A Foundation of Above-The-Line Behaviors
By Lori VanderHeiden, Assistant Principal, Park Elementary
The elementary school years are commonly viewed as a critical time at which to teach foundational reading and math skills, creating a solid basis for later success in the content areas. Equally important for students is a solid foundation in managing their own behavior choices. Park Elementary utilizes the ideas of Corwin Kronenberg, a nationally recognized expert on behavior management, to teach students the Above-the-Line behaviors that are appropriate and acceptable versus those behaviors that are Below-the-Line or Bottom-Line. Many of Kronenberg’s methods are not only beneficial for teachers in classrooms, but they are also useful for parents. Here are a few of his major ideas for consideration.
- Building relationships is the key factor in successfully managing behaviors. One must have a larger balance in the positive relationship “bank” to cover the withdrawals occasionally needed for discipline consequences. We are reminded to offer more praise than criticism, at a ratio of at least 4 – 1 daily, to build a strong relationship with children that allows for occasional teachable discipline moments.
- We can’t control anyone else’s behavior. We can only control our own behavior. With this in mind, we should use enforceable statements rather than unenforceable statements. An enforceable statement is when the adult tells the student what the adult is going to do (“I will allow you to ride the bus if you respect those riding with you”) instead of telling the child what he can or cannot do (“You can’t throw things at kids on the bus.”) Additionally, Park staff work hard to help students take individual responsibility for their own actions and to come up with ways to “fix” a mistake by changing their own behavior. A speaker who comes regularly to our school promotes the idea that “Sorry is good, but change is better.”
- We should never argue with a child. Instead, talk calmly through a situation with an even tone of voice and allow the student to analyze the situation by asking questions. This keeps the student in the thinking mode rather than letting emotions take over. Be careful to recognize when children try to cast blame on others (“Other students were doing it, too”) to distract attention away from their own actions. Rather, keep the focus on the child’s individual actions and possible consequences that are related, respectful, and reasonable.
- Offer choices when assigning a consequence to a behavior. This reduces the probability of a power struggle and keeps the child in the thinking mode. It also puts a deposit in the relationship bank when working mutually through a situation with the child. Consequences should be given privately, and with sadness rather than madness.
By routinely practicing these ideas and modeling how to address behavior problems in this way, the children in our care will learn that making mistakes is a normal part of life. The importance should be placed upon what happens after the mistake it made in a calm and logical manner rather than creating an environment wherein children are afraid of making mistakes and try to cover up or distract attention away from their negative actions. As adults, we have the important responsibility of laying this important foundation in behavior management skills for children in order to prepare them to handle the many ups and downs that will come their way and to ensure their future success.