Four Steps to Improve Self-Control & Behavior in the Classroom

j0439571To improve a student’s self-control and decrease unwanted behaviors in the classroom, parents and teachers are urged to collaborate and implement these four steps.

Increase External Controls

First, it will be helpful to try to increase external controls and reduce the impact of the student’s struggles.

  • Reduce the student’s access to settings, situations, or other students with which the student usually gets in trouble.  For example, if he gets in trouble because the student next to him is constantly asking him questions, either move him or move the other student.

  • Move the student closer to the teacher or another adult in to improve self-control.  Some impulsive students actually do well if they are in the middle of the classroom and surrounded by others who won’t get them off-task by talking to them or asking them questions.

  • Work out a non-verbal or verbal cue to help the student recognize when an unwanted behavior occurs.   In this system, the teacher gives a visual signal or verbal phrase when a targeted inappropriate behavior occurs.  This cue can remind the child to correct behavior without direct confrontation or loss of self-esteem.

  • Make a plan for down-time or transitions.  Many students say that they are most impulsive when they are bored and during transitions.  Allowing these students to have something else to do once they have completed their seat work can go a long way to decreasing their unwanted behavior.  Even if it is math, allow an impulsive student to quietly read or doodle once she has completed her work.  Give this student a job to do during a transition: cleaning off the whiteboard, scooting in the chairs, or some other productive activity is much better than an impulsive act because she is bored.  Get creative and give her a job to do!


  • Before he starts a difficult task, privately ask the student, “What behavior are you working on?” to remind him to exhibit the desired behaviors in specific situations.

Replace the Behavior

Work with your student to replace the unwanted behavior with a competing behavior that meets the same need.

  • Select and clearly define 1-2 target behaviors for improvement at a time.  These are usually the behaviors that cause him and you the most difficulty throughout the day.  You may need to be specific about when, where, and how the behavior occurs.  For example, “Sit quietly without touching others while waiting for PE” is much better than “Don’t distract others during PE.”

  • Select a behavior to replace the unwanted behavior by making sure it meets the same need (raising his hand instead of blurting out to get attention).

  • Have the student practice the replacement skill to improve her chances of success.

  • Reinforce the child for using the replacement skill in the classroom (immediately call on him when he raises his hand instead of blurting out).

Communicate and Collaborate

Use a daily report card or some other system to communicate and collaborate with parents about the student’s behavioral needs.

  • After clearly defining and making a plan to address 1-2 target behaviors, it is important to involve the family in reinforcing their student’s success.

Celebrate and Repeat!

Be sure to celebrate small (and big) successes along the way! Once the first one or two challenges are addressed, use these same strategies to address additional problem behaviors.

Although it’s not as easy as it sounds, all unwanted behaviors can be replaced, but it takes time, effort, and patience.

Need Help Applying These Concepts?

For more suggestions, read Dr. Davenport’s article in Attention Magazine.

Call 817.421.8780 to schedule an appointment.


(c) 2010-2014, Monte W. Davenport, Ph.D.