staff and other students. Everything we teach will be remembered if not now, in the moment of that grade year, then in the next.


We must allow time for programs to work and be dedicated to the consistency it takes.


A child may appear to be doing well for several days or weeks so consistency and programs are dropped only to see resurgence in behaviour without that support. We can't control what happens outside our walls for these guys but we can control what happens inside and for many we will be the only advocate and support in their lives. We can only do the best we can and go home every day knowing we that we did our best.


Behavioural programming is a bit like teaching math. When teaching math we discuss what it means, the concept, how it works, why we do it, the best way to achieve the answer, that there may be more than one way, and the way to achieve success in calculation. If a child gets the answer wrong, we never throw the paper away and say, that's it you're done no more math for you. We know the child has already suffered the consequence of the wrong answer, he does not understand or know how to get to the right one and we begin teaching where he went wrong and the steps and processes to find the right answer building his confidence along the way.


Teaching behaviour is much the same. There is always a natural consequence to mistakes in behaviour. Making sure that the consequence the child serves is a true teaching moment and allowing him to see and understand that he did this to himself, that only he is in control of his body and only he is in control of changing it, he can do it, then teaching him how to do so. The steps, the processes in how to achieve his goal while building within him the confidence and knowledge that he can control himself, ask for what he needs, and that it is about him and not everyone around him. Showing him the way to get there.


Children that come from backgrounds of cyclic poverty, low education, poor role modeling, and anti-societal behaviour will not have any understanding of what is expected, how to control themselves and most of all how to get there. They will not have been taught how to calm, no one is calm around them or how to ask for what they need. Their requests are typically ignored, unmet or refused. They will often see authority as a negative, and that they system is "out to get you". Many will be experiencing or have experienced various forms of trauma. When it comes to behaviour they won't have a clue. These are not kids read stories, playing family games, told they are loved and valued for who they are. They are often anxious, frightened, angry, confused by conflicting messages between home and school, depressed, resentful and against "the man'. They are victims in every sense.


If we say to them, sit still at the carpet and do your job! They may not know what it looks like, or sounds like or feels like to do this job. What does that mean to them in their life story? They often need to be shown. To be taught why it matters.


The reason positive behaviour training works is simple, it is about love, consistency and currency. It is about teaching the gift of self-awareness. It is about acknowledging the good vs the bad and feeding on that to build strength, confidence, respect and the desire to do well for those who think so much of you.


We are not miracle workers. We are dealing with children.

We cannot expect to repair the damage in a few months or even a year. Every improvement, every good day is a success for them and for us. They will never be “fixed”, they may struggle throughout life and we can only hope to and ask of ourselves, to make a difference for them; to teach them a better way.

Complex needs

(ADHD, ASD, FAS, anxiety, receptive/expressive language delay, etc.)


While each complex need has a set of accepted behaviours, many behaviours are generalized to different root causes.

Behaviours you may notice:

  • poor communication skills

  • difficulty understanding/following instructions

  • Raging (emotional dysregulation)

  • lagging/limited emotional regulation

  • lack of impulse control

  • aggression

  • avoidance

  • refusal/defiance

  • non-conformity

  • anti-social behaviours

  • lacking/lagging social skills

  • attention seeking

  • fear/curricular avoidance

  • personal space issues

  • lack of empathy

  • dishonesty

  • lagging problem solving skills

  • poor peer interaction

  • resistance to structure/rules

  • inflexible thinking

  • busyness/inability to attend

  • pacing, wandering, leaving

  • hiding/running away

  • self harm


In Complex needs, the list of effective strategies above will cover most of what you would need for effective classroom management. Refer to the following for added thoughts and ideas or see my programming.


  • In Communication delays and ASD, it is essential to create a visual system covering schedules and daily routines, first/then, etc., for the child to work with. Structure and consistency are highly important. Positive reinforcement works exceptionally well. First/then training and language will be most beneficial to both you and your student. Timers as needed.

  • Try to use five words or less when instructing.

  • Create three step instruction visuals: First: Write, Next: Draw, Then: Show teacher. These can be as simple as required or as detailed.

  • Consider using a basket system for your student. (see my programming under complex needs.)

  • Make sure that work is modified to the students’ skills and abilities to create success.

  • In ASD the classroom set-up is highly important: furniture placement, mood, visuals, etc.


It is my hope that you find these strategies helpful. If you require further assistance you may visit the discussion forum, purchase a pre-made program plan, or contact me for a personalized program plan.

Understanding the Zones of regulation

Who are our students?



  • Most behaviour (trauma) students come to expect, accept and normalize that which the average person would find appalling.They often live in poverty.

  • They have lived through trauma and crises or it’s ongoing: violence, poverty, abandonment, loss, foster care, addictions, lack of nurturing…the list is long.

  • They have poor life modeling and lack social awareness and skill. Problem solving is most often a lagging skill.

  • They often lack guidance, modeling, bonding, love, self awareness and self acceptance.

  • They often have learning difficulties and are often behind due to behaviours, trauma, lacking of support and ongoing crises including poverty.

Zones of Regulation
  • Many have complex needs: FAS, ADD (H) Autism, delays…

  • Poor areas are often demographically loaded with behaviour students because it’s cheaper to live.

  • Many of these students need to be taught through positive reinforcement because they have no intrinsic motivation. Nothing in their life makes them feel good about learning and they have so much going on that school lacks relevance other than it being a safe place to be.

  • We have to teach them to love school, love learning, control their bodies and emotions, and grow to seek the reward simply through good grades and self pride.

  • To be successful at school, a child must first have all their basic needs met: Enough food, support, safety and security. This is not the reality for many of our students.

Maslow's Hierarchy – Where are our students?

The “spoiled” child:


I would ask you to look at this from a different perspective.

Children have no control over their environment. If they have parents who allow them too much control out of lack of caring or interest or simply to keep them quiet or even out of a misguided sense of love, it is confusing for them. They know they need limits so they push to see exactly how far they will be allowed to go. This is how they have been raised. It can be a fearful, frustrating place for them. They know they are not meant to be in control. To me this is no less of an abuse of a child than any other. It sets them up for a life time of disappointment, frustration and poor relationships. They feel entitled and when their demands are not met they have no idea how to cope. It is truly sad. They require a much firmer handling but no less kindness as it’s not their fault.

The “manipulative” child:


This is another term that often gets tossed around when dealing with behaviours in maladaptive children. Trauma children can often appear manipulative but truly manipulative children, are very, very rare. These children are simply attempting to get their needs met the only way they know how.

Many of them search for control, as they have so little in their lives and school is a safe place to seek that control. Their environments are often chaotic and crises driven. The control they seek is environmental, we are just in the environment. Through teaching and modeling we can show them how to get their needs met in more appropriate ways.

zones of regulation visual

Why do we teach Zones?


Try not to think of  the zones of regulation as a program. Zones is a life skill. It is about teaching self regulation and emotional control. Self regulation is the key to success in life. In order to do well at school, socially, at work we must be able to control our responses. Only when we understand our feelings can we control our reactions.


We cannot learn when we are out of control, in crises, experiencing loss or trauma. Before we can teach curriculum we must teach regulation.

When we understand ourselves, our triggers, our emotional deficits and strengths, we can then relate to and understand others. In order to do that we must be able to control our impulses in the moment. To control our impulses and responses, we need guidance as to how to achieve that control. How we perceive and cope with an event is far more powerful than the event itself.


The greatest gift we can give a child is the ability to be successful as a person.

Teaching Zones


Zones is simply about recognizing how we feel and what to do in that moment; recognizing each feeling, our ability to control our reaction and get our needs met appropriately.

  • Zones is about accepting and understanding feelings and whether our response meets the event.

  • Zones is about understanding that our response must meet the size of the problem.

  • It is about teaching what is expected and unexpected.

  • It’s about teaching how to use words to get needs met.

Ways to use Zones

  • A morning and after lunch check in before class starts: What zone are you in this morning? You can use the charts from the book, use the smart board or just ask. Discuss feelings as you need to.

  • Have students offer ideas on how they make themselves feel better. Talk about your own coping mechanisms.

  • Teach through literature as we often do with filling the bucket. Wow, what zone do you think he was in? Why? What should he do?

  • Feelings games. Use games that help children recognize their feelings. Offer them pictures of faces which display different emotions so that they can recognize them in others.

  • Practice mindful breathing periodically through the day. Find and go through a pattern you like. I use three deep breaths, count 123 in, 123 out, count to ten, squeeze the hands and shake out the arms to release tightness.

  • Have a list of calming strategies the students in your classroom enjoy and talk about them daily. Be sure to practice them. Use the book to help them make their own list.

  • Use the size of the problem teaching whenever there is an issue. Does their reaction match the size of the problem?

  • Use zones language at all times regarding behaviours and noise levels.

  • Have your students make a visuals of what works for them in all the zones and keep it in their desks. This can be done as a fun art project.

Size of the problem 

zones of regultion visual

1 = Most problems at school. Solved in minutes or hours.

2 = Easy problems but maybe takes a day or two to resolve.

3 = More difficult. May take a few weeks or a month to resolve

4= These are more major problems: months to years.

5= Diasters and life changing events that may take years or be irreversible.

If you ask, most students will place their problems at a four our five regardless of how minor. Helping them recognize the level of seriousness and teaching that the size of the reaction must fit the size of the problem.


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

– Viktor E Frankl

  • Consequence is about finding a natural or logical solution to the problem or action.

  • You break a chair in a rage, you fix it. You destroy the classroom you clean it….

  • Anger, consequence are teachable moments…rather than respond with anger or quickly consequence, by staying calm ourselves, allowing a body break…a calming moment we are teaching that our needs can be met through returning to a place of calmness…Through words, though a consequence may come.

Using the calm space


  • These areas can be maintained and monitored through a strict set of guidelines starting from the beginning of the year.

  • If you have a child who rages, set up a code word for other students to get our of his way while he moves to the space.

  • Use a timer as limit. Check in when it’s done and see where the child is at.

  • Don’t worry about rushing the calming process or the need for time in that space.

  • If you have student you think will work well at times in the space rather than the desk, allow it but set your guidelines.

  • Be flexible in your thinking about children using the calm space.


  • Mindfulness, like zones, is about self regulation.

  • Being aware and present in the moment.

  • Understanding our feelings and being aware of our surroundings.

  • Mindfulness can be taught at school very easily.

  • It can be used as a de-escalation after events, such as gym or recess through breathing. Calm space and body awareness.

  • Consider a school-wide mindfulness minute each day after lunch so that the entire school is quiet, calming and practicing breathing.

Creating calm


  • When you come in from from breaks have your students sit quietly at desks. Dim the lights and go through mindful breathing.

123 in 123 out. Do this for 1 to 2 minutes. You can have soft music with this if you choose.

  • Do a check emotional check in with zones then move on to work.

  • Plan a few times a day to practice brain gym and yoga. This does not have to take long. Choose students to be leaders each day and do their favourite poses.

  • Make use of your calming space.

  • Check your own tone and level of agitation.

  • Follow recess with snack rather than a snack before recess, then follow with breathing and a moment to chat quietly with neighbours before beginning work.

What are the zones?


  • Time to use our strategies.

  • What is expected and unexpected.

  • Teaching: is anger okay? 

Yes. It's what you do with it and how you react that counts. It's important to recognize the anger.

  • Anger, frustration, and over excitement are not where we want to be in the classroom.


  • Yellow is associated with excitement (good and bad), frustration, silliness, not in control of their body, having the wiggles, etc.

  • This is a time to use strategies.

  • What is expected and unexpected.

  • Can yellow be ok? Yes! Gym, recess, events, field trips, are all times of yellow and are times that are acceptable to be yellow in school.

  • Use the zones method to teach when it is okay to be yellow and when it is not okay to be yellow.


  • Green is where we want to be in the classroom 99% of the time.

  • What is expected and unexpected.

  • Green is associated with happy, calm, listening, following instructions, being in a place to learn.

  • Teach what green looks like, sounds like, feels like.


  • Blue is a challenging colour as it represents feelings of sadness, being overwhelmed, sick, tired, lacking in motivation, or depression.

  • Blue is time when students really need support. Often we find that many raging, angry students are actually sad, depressed but unable to recognize it.

  • Teach around the fact that we all feel that way at times. Look at ways to bring them back to green. What do they need to do?


  • Can red be ok? Yes. Red can be associated with events like Christmas morning.

  • Red speaks of: anger, rage, frustration, over excitement, out of control etc.

Behavioural programming


Programming and positive reinforcement go hand in hand with the Zones of Regulation training. 

Regulating emotions

The better a child can self-regulate the better she can meet the challenge of mastering complex skills and concepts, to learn. Self-regulation can be defined as the ability to stay calmly focused and alert, which though involves self control it cannot be reduced to or limited to it.

"How well students do in school can be determined by how well they are able to self-regulate"

- Stuart Shanker

Regulating Emotions

The more a child can stay calmly focused and alert, the better he can integrate the array of information coming in from his different senses.


For anyone who thinks that self-regulation is really just a matter of a child’s getting control over his emotions, there is very little difference between self-regulation and compliance.


But, unlike compliance which is solely based on punishment, self-regulation nurtures the ability to cope with challenges because it involves all sensory states: arousal, emotions, behaviour, and – as the child grows older – thinking skills.


In other words: Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and control our own behaviour, emotions, and thoughts by altering them in accordance with the demands of a given situation. It includes, the abilities to inhibit first responses, to ignore interference from irrelevant stimulation, and to persist on task even when it is non-preferred.


Please read the Six Core Strengths for Healthy Child Development by Dr. Bruce Perry.

What do I do in a crisis?

Read about the escalation cycle and how to break the pattern.

The following is Dr. Bruce Perry's work from the Childmind Institute

Understanding Co-regulation

De-escalating children’s behavior is a tough job. Whether the child is three or thirteen, once a tantrum starts, it’s hard to bring it to an end.Bruce Perry, a noted expert on brain development explains that the trick to successful de-escalation is recognizing what part of the brain is activated when the tantrum begins.

The brain develops in a bottom up movement that starts at the brain stem and matures sequentially through the midbrain, limbic system, and prefrontal cortex. Most behaviors requiring de-escalation occur when children experience some dysregulation such as heightened arousal, or strong emotional reactions to environmental triggers. As a result the lower regions of the brain (midbrain, limbic system) are activated, and the cortex “goes off line” so to speak. The intense reactions of the lower brain inhibit the prefrontal cortex’s ability to use cognition to restore homeostasis or process language.

And therein lies the problem. Behavior management techniques that appeal to reason, threaten consequences, or require language processing cause, don’t help. Instead, they encourage further escalation. This is because the cortex is off line. To get it up and running again requires a willingness to use strategies that restore safety and soothe the parts of the lower brain that are aroused. Assume the role of co-regulator. Engage the child in rhyming or tapping games where they can repeat your patterns back and forth until they calm down. ​

Techniques and resources for both alerting and calming

Be proactive

If caught early emotions can often be managed with redirection, intervention, or humour.

  • Use the zones of regulation to teach students how to recognize their emotions, name them and cope with them. Have daily emotional check ins. Keep a mood diary.

  • Help children understand their own triggers and create strategies to cope with them, challenge them or avoid them.

  • Make sure that there are body breaks provided for children who need them: ADHD, complex needs, social emotional.

  • Have a calming space available.

  • Provide fidget tools where needed.

  • Practice breathing techniques (see below)

  • Listen to baroque music. 

  • Use apps like: “Breathe to Relax.

  • Practice yoga in the classroom – yoga is helpful since it centres around breathing.

  • Practice mindfulness.

  • Create a calm classroom.

  • Consider programs like Heart-Math.

  • Practice grounding.

  • Provide a chaining visual of the strategies the child can use:

When I am feeling frustrated:

5 deep breaths

Count to 10


Shake it out

Ask for a break

Chaining event example. (Kerry Orchard, 2017)
  • Try energy reducers like wall push-ups or chair push-ups.

  • Play the agitation game: press your hands against the child's and both push, though the adult reduces the force of the push.

  • Have a box of heavy books to carry to defuse energy.

  • Have them squeeze their hands and shake out the anger, squeeze slowly release slowly, shake it out.

  • Squeeze a stuffed animal and release.

  • Snap, clap, tap: rhythmic games.

  • Some children benefit from shredding or tearing up paper in moments of frustration.

  • Some children respond to blowing up a balloon and letting it go. Blowing bubbles.

  • Some find it helpful to write down what is bothering them then throw it away.

  • Use your knowledge to help them understand what helps them.

  • Some children find it very helpful to squeeze modeling clay or playdo.

  • Try Brain Gym.

What is “calm breathing”?

Calm breathing is a technique that teaches the child to slow down his or her breathing when feeling stressed or anxious. This should be practiced daily, not just during stressful events.


Why is calm breathing important?

When we feel anxious, our breathing will change. When we are anxious, we tend to take short, quick, shallow breaths or even hyperventilate. This type of anxious breathing can make the feeling of anxiety or rage worse!


Doing calm breathing can help lower anxiety, and allow for a sense of control. 


Calm breathing techniques

Explaining calm breathing to your child or student:

"This is simply a tool you can use anywhere, anytime! Other people will probably not even notice."


For older children and teens, explain that taking short quick breaths actually increases other feelings of anxiety (e.g. heart racing, dizziness, or headaches). Calm breathing will help to manage these feelings.


Teaching the calm breathing techniques:​​

  • Basic mindful breathing:

  1. Take a slow breath in through the nose – “pretend you are smelling a flower then blowing up a balloon.” Use any mental image you think will help.

  2. Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds

  3. Exhale slowly through the mouth – Pretend you are blowing a bubble or blowing up a balloon.(over about 4 seconds)

  4. Wait 2-3 seconds before taking another breath (5-7 seconds for teenagers) Repeat for at least 3 to 10 breaths.

  • Lazy Eight and the six sides of breathing:

Have the child trace the picture or hang it on the wall and have them stand back and follow it with a finger. 3 – 10 breaths.

breathing visual
Breathing visua
The Zones of Regulation (source)
  • Soccer breathing:

Roll a piece of paper into ball or use a ping pong ball or something light and practice blowing it back and forth across a table. If you blow to hard it falls over. If you blow too softly it does not make it.  Deep breath in, smelling a rose, blow the ball. You can make a game of it, keeping score, set up a little goal.

  • Bubble Blowing: Calm Breathing for Younger Children

A fun way to teach a younger child how to do calm breathing is the “bubble blowing” technique. Using a bubble container and wand have your child practice blowing bubbles. The breathing required for blowing soap bubbles is the same as what is used for calm breathing. Make sure your child waits a second or two before blowing another bubble. Then practice “blowing bubbles” without a wand.

  • Belly Breathing: For Older Children and Teens

Calm breathing is about taking slow, controlled breaths from the diaphragm, so another way to explain this, is to present it as “belly breathing”. 

The Calm Down Tool Box:

The practice of co-regulation – When stress arises

In practical terms, how do we co-regulate with young people?

  • Focus on the emotions driving the behaviour rather than the behaviour itself — for example, the rage rather than the inappropriate language. The young person is having trouble regulating emotion and needs a calming and soothing, grounded presence rather than one of anger and threats. In crisis, the brain is focusing almost entirely on perceived threat and the need to react or get safe. The goal is to de-escalate, not to punish or “teach a lesson”. When we are too frustrated or in crises we are unable to hear and understand in a rational way. Use KISS – five words or less.

  • Co-regulation is particularly challenging with people in crisis. Co-regulation requires recognition and safe management of one’s own counter-aggressive impulses or the need for control. It is hard to provide support to someone who is fighting against it.

  • Cozolino (2006) said, the willingness to absorb the rage of a furious adolescent is a gift that can be given, modeling the self-restraint they so desperately need.

Co-regulation can take many forms but typically involves warmth, a soothing tone of voice, calm body language, simple communication that acknowledges the distress, supportive silence, and an invitation to collaborative problem-solving.

If they have not learned this as younger children, emotional control can be taught as children grow older through this same process of co-regulation.


There is good evidence that the brain retains its capacity to learn new self-regulation skills throughout the life span (Schore, 2003).

Creating independence

"A leaders job is not to do work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done and to succeed beyond what they thought possible." 

- Simon Sinek

In society now we are so set on protecting and hiding our children from adversity, challenge and failure that we fail to teach coping skills, adaptability and resilience. Resilience is becoming a lost skill.  


Learned helplessness is created through the desire to help and love.

Creating independence

"A leaders job is not to do work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done and to succeed beyond what they thought possible." 

- Simon Sinek

In society now we are so set on protecting and hiding our children from adversity, challenge and failure that we fail to teach coping skills, adaptability and resilience. Resilience is becoming a lost skill.  


Learned helplessness is created through the desire to help and love.


Never do for another what they can do, should do, or are capable of learning to

do for themselves.


When you do this it robs them of important life lessons: accepting failure and trying again, independence, coping, resilience, self pride. Over doing and helping is not an act of love or kindness and is detrimental to the growth of the people involved.


In order for students with complex needs and social emotional issues to become independent and successful they must be taught that they are capable. They can be successful. They can do for themselves. They can control their bodies. They need to see your faith in them, your belief that they can.


It’s so easy to fall into the trap of over helping and over doing especially for our most vulnerable children. The problem is, it is detrimental rather than helpful.


How do we avoid this?

  • Create chaining visuals to guide the child to independently perform tasks. As they progress remove parts of the chaining visual until they are doing it independently. So if it is a visual that shows how to start they day, start removing the beginning tasks one by one when the child is ready. Browse visuals.

  • Use social stories as needed to teach skills.

  • Use behavioural charts as needed displaying behaviours required to get what they desire.

  • Use a motivating positive reinforcement.

  • Use visuals where communication is an issue. Teach all students to use these with the target child.

  • Modify work to appropriate levels to achieve success but stay on track with the rest of the class. So if it’s math, they do math in whatever capacity they can.

  • Help only as much as necessary. Get them started and move away.

  • Allow body breaks as required.

  • Use first/then. Keep the tasks very short where necessary and breaks an either even time or a bit longer (5/5, 10/10, 15/15).

  • Acknowledge every success in a way that suits that student.

  • Never take things away and just do it yourself because the child is too slow.

  • Practice patience.

  • Be consistent.

  • Use structure and pattern.

  • Be very clear in your instructions: Usually 1,2,3 step instructions with visual. 

    • 1. cut

    • 2. glue

    • 3. add name

  • Don’t over or underestimate the ability of the child.


Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making

sure it doesn't happen." - Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby

A horse suddenly came galloping quickly down the road. It seemed as though the man had somewhere important to go. Another man, who was standing alongside the road, shouted, "Where are you going?" and the man on the horse replied,

"I don't know! Ask the horse!"


This Zen tale represents how our students often feel. They have little power or control. We, as teachers, parents, and caregivers, are the horse. We are often left bewildered and frustrated with a challenging student who has come so far only to, suddenly, take three steps back.


The main reasons for self-sabotaging behaviour

  • The familiarity of 'failure'. Many students are so used to situations not working out or to being around 'dysfunctional people' and in chronic crises, that it feels easier to “mess up” by behaving in some way that either worsens or destroys something promising. This is what they know.

  • An unconscious need to be in control. If we feel something is bound to fail because it's 'too good to last', we may hasten its failure so as to maintain a sense that we are still in control. We  were right, it failed. (because we caused it to fail).

  • Feeling unworthy. Low self-esteem, feeling devalued, no sense of self, may drive people to feel they 'don't deserve' success or happiness.

  • Bad habits such as excessive drinking, smoking, or uncontrolled anger. How can they maintain success if they can’t even control themselves?

  • Need for excitement. Many people are so used to living in chaos that the only way they feel alive and “normal” is to create it. It’s what they know.


Many behaviour students fear success because of the burden it places on them. If they continue to do well that will be the expectation all the time, people will knew they can. It is much easier to allow people to believe that you can’t or won’t comply because they don't believe they can.


Many feel unworthy of the success and don’t believe they can possibly maintain such high standards. They lack self-value and self worth and confidence. The more you believe in the them, the harder it becomes. “See, I told you I couldn’t do it.”


Some are just so used to the chaos and chronic crises of their lives that creating drama is all they know and it’s how they feel successful and alive.


Some will attempt to gain control in any way possible. “I had you fooled. You thought I had changed but see, I have not!” I’m the boss here.

How do we defeat this?

  • Help your student find replacement language to negative thoughts. “I can do this.”

  • Make sure that they don’t feel pressured to succeed.

  • Have an adequate program in place that helps the student replace negative behaviours with positive ones and is very clear on what is unexpected and expected in the classroom.

  • Be very careful how you “praise” the success of self-sabotaging students. Allow them to to speak to it. Frame it in ways that are praise limiting and do not get the student in the mind-frame that the expectation is increased.

    • “You had a successful week. I like the way you…. I respected your decisions. What did you like about it? What would you change for next week? Remember to just take it one day at a time.”

  • Choose very motivating earned choices, currency, for them when they have been working hard. Allow the currency to speak for you.

    • “You’ve certainly earned your Lego time today. Thanks for working so hard.”

  • Be careful to not acknowledge in front of other students unless this is not a trigger.

    • A way to avoid this is by acknowledging the whole class, typically when the behaviour student is calm and peaceful so is the rest of the class. "Awesome day! Thanks for all your hard work."

  • Find ways to build up the student that do not involve direct praise but allow them to shine, be successful and display any special talent.

    • Perhaps they love helping in kindergarten or in the library, or reading to younger students. Give them the opportunity to build self-esteem through leadership.

  • Do not take it personally when they regress. Just remind them and yourself that tomorrow is a new day and things happen.

    • “Tomorrow is another day, a fresh start. You made some really good decisions today as well as some not so good. We all have “bad” days.” Normalize and validate.

  • Expect regression at certain time of the school year.

    • Breaks, year-end, events.

  • Be very consistent.

  • Practice strategies daily.

  • Most importantly, make sure they know that you love the child under the behaviour though you dislike the behaviours.

Cognitive behavioural


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Functions Based Assessment (FBA) replacement behaviour intervention

Replacing behaviors - When planned ignoring does not work or is incompatible with student needs.


If we do not replace the negative “target” behaviour with an appropriate, positive behaviour that meets the same need/function and outcome sought through the negative behaviour, we cannot change the behaviour.

Behavioural Therapy

The first step in the FBA functional behaviour intervention process is to identify and define the problem “target” behaviour and the appropriate “replacement” behaviour. So, as you work to eliminate the target behaviour, you should simultaneously reinforce an appropriate alternative.


The replacement “skill” or behaviour is a positive, appropriate skill that is maintained by the same function/consequence/outcome as the negative behaviour.  The idea being that by serving the same function as the challenging behaviour, the appropriate new skill or behaviour can be used to get the same need met in a more appropriate positive manner.  

Target behaviors may include; attention seeking, aggression, anxiety, destructive behavior, self-injury, tantrums, autism stims or behaviours.


Replacing behaviours

  1. Define the function of the target behaviour: What is the child seeking through this behaviour? Use observation and tracking!

  2.  Design a replacement behaviour “skill” that meets and competes with the need the child is seeking. If the replacement behaviour does not serve the function or need it will not be effective.

  3. Make sure that the replacement behaviour is easy/natural for the child to implement in replacement.

  4. Always respond immediately when the child uses the appropriate behaviour.

  5.  Implement a positive reinforcement plan for the appropriate behaviour.

  6. Use visuals where they will be helpful especially in autism, cognitive delay and young children.




Problem: You have an autism student who is an arm flapper and you think he is arm flapping for a certain toy.

Solve: You teach him to ask for the toy each time he starts flapping.

Outcome: There is no change as the function of the arm flapping was not about the toy. The arm flapping was because he was cold. This is why observation and tracking is so important. Sometimes it is trial and error.


Problem: A student whose behaviour is attention seeking from his peers. He tells jokes to get that same reaction.

Solve: Give the student some time each day or once a week to tell his classmates jokes: Perhaps during a sharing circle. If he is a child who likes to help others, see if you can meet the need through allowing him to assist other students.  Have him work on a comedic project that he can share with the class at the end of the month. Find ways to meet the attention seeking in a positive way that values the students’ strengths.

Outcome: Student learns to wait for his opportunity to share and shine to his peers.


Problem: An autistic student is hitting his head against the wall.

Solve: Observation and parental dialogue has told you that his braces are bothering him. He is taught to say: braces hurt or point to a visual of hurt and mouth, and given an ice pack or something that you know will help him feel better.

Outcome: He now can tell you the problem and get relief. The head banging has stopped.


Problem: A student hits his the teacher each time he is asked to leave a preferred activity. The function of the behaviour in this case stems from not knowing when the time will end and what is next.

Solve: The teacher uses a visual of first/then to show the current activity and what follows. A timer is used so that the student knows exactly when his time for the preferred activity will end.

Outcome: The student stops hitting as he is now aware of what to expect and when.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)


CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of negative or repetitive thinking that increases anxiety and negative self-image. Please read the articles below on how it can be used in the classroom.

Supplemental resources

Body breaks for busy kids

School is very overwhelming for some students. A body breaking system can be very effective for a range of student behaviours from ODD to ASD. Many children, particularly those with ADHD behaviours or social/emotional behaviours, benefit from short movement breaks out of the classroom. This must be set-up to work for you in your unique situation.

Body Breaks for Busy Kids
  • Always have a break pass for students who require body breaks. Have this in an easily accessible place.

  • Have defined and consistent set of guidelines around what the break can look like and for how long.

  • Consider if a support staff member could take a group of students for body breaks at certain times of the day.

  • Options for breaks to consider:

  • A walk.

  • Going for a drink and coming back may be enough.

  • Some students may need to leave the classroom and spend time in the library area or another safe area.

  • Is there a staff member available to kick a ball in the gym or outside?

  • Time in the calming space or with a favourite object or book.

  • If this is an earned or requested break…can it be fun…absolutely. We are teaching that if you ask, you receive. Use your words.

  • If this break is for a raging child what does it look like?

    • The work of calming is challenging for a child. Once they have achieved it and been successful and are ready to talk…the break after can look like anything. Consider the calming as the “job” which you are reinforcing.

  • Body breaks are an alert/energy release. Be sure to have a system of calming after an alert wherever possible. Have them practice breathing when they return. If the break is a group break for high- energy students, have that staff member do some quiet yoga poses and breathing before they re-enter the classroom or anything that works for your students.


What happens if a child begins to act out to get the break? That tells us that the child’s difficulties in the classroom are significant and he is looking for a way to avoid.

  • Sit down with the student and create a plan together that will meet both of your needs. How often he can leave. What it will look like. What he needs to have completed before he goes.

  • Consider increasing the breaks to an amount you can both agree but if he acts out other than those times for the purpose of getting a break then the break becomes only a short time of calming with no reinforcer.


Class wide body/brain breaks are also very beneficial. Consider, yoga, brain gym and brain or body breaks that work for you. There are many videos for smarboard use with students for brain gym and yoga. There are also some very fun dance videos for kids to dance along too. Videos such as, “What Does a Fox say”, to dance too.

  • Try to incorporate physical education and recess into your daily plan.

  • Look for movement games in the classroom. Math Ball Toss is a good example. In Math Ball Toss the kids sit at their desk and toss a ball to each other. Before throwing the student asks a math (or spelling, or science) question and tosses it to another student. The student who catches the ball must answer the question before posing their own and passing the ball on.

  • Check out these examples for brain breaks HERE and HERE.

  • This Sensory "Diet" will help you develop tools to help children with sensory issues and self-regulation problems.


sensory issues

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) happens because the brain has trouble, organizing information/input from the senses.

Children with sensory processing issues can be highly sensitive to sights, sounds, textures, flavours/oral texture, smells and other sensory input. This can make simple things like even a trip to a toy store or trying a new food an overwhelming experience for them.

Sensory Issues

Other children with sensory processing issues are under-sensitive to the information/stimulation they receive through their senses.

Sensory processing issues can impact a child’s social skills. It can also cause difficulties in the classroom. Learning more about sensory processing issues and possible treatments is a good first step in getting help for your child.

Understanding Processing Disorders


The brain receives a steady stream of sensory information/input from everything from the smell of cookies baking to the feeling of shoes rubbing the feet. Most kids can “tune out” or “filter” that input/information.

People with sensory processing issues are either over or under-sensitive to the world around them. When the brain receives any information it provides meaning and labels, even to the smallest bits. Therefore, keeping all that information organized and responding appropriately is highly challenging for people with SPD especially children.

All children can be picky or difficult at times. However, children with sensory processing issues can be so emotionally sensitive that even doing simple daily tasks such as combing their hair, is a constant challenge. Certain fabrics or tags in clothing might irritate them, leaving them feeling itchy or uncomfortable. On the other end of the spectrum, they might have a higher tolerance to pain or emotional stress and not realize when they’re in a truly dangerous/stressful situation.

How Common Are Sensory Processing Issues?

From the Star Institute for SPD:

Ahn et al. state that at least 1 child in 20 is affected by SPD in daily life (Ah et al., 2004) . However, members of the Sensory Processing Disorder Scientific Work Group suggest that this number is much higher. 1 in 6 may experience sensory symptoms significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions (Ben-Sasson et al., 2009).

What Causes Sensory Processing Disorders?

Excerpt from the Star Institute for SPD

The causes of SPD are among the subjects that researchers at STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder and their collaborators in the SPD Scientific Work Group have been studying. Preliminary research suggests that SPD is often inherited. If so, the causes of SPD are coded into the child's genetic material. Prenatal and birth complications have also been implicated, and environmental factors may be involved. For example, children who are adopted often experience SPD, due perhaps to restrictions in their early lives or poor prenatal care. Birth risk factors may also cause SPD (low birth weight, prematurity, etc).


Of course, as with any developmental and/or behavioral disorder, the causes of SPD are likely to be the result of factors that are both genetic and environmental. Only with more research will it be possible to identify the role.

SPD is often seen to coincide with other disorders such as Autism. Studies by the STAR Institute suggest that at least three-quarters of children with autistic spectrum disorders have significant symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder, and probably more depending on how significant symptoms are defined. However, the reverse is not true. Children with ADHD also have higher incidences of SPD.

Symptoms of SPD


Symptoms of sensory processing issues can range from mild to severe.


Common symptoms:

  • Hypersensitivity: Hypersensitive children typically have an extreme response to loud noises or they may notice sounds that others don’t. They often dislike being touched, have their hair combed, etc. even by adults they know and love. They may be fearful in crowds and reluctant to play on playground equipment. They may worry about their safety even when there’s no apparent danger. They may dislike the feel of their chair at school or their clothes against their skin. They may dislike the feel of water. This list is not exhaustive.

  • Hyposensitivity: Hyposensitive/under-sensitive children lack sensitivity to their surroundings. They may have a high tolerance for or can be indifference to pain or emotional stress. They may even be “sensory seeking,”  in other words, they have a deep desire or need to touch people or things, for outer stimulation, even when it’s not appropriate. They often like to be squeezed, sit in a body sock etc. They may also have issues with personal space often breaking the bubble of others or be accident prone and uncoordinated. They might be constantly on the move and take risks that may harm themselves or others accidentally.

  • Some kids with sensory processing issues can show signs of both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity, this can produce one or both of the following reactions:

    • Extreme responses to change in environment: They may be fine in familiar settings but breakdown in a crowded or noisy space. These meltdowns can be scary as children who are oversensitive may have trouble stopping once they get started. So if they start screaming in response. It may be hours before it stops.

    • Fleeing from stimulation or avoiding it: Children who are under-sensitive may run away from something that’s too stimulating for them. O the flip side, they might run toward something that they feel will calm them down.


Skills affected by sensory processing issues:

  • Kids with sensory processing issues often find dealing with sensory information/input/stimulation can be frustrating and confusing.

The following may be the outcome or response


  • Resistance to change and/or trouble focusing: It is often a struggle for kids with sensory processing issues to adjust to new surroundings or situations. It can take a long time to settle into activities. They might feel stressed when asked to stop what they’re currently doing and start something new especially if moving from a preferred task to a non-preferred task.

  • Problems with motor skills: Those who are under-sensitive to touch might avoid handling objects that feel uncomfortable to them. This can be a problem as playing with and manipulating objects is a crucial part of child development which helps master other motor-related skills like holding a pencil or buttoning clothes. They might appear clumsy or awkward due to poor body/spacial awareness.

  • Lack of social skills: Oversensitive children often feel anxious, afraid and irritable around other kids, making it hard to socialize. Under-sensitive students, on the other hand, may be too rough and aggressive with others. Peers might avoid them on the playground or exclude them in other ways. They do not know how to relate properly to their peers and often are not aware of social cues.

  • Lacking self-control: Children who feel anxious, frustrated or over-stimulated may have trouble controlling their impulses/reactions. This can play out in several ways which include: running away, tantrums, rages and hiding.

What can parents do for sensory processing issues?


Parenting a child with sensory processing issues is not an easy task. Your child may be inflexible, aggressive, fearful or demanding. They may be unable to control their behavioural responses at all. There are ways, however, you can support your child:

  • Learn as much as you can. Understanding the symptoms and triggers for your child.

  • Keep track of your child’s behaviour issues. Knowing the patterns/triggers can help you anticipate when a problem is likely to arise and creates a more proactive plan.

  • Provide safety lessons. Help your child understand what things are “safe” to touch. Provide calming spaces where they can go to feel safe yet still feel included. You can also coach on ways to “escape” challenging situations to prevent a melt down. Consider using a social story.

  • Develop a collaborative relationship with your child’s school.

  • Seek professional assistance with understanding and developing a sensory diet.

Sensory Diet

  • A sensory diet is a group of activities that are scheduled into a child’s day to assist them with attention, arousal/stimulation and adaptive responses. The activities are chosen for that child’s needs based on the sensory integration theory.

  • These activities are designed to produce a positive effect on a child. If at anytime the child reacts negatively to the input, the activity should be stopped.


Helpful websites


Social skills

Teaching social skills to children struggling with behavioural issues and/or complex needs is highly advisable. Social skills work best when they are taught in conjunction with regulation skills such as, zones of regulation and/or mindfulness.  Building social skills into your every day teaching is the easiest approach. If you can work between home and school use consistent teaching and language you will have the best success.

Social Skills

Children with learning and/or emotional disorders often struggle with even the most basic social skills. They have difficulty building relationships with peers. Following directions can be challenging for them. Play based activities often lead to melt downs or crises. They often do not understand how to wait or take turns or to use their voice to get their needs met.  They can be oblivious to personal space and can become easily frustrated.


For children to operate successfully within society, they must learn to interact with others in a healthy, positive, and productive manner. In order to assist children in becoming successful adults, it is crucial that we encourage social interaction, monitor social skills, and teach healthy ways to interact with peers and adults. We, as adults, must teach and model the skills we seek to see. Socialization skills are important not only in school but in every aspect of life. The knowledge of how to get our needs met through our words; how to manage our emotions; how to wait our turn or in a line; how to respect the space and rights of others is key in successful living.


Children with poor socialization skills are less likely to form healthy intimate relationships as adults, they are more likely to experience peer rejection as well as developing a higher likelihood of experiences challenges with either with the juvenile or adult legal system.


Poor social skills in school impact safety as well as interpersonal interactions. These students are more likely to demonstrate aggressive or even violent behavior, they are less likely to be able to self-regulate their bodies/moods/behaviours, and have trouble asking for or accepting help from others, which makes aggression a more likely response to even minor conflicts.  They do not understand the “size of the problem”.


Curricular performance is also impacted as these vulnerable students also develop self-esteem issues, depression, and apathy toward those around them. They feel little motivation toward their education. 

Among the most important social skills for children to learn are


  • Conflict resolution. 

  • Body/mood regulation. 

  • Communication/using words to get needs met. 

  • Understanding and forming positive social interactions with peers. 

  • Valuing other people as well as their ideas.

  • Taking turns/ waiting.

  • Taking responsibility for their own actions.

  • Completing repair work.

  • size of the problem


What is social skills training?


We teach social skills like we teach any academics. First; assess the level of the students/class need, next; prepare the materials required, introduce the material, model it, then; have them practice it. Make sure to provide some feedback. There are many social skills curriculums both for purchase and available online. Choose the one that reflects the needs of your students best. In addition to curriculum, playing the many social skills board games available  in small groups is extremely valuable as is any game playing as it involves: turn taking, waiting and peer interaction. Intensive social skills training, is best taught in groups of 2-5.


A social skills training program may involve

  • Positive interaction with others:

    • Approaching others in acceptable, appropriate ways. (eye contact, body language, words, tone.)

    • Developing an understanding of personal space.

    • Asking for permission before acting.

    • Understanding and developing friendship.

    • Learning how to share and take turns.

    • Developing the ability to wait or to be last.

    • Politeness. (saying please and thank you)

    • Developing a cooperative/collaborative approach.

    • Conversation skills.

    • The ability to appropriately join a group or work in a group.

  • Appropriate classroom behaviour:

    • Developing work ethic around non-preferred tasks.

    • Listening to the speaker, peer or staff.

    • Attending to the task.

    • Following directions.

    • Seeking attention properly – raising a hand.

    • Accepting the consequences of inappropriate behaviour – repair work (apologies, fixing what was destroyed or made a mess of).

    • Moving from preferred to non-preferred tasks appropriately.

    • How to accept “no”.

    • Good sportsmanship.

  • Developing self-regulation skills:

    • Learning strategies for self-calming.

    • Learning how to breathe when feeling frustrated.

    • Finding/developing options that work for themselves: Take a break, count to ten, breathe.

    • Developing self redirection.

    • Learning the language required to motivate themselves – silencing the inner critic.

  • Developing acceptable ways to resolve conflict with others:

    • Using words rather than hands/physical contact.

    • Seeking the assistance of the teacher/staff member.

    • Learning to speak in calm, collaborative manner.

    • Treating others with value and respect even in conflict.

    • Listening to the perception/perspective of others.

    • Learning to not always have to be “right”.


Teaching social skills for those with lagging/lacking skills is probably the most important piece of teaching we will ever do. Being socially competent leads to success in every aspect of life.

Additional resources:

Observation of


What is the purpose of observation?

Why is it so important in our work with behaviours?



  1. Defines the function of the behaviour so that it can be appropriately targeted for change or extinction.

  2. Defines how often the target behaviour/behaviours is occurring.

  3. Defines what triggers the behaviour – steps to intervention and proactive measures.

  4. Evaluates the effectiveness of any plan in place.

  5. Determines the significance of behavioural change – once a plan has been implemented.

  6. Can serve as a source of feedback – informs decision making.

  7. Gathers information for other collaborators such as a psychologist or social worker.

Observation of behaviour

You may ask yourself or hear others question;why do I need to collect data, why is it important to collect data?


Acquiring data is an extra task that is time consuming so it is really important to understand why you are collecting it and how to collect it effectively. Consistently collected data provides objective information on understanding the function of behaviours or how a student is progressing. It reduces the guesswork in whether a student’s challenging behaviour is a recurring problem, how often it happens and what the function is.  It also assesses if any plan in place is effective.


Data are also used to determine the significance of changes in behaviour. For

Example; if you are trying to reduce or eliminate excessive hand raising, you want to ensure it decreases to an appropriate level, but does not decrease altogether as it is an important school skill.


If the behaviour change is not significant enough, the data collected allows you to see this and make adjustments to your intervention (BSP) plan or skill replacement plan to the way you are teaching a skill or whether it is the correct skill you are teaching. If you are using a replacement behaviour; data can answer whether you are meeting the correct function that the behaviour serves.


Data can also be an effective source of feedback to those whose behaviour is being represented by the data. You can use it for students to self-analyze. You can use it with other colleagues. Sometimes seeing the data helps students realize that they are making progress and can motivate them to continue. For example: using a flow chart to show a student where the different behavioural paths will lead.


Steps for collecting data


  1. Define the target behaviour/behaviours to track.

  2. Identify collection method.

  3. Identify who will track the behaviours. It works best to use different people.

  4. Create a data sheet.


How do we define the target behaviour? Using the ABC chart.

  • An ABC (plus function) chart is an observational tool allowing us to record information about a particular behaviour. The point of using an ABC chart is to better understand what the behaviour is communicating – what is the function.

  • The ‘A’ refers to the antecedent or the event that occurred before the behaviour was exhibited. The trigger! This can include what the person was doing, who was there, was it preferred or non-preferred task, where they were, what sights / sounds / smells / temperatures / number of people that were in the environment. Was there anyone new?

  •  ‘B’ refers to the behaviour itself, an objective and clear description of the behaviour that occurred:  Johnny threw a book at Joanne then tore up his work.

  •  ‘C’ refers to what occurred after the behaviour or the consequence of the behaviour: children moved away from Johnny, noise levels in the room decreased, other students laughed. It is important to decide on one or two target behaviours to record initially.

  • Function – I like to add in a section that notes what you believe the function of the behaviour to be: Attention seeking, avoidance, dysregulation, sensory, etc.

Make sure to place the ABC chart in an accessible place to make it easier to use after the target behaviour has been exhibited and out of the sight of students.


Using the data


Once you have recorded data on numerous occasions and at the different times of the day, check for commonalities, triggers or situations where/when the behaviour is most likely to occur:

  • When / what time is the behaviour most likely to occur?

  • During what activities is the behaviour most likely to occur?  Gym, music? Preferred or non-preferred, transitions?

  • Are there any times or activities during which the behaviour does not occur?

  • Where is the behaviour most likely to occur?  Is there somewhere in the school?

  • Who is the behaviour most likely to occur with?

It is also important to look at what consequences might be maintaining the behaviour:

  • What function/need does the behaviour serve for the child?

  • Does the child avoid or escape any activity by engaging in the behaviour?

  • Is the child inappropriately rewarded in any way by engaging in the behaviour?  Johnny throws a chair so he is removed and gets to play basketball to calm down: What is the message?

  • What might the child be communicating by engaging in this behaviour?  Is he dysregulated? Is there a sensory problem? Curricular fear?


Once you have identified the triggers for the behaviour, the function and the consequences that may be inappropriately maintaining the behaviour you are now ready to develop a plan.

Developing a plan

  1. What alternative or more appropriate replacement skill can you teach the child in order to eliminate their need to engage in this behaviour?  How can you alternatively meet the function?

  2. How can you be proactive? What alterations can you make to the environment or the child’s schedule in order to decrease their exposure to any triggers?

  3. How have you addressed/met the need/function that the child was attempting to communicate?

  4. Is there any need for an incentive program in the short-term? Is the child intrinsically motived or does he require motivation?

  5. Have you communicated your plan to everyone in and out of the building who will be caring for the child?


For types of observation and data collection sheets please check out the visuals section

The calm space

Avoid the term “time out”. Refer to your area as the break space, calming space or peace corner as we are teaching to manage our emotions with calmness. Time out has negative connotations even to young children.

  • Find a spot in the classroom that is out of traffic flow but easily accessible.

  • Create a space that is unique to you and your students. It can look however you choose. It does not need to be expensive or elaborate.

  • Have a very clear and consistent set of rules around the use of the calming area. Go over them regularly.

Creating a Calm Space

Make sure to include these tools in the space:

  • Fidget tools. (Play-Doh, stress balls, etc.)

  • Feelings books.

  • Teddy bears are often helpful.

  • A comfortable spot to sit – beanbag chair or a big pillow.

  • Visuals around calming – such as the zones of regulation, breathing guides.

  • A timer so that students know when they need to attempt to come out. This can be reset as required.

  • Noise reducing headphones

  • For older kids consider a cd player or something that allows them to play music.

  • Perhaps a small drawing kit if you have a student who uses the space often finds drawing calming.

  • Some children find building calming. You could provide a set of soft blocks or a small lego kit.

Here are some ideas that others have used

Just for Parents

Just for Parents

Behaviour management in the home:

What you believe about your child is what they will be. If you believe your child is strong, capable and confident to manage their life effectively, that is what they will be.


Our site is filled with tips and strategies that can be adapted for home or school. Reading the sections on Strategies to Use, Behaviour Insights and Solve will be very helpful to you.


That being said, what helps us as parents to prevent or reduce behaviour in our children?

  • Children need routine - they need to go to bed at a set time unless it’s a special event. They need to get the required amount of sleep for their age bracket to perform well at school and at home. They need to go to bed before older siblings and before adults - to allow privacy and time for everyone and to understand that growing older brings its own rewards - that parents need time too. They need to be treated and loved as our children rather than as a friend until they are adults.

  • Children need expectations, accountability and consequences that are consistent and natural.

  • What are consequences?

    • If you get angry and break a dish, you help fix it, clean it up and if it can’t be fixed your chores go to paying for it.

    • If you come home late - first time a warning - second time - the time you must come home at is set earlier - third time - you don’t go out the following weekend.

    • If you borrow the car without asking - you don’t drive the car for a week or a month.

    • If you throw a tantrum in a store - you leave and you when you get home you spend time in your break “calm” area until everyone is ready to discuss it.

    • For a very young child throwing a tantrum  - whatever they want is not given. If at home they are moved to the safe break area with calming tools and then ignored (unless they are harming themselves or others) except for reminders that when they are calm and ready you will give a hug and talk. If in a store - you leave even if you have other things to buy. You will only have to do that a few times. Remember if a child acts out and you run to hug them right away or give in that is an accidental reward - telling them acting out gets the result they want. The calm should get the result.

    • If you give in to those behaviours they will increase as your giving an accidental reward. Ignoring, leaving etc. are challenging but you only have to do it a few times. Children are looking to find where the boundary is. It’s up to you to set it. They want and need boundaries, it's confusing for them to be in charge.​​

  • Rules! Make sure that your rules are fair, age appropriate and allow for growth and experience. Discuss them and be open about special events and opportunities.

  • Avoid ultimatums, threats, power struggles and not following through. Think before you say no. Avoid starting your sentence with no. "How about if talk about that later and we could plan to do it later this week." "I will have to think about that." "Tell me more about this so that I can think about it and we will discuss it tomorrow." 

    • If you say no - stick to it. Have a reasonable explanation and discuss it. Don't give in later - don't say no unless there is a legitimate reason - safety, money, timing, age.

    • Do not threaten. If you say something always follow through so that your child knows  what to expect  100% of the time and is less likely to push.

    • Do no argue with a child or teen. Discuss. Ask them to return when they are calm. Your answer is final.

    • Tantrums should be met calmly with a request to remove themselves to your calming space or for you to move away stating you can speak when they are calm. Do not engage it will only prolong it. Do not give in it will only cause the behaviour to continue over time.

    • Have responsible, age appropirate expectations and rules - do not treat a 14 year old like a 10 year old and a 10 year old like a 3 year old or a 10 year old like a 20 year old. 

    • Check your own body language and tone. Model what you wish to see.

    • Teach calming strategies. We have several areas to read under strategies to use.

    • Read our Blogs on: Managing explosive behaviour in young children, punishment VS consequence, positive reinforcement VS bribery 

  • Children should have chores from an early age matching their age and ability. They can receive a small monetary “payment” for some of their chores, when older, but others should just be done as being part of a family. This helps them feel a sense of belonging and responsibility and when young they will love it, when older not so much but it is important. They need to be made responsible for their own areas, (rooms, playrooms, basements often) their own laundry as teens, brining it down, carrying it up and putting it away - boys and girls. They should not be treating adults as maids and servants. It creates entitlement and a lack of a sense of order and responsibility, all things they will need to be functional adults. 

    • What if you have a messy child as a teen? Allow them to have the mess in their own room (some control) but nowhere else in the house and chores continue. Teens should be allowed privacy and certain amounts of control it is a healthy part of their development.

  • Enrol them in activities! (There are many options out there for kids with diagnosis such as Autism.)  Make sure you go to watch - be part of it. Find what they love but don’t over schedule them or you. And if they dislike it, try something different - don’t ask them to participate in something you love or think they are good it - the enjoyment must be natural. If you can’t afford lessons, ask at your school and in your community, as there are many great resources out there for kids who can’t afford to participate. Activities keep them busy and focused and they are less likely to find trouble if they are busy and involved.  This creates confidence and great social skills. Social skills and skills involved in participating in sports or creative options (music, art, science, etc.) - are abundant. Such as:

    • Taking turns

    • Waiting

    • Sharing

    • Handling the frustration of loss

    • Handling failure

    • Friendship

    • Communication

    • Team work and building

    • Working in a group

    • Healthy risk taking

    • Responsibility - showing up - being on time

    • Creativity

    • Fine motor/gross motor skills

    • Discipline and patience

    • Self-esteem

    • The list in endless….

  • Monitor what they see. Make sure what they are seeing and playing is “age appropriate”.  Children do not and cannot process what they see like adults and some things are just not meant for them. The line between reality and fantasy is very blurred. It is important for them to watch TV shows and play video games that are meant for their age grouping.

- Excellent article discussing what is appropriate screen time and viewing for kids.  

  • Have a “date” or “outing night” as a parent. Get a sitter and go out or a family member. Kids do not need to be or go everywhere you are, it’s important for their development to have time away and see that they can cope without you and build other relationships. It’s also healthy for you and your relationships. If you can’t afford a sitter and you don’t have a family or a friend to step in then put them to bed and create a “date” night or “girls night” or “guys night” at home.

  • Do not save them from all failure and consequence that is how we learn we are capable and we can overcome adversity. We can cope and we are resilient. Be there and be strong for them but allow some negativity. It builds confidence to fail and try again and succeed. These are important life skills.  Sometimes things go wrong and we need to be able to cope with them and if someone is always saving us we are robbed of the opportunity to learn how to do that. We must learn that we can manage ourselves and even if we fail or something negative happens we are ok.

  • Allow healthy, age appropriate risks for the same reason as above.

  • Eat healthy! Especially with conditions such as ASD and AD(H)D. Less sugar, carbs and salt. Avoid a regular diet of high fat and processed foods.

  • Hold them accountable for their behaviour and choices, again for the same reasons as above. We are accountable in life, at work, at school in our relationships. If we are not we get fired, we fail, we do not prosper and we cannot cope in this overwhelming world.

  • Eat together! Set aside at least two nights a week where the whole family eats together without technology - no TV’s or phone allowed. It is time to bond and talk and catch up with each other. The more often the better.

  • Set up a weekly game night. Each week someone different gets to pick the game. This should be board games or cards. It is bonding as a family and creates many social skills as well as school skills - adding, counting money, problem solving. Read our blog on how board games develop healthy adults. 

  • Set up a monthly family movie night - age appropriate.

  • Read to your kids even if you don’t like to read, it is bonding and teaches many lessons and a love of words and reading. This will benefit them in school and life.

  • Less technology and more life - go out to the park, the museum, and the art gallery, for a drive and picnic, the zoo, a theme park. These are bonding times that create cultural learning. If you cannot afford it again, again check with your school and community and the places themselves as many offer opportunities for kids and families who cannot afford to visit.

  • Model what you want to see.

    • React calmly and with love to challenging situations. Use words and discussion and natural consequences (not punishment) where needed. If you are angry be honest. I feel angry with you at the moment, I love you but I dislike your behaviour, please go to your calm space or room and I will talk to you in a few minutes. Be open and honest with your kids about your experiences and why you may want to protect them. Speak in quieter voice rather than a louder one if you want their attention or don’t speak at all until they are quiet. Kids, who are yelled out, tune it out and it has no effect.

  • Do not hover and overprotect this creates fear and anxiety, lack of coping skills or open rebellion and frustration. As we discussed before allow healthy risks, failure, loss… you won’t always be there to protect them they must learn how to manage themselves. They must learn that they can manage themselves and be ok.

  • You are the boss! Your child should not be making decisions that are adult based or controlling you in any way. Your child should also not be a caretaker to you or siblings or hear things that are of an adult nature. Problems that do not directly involve them should be discussed away from them.  These things make kids feel, anxious, over-responsible, guilty if something goes wrong or entitled and demanding if they are controlling the home.

  • Siblings babysitting should be handled very carefully. The babysitter should have a course and be at least 14 and a responsible young person. If something ever happened while that young person was in charge they would have to live with it forever. I have worked with kids in this situation and it's heartbreaking. If you have no other choice make sure the child has taken a course and has someone to call in an emergency who is available.​ It can be a bonding, healthy experience if handled well.

  • Calm space. Have a space that can be used as a “calming place” for your child - do not use the antiquated phrase “time out.”  It has negative connotations even to a child.  This is a place where you come to take a break and get calm.  

  • Teach calming strategies - deep breathes, squeeze something, count to ten, etc. (read calming strategies and creating a calming space under strategies) have these things available in the calm space. A squeeze ball, a teddy, a visual with the steps to becoming calm.
    • Practice deep breathing with very young children with bubbles. If you blow to hard they break, too soft they don’t form. Practice during play. “Oh no T-rex is so mad! He needs to blow bubbles!”

    • Help your children understand their emotions and that all emotions are ok it’s how we handle them that matters.

    • Have something your child loves to do and finds calming in the space as well such as music, Lego (no technology).

  • Consider using visuals to help children with routines such as bedtime, getting ready for school, calming whatever they are struggling with. (Read resources, look at our visuals - lessonpix is a great place to make visuals).

    • This is especially important in Autism, Developmental Delay, AD(H)D/ADD.

  • Be honest with them and yourself. If you school or community is telling you there is a problem with your child then evaluate that honestly. Don’t dismiss it as - not my child. Perception in life is huge and you must take that into consideration when listening to your child, his teacher and those in the community.

  • If you have a child who is “bullying” then look at counseling for him/her to get to the bottom of why. This behaviour will ruin relationships and hold them back in life. Support your child to change negative behaviours.

  • If you have a child who is being bullied or suffering from anxiety or any mental health issue - again seek counseling. If you can’t afford it speak with your school and community to find out what resources are available to you. Be supportive.

  • Consider volunteering together as a family. The benefits of this are endless. 

Additional reading: 

7 Damaging Parenting Behaviours That Keep Children From Growing into Leaders.​


Parenting Teens and Young Adults:

This is an important time in your child’s life. They are looking to separate from you, which is normal growth. You need to encourage and support this growth in healthy ways. Growing up and moving on means we have been successful parents and it is a time to celebrate.

  • Honour their privacy and allow some freedom and control increasing as they age. They are not "children" and that should be respected.

  • Working! Older teens and young adults should have part time jobs to pay for some of their expenses. This teaches responsibility. Not too many hours so that it interferes with school but enough to allow confidence. If the child is struggling in school, then school is their job but volunteering is an option. In university they should be working part-time through the summer to offset costs even if you can afford it all. It’s about promoting responsibility over entitlement.

  • Encourage them to volunteer - this could also replace a paid job.

    • If your child has a diagnosis such as Autism (dependent on severity), look for groups that offer employment and volunteer options. Teach them and expect them to be independent. Believe they are capable and they will be.

  • Teach and model independence.

  • Responsibility. Kids this age should have a set amount of chores and responsibilities at home as a part of a family outside of a part-time job or volunteering.

  • Family time. Continue to have some meals together and a game night for a long as you are able - make it part of your family routine and even if they mumble secretly they will love it.

  • Respect. Talk to them like intelligent young adults, respect their ideas and opinions, encourage, trust and support. They do not have to share your ideas and viewpoints. 

  • Create a collaborative relationship. (Read about building a collaborative relationship under behaviour insights.)

  • Let go and allow them to grow. Rules should be appropriate for their age.

  • Allow them to take healthy risks.

  • Try not to stifle, smother and hover - this can lead to rebellion or anxiety. Love from a place of strength and a belief in their strength and ability. If you treat your old teen/young adult like a child they will behave like a child. Foster growth and independence and everything you want to see for their future.

  • Love your child, believe in your child, respect your child and they will return what is given.