When working with children, you’re sure to encounter difficult behavior from time to time. While you can’t avoid it entirely, you can use strategies to minimize it and encourage positive actions in the learning environment.

In Push Past It!: A Positive Approach to Challenging Classroom Behaviors by Angela Searcy, EdD, educators can find a practical approach to handling challenging behaviors and understanding why most behavior-management strategies don't work. The author also provides real-world examples, proven solutions, and new approaches to overcoming classroom disruptions using her PUSH PAST IT approach. The goal is to provide a more nurturing, insights-driven approach to managing behavior.

Push Past It! is a great resource for program leaders who may be struggling with students who exhibit challenging behaviors. In the meantime, we’ve shared 5 quick tips for fostering positive behavior in your afterschool program below.

1. Encourage Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is an important step in building self-awareness and emotional regulation. In this way, you can help students identify emotions or feelings early on that may lead to negative behaviors, such as anger, frustration or disappointment.

There are several ways to encourage self-reflection in your afterschool program. You can establish morning and end-of-day meetings, where you facilitate open discussions to gauge how students are feeling. For those who may not want to share openly, you can use a tool like the Feelings Friend that includes an assortment of facial features to help students identify and express their feelings. You can also squeeze in time for journaling, which can also help them process and communicate their emotions.

Check out these All About Me Journals (Set of 10) to try journaling with a twist

2. Use Empowering Language

Words have power. And when it comes to addressing difficult behaviors, it’s important to use language that encourages students to take ownership of their actions. To use empowering language, you simply use words and phrases that puts the responsibility back on the students.

For instance, you may say “Show me how to walk in the hallway safely” rather than “Don’t run in the hallway.” Or instead of telling a student to “Pay attention,” you can try saying “What is something you can do to make sure you’re paying attention?” This type of communication encourages students to self-reflect and come up with a solution for their behavior, which they can use to avoid negative behaviors in the future.

3. Incorporate Brain Breaks

Most children have short attention spans, and working for long periods of time can cause them to become restless, antsy and talkative. But adding brain breaks throughout the day helps students refocus, reenergize and great ready for the next lesson or activity. This is essential for behavior management.

While brain breaks can be pre-scheduled, they can also be added in the spur of the moment to redirect students and minimize negative behaviors. It can be a simple idea like 10 jumping jacks or a more organized game like Follow the Leader. For a few ideas to get started, check out 10 Energizing Brain Breaks to Get Students Moving.

4. Use the S.T.A.R. Strategy

Challenging behaviors often need to be addressed and resolved in the moment. That’s where the S.T.A.R. Strategy can help. S.T.A.R. stands for Stop, Think, Act and Review, and it’s a positive behavior support (PBS) strategy used by educators to help students handle conflicts in learning spaces.

Like the other strategies mentioned, it encourages them to reflect on their actions, take ownership of their behavior, create a resolution and then act on it. While the strategy helps to solve problems and manage emotions in the moment, it can also be used to foster a positive learning environment for your students.

5. Praise Good Behavior

While praise is a simple gesture, it can be effective in improving student behavior in your afterschool program. It has the potential to reinforce positive actions and motivate students to strive for good behavior in the future.

To be effective, however, praise statements should go beyond a simple ‘Good job!’. Below are a few tips for delivering praise that has the potential to change student behavior:

  • Describe noteworthy student behavior. Be sure the praise statement includes the behavior you are acknowledging. For example, instead of saying ‘Good job!’, you may say ‘You put the books back in the right spots. Good job!’
  • Praise effort and accomplishment, not ability. Focusing on students’ abilities and skills can actually discourage risk-taking. Instead, make sure praise focuses on specific examples of their effort or accomplishment.
  • Consider students’ preferences for praise. While some students may prefer to be praised in front of the class or group, others may prefer more private, one-to-one feedback. Consider how each student prefers to accept individual praise to make sure it’s well-received. You may also consider tangible rewards, such as stickers.

For more tips and strategies on positive behavior support, be sure to check out Push Past It!: A Positive Approach to Challenging Classroom Behaviors.