teaching tips blog


May 1, 2013

A Tool for Managing Challenging Behavior

Krisa Winn

During my years as a classroom teacher, I often had students who had been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.  Usually, they were very caring little boys who were easily distractED and often demonstrated behavior that was highly distractING.  It was always humorous to me (I thank the Lord for the joy He gives regardless of our circumstances) after a particularly difficult day of redirecting, correcting, and disciplining; when one of these little fellas would look at me and genuinely ask, “Did I have a good day?”  Oh my!  As I ran my fingers through the top of my head for the thirtieth time in six hours (one of my coping and calming mechanisms as a classroom teacher) I would calmly and gently explain that, no-  it wasn’t so good, but we’d try again tomorrow. 

There was only so much that I could do as a classroom teacher to get to the root of these problems. One day, however, a co-worker shared a tool that was quite useful in helping these very loving, intelligent, but challenging children become more cognizant of their actions.  She called it the ‘Rocket Race’.

Imagine a simple drawing of a rocket using a triangle for the top, a rectangle for the body and trapezoid for the base.  In the body of the rocket is drawn a two column graph.   A section of one column will be colored green each time your child is 'on task'.  A section of the other column will be colored red whenever the child is ‘not on task.’  The goal is for green to reach the top of the rocket before red.  If so, there will be reward.  If not, the end of the race will result in a consequence.  You will have more than one race a day.

Before you begin using the ‘Rocket Race’, decide on one or two behaviors that need improvement. Then write the reward for winning the race and the consequence for not winning at the top of the paper. Take some time to talk to your child about the race.  Have him or her practice the desired behavior, and thoroughly explain what behaviors need to change, i.e. interupting you or changing the subject when you are explaining a new skill, crawling under the table during work time, touching/disrupting a sibling etc.  As you start out, you may want to have only 6 or 8 sections in each column.  This insures that the race is completed more quickly, and the reward or consequence is more immediate.  To be effective, the reward or consequence should occur as soon as the race is over.  For example, if the reward is 5 minutes of lego time; that lego break happens when green wins, not when the school day is over.  As your child becomes more accustomed to using the ‘Rocket Race’ you can add more sections to the columns, thus extending the time between reward/consequence.

In sharing this idea with you, I’m not saying that it’s a ‘cure all’ or that I think reward and consequence systems are the only way in which to deal with challenging behavior issues. Of course, nutrition and many other factors play a role in helping a child work through a glitch in their attention learning gate. For more thoughts on this subject, click here.

However, the Rocket Race and similar tools, give students a very visual way in which to track their behavior. For you, the parent, it is a great way to document daily behavior, as well. Simply write a brief note out to the side of each 'red section' describing the behavior you've observed. 

What ideas do you have for keeping your child on task throughout the school day? I’d love to hear what has worked for your family.