Banishing Bad Behavior By Banking On Relationship

When I heard the statistics about Indiana's child abuse rate, I wasn't terribly surprised.  I've worked with children for close to 20 years now and most of that time has been with children who have experienced some level of trauma or chronic stress.  Hearing that we are second in the entire nation for cases of child abuse or neglect is easy to see when you’re at the front lines so you may not be too surprised either. Having been in classes around the country, I know how prevalent abuse and neglect can be and I’ve spent years teaching teachers the practical ways to provide trauma-informed practices in the classroom.

The main reason I started calling myself a Behavior Gladiator, was because my approach at 'attacking' problem behaviors takes into account not only the harsh experiences children have had but also teaches them the skills they need to move forward. I like to call it meeting them where they are, without leaving them there.

When I wrote my book, I wasn't surprised that teachers and administrators told me it helped reduce challenging behaviors, because I know that relationship is the most powerful intervention we have in our teaching toolbox.  But after teaching across the country what I’ve come to realize is that for many of our teachers it takes more than just learning new skills to be more effective at reducing challenging behaviors and managing the classroom. Even well meaning staff can struggle in the heat of the moment and miss critical opportunities to support children because they damage the relationship trying to stop the behavior.

When I coach staff on how to implement culturally relevant, effective classroom management strategies I focus on a few key principles. One of my favorites I will share with you now.

Growing up, my mom and dad had unique approaches to parenting. My mom, rather reactive though I love her dearly, was known for yelling, flying off the handle and might be considered a little dramatic by today’s standards. My dad, stoic and calm, is much more talkative at 85 than he was most of my childhood, but he’s still is relatively quiet, yet charming around most people. But while they were different in many ways, they were very closely aligned in values, even if not in action.

Not that I was a bad child, of course, but like most I did have my fair share of disciplinary moments with both my parents. While I hated to be on the receiving end of my mom’s tongue lashing, I can recall almost with fondness the moments when my dad would give his direction. Looking back, this behavior management principle was definitely at play.

I call it the relationship bank. Like a personal checking or saving account for money this account of sorts holds deposits, covers expenses and is a key indicator of interpersonal health. In a relationship, between spouses, teachers and students or even just between friends, every interaction we have is either depositing or withdrawing trust, love and connection between two people. A healthy account can handle the occasional misstep or miscommunication and when you’ve built up a good reserve you can even leverage your relationship bank to create change.

Experts largely agreed upon that we need at least 4-5 positive interactions to balance for one negative. So for each one moment of redirection or losing your temper you’ll need a handful of compliments or peaceful exchanges to replenish your account.

For kids who’ve been through trauma or abuse thy may be less receptive to ‘deposits’ so you’ve got to stay consistent in order to keep the account well-stocked. I share lots of ways of banking on relationship in my book, Drag ‘Em Kicking and Screaming and also in my Behavior Management MasterClass which I will be teaching live coming up very soon. For now, make a point to personally connect with each student every day, even if it’s only for a brief moment. A pat on the back or high 5, even just a personal greeting with eye contact can help. If you want to learn more about managing behaviors or building strong relationships, there’s no better time than the present. Check out the link and sign up today.