ABA Behavior Management Strategies: Creating Classroom Expectations

In a survey, 85% of teachers claimed that they felt able to calm down or redirect disruptive behavior in the classroom. Classroom management is a critical skill for teachers, but it’s not an easy one to learn. It all starts with setting clear classroom expectations and guidelines, but that’s easier said than done.

At Insights to Behavior, we let applied behavior analysis (ABA) guide many of the ways we approach behavioral adjustments, and we’ve had a lot of success. We’re here with several ABA behavior management strategies and ABA-inspired tips that you can use in your classroom this year.

Ready to set clear expectations and have students meet them? Read on to learn more.

Set Clear and Positive Expectations

Clearly define positive and specific expectations for behavior in the classroom. “Positive” expectations may be unfamiliar to many teachers, but they’re helpful when it comes to behavior management strategies.

Use language that focuses on what students should do rather than what they should not do. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t interrupt,” say, “Raise your hand to speak.” This is a specific positive expectation.

This way, you’re not distracting the child with the “don’t” expectations. You’re giving them an instruction that’s easy for them to follow.

Use Visual Aids

Implement visual supports and schedules to help students understand and remember the expectations that you’re setting for them. Visual aids, such as charts and written lists, serve as reminders of the behaviors you expect from your young students.

Visible schedules provide predictability, allowing students to anticipate transitions and activities. This is especially important for neurodivergent children who struggle with change and like to know what’s coming next. It keeps them calm and happy, which will improve their classroom behavior.

Model and Demonstrate

Teachers and caregivers should always actively model and demonstrate the behaviors they expect from students in various situations when appropriate. Children learn by mimicking adults. When the adults in their lives do something, they will also do it.

Use role-playing, games, or scenarios to show students how to apply classroom expectations. Reinforce positive examples and provide corrective feedback when it’s necessary to do so.

You want to lead by example. Show the children how you want them to act, and many of them will follow suit, for more specific behaviors, role-playing and games will come into play.

Establish Reinforcement Systems

Establish a reinforcement system to address and reward students for their positive behaviors. Positive reinforcement can include verbal praise, tokens, stickers, or a points system that leads to bigger and more special rewards.

Younger students will be happy with rewards like stickers, while older students may need larger incentives for positive reinforcement. Ensure that the reinforcement aligns with the preferences and interests of the students.

Always lead with positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. It’s best to reward positive behavior and ignore negative behavior until it disrupts other students. You don’t want to give negative actions too much attention.

Try Behavior Contracts

Use behavior contracts to clarify expectations and reinforce accountability. These aren’t official contracts of course, but they feel official to children and they provide a concrete list of behaviors that children can look back on later if they’re unsure of what they are and aren’t supposed to be doing.

Collaboratively develop contracts with students, outlining specific behaviors, the rewards for meeting them, and the consequences for not meeting them. Doing this together with the students is a fun activity that makes them feel as though they have more autonomy. Contracts promote a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Prompt and Fade

Prompting and fading are often used in ABA. You can also use them in the classroom when children are learning skills and developing appropriate behaviors.

At first, provide prompts or cues to guide students to stick to your expectations. Over time, fade out the prompts as students become more independent in following the rules.

This gradual reduction of prompts promotes skill development and self-sufficiency. If students need gentle prompts in the future, you can go back to the “faded” versions before being direct as a quick reminder.

Incorporate Social Stories

Social stories are common in the world of ABA. They help prepare children for potential real-life situations they may encounter.

Develop social stories that illustrate appropriate behaviors in different situations. Social stories use simple language and visuals to help students understand the expectations and consequences associated with their actions. This can be particularly effective for students who benefit from concrete examples.

Social stories don’t just tell children what to do. They can also help with managing emotions and developing coping strategies.

Try Self-Monitoring and Peer Monitoring

Introduce self-monitoring strategies in the classroom. This means students track their own behavior and progress toward meeting expectations.

This promotes self-awareness and responsibility. Students can use checklists or charts to monitor and reflect on their behavior. This may make children feel more independent and autonomous!

You can also try peer modeling and peer support. Start pairing students with positive role models, like older students. Peers can demonstrate and reinforce appropriate behaviors.

This helps create a supportive social environment that encourages safe and positive interactions. It also encourages safe and healthy socialization among the children.

As we mentioned before, children learn by mimicking. While they often imitate adults, they also imitate each other. By setting them up with role models, you give them another great model to imitate and learn from.

This is also a great learning opportunity for the older peer students.

Try These ABA Behavior Management Strategies

Managing students can be challenging. These ABA behavior management strategies can help you create classroom expectations and help children meet those expectations.

Children want to thrive in the classroom. They just need an extra push.

Are you looking for more help with K-12 behavior intervention? At Insights to Behavior, we offer more than 60 hours of behavior management training workshops. What you learn can change your classroom.

Looking for more tips? Sign up for our free monthly managing student behavior series today. Change the way your classroom operates for the better.

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