Catch Them Being Good: A Technique for Handling Disruptive Behavior

This behavior management technique includes ways to focus on the good behavior a child displays.
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Updated on: January 17, 2002
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Steps of the Catch Them Being Good Technique

  1. Identify instances of disruptive behaviors.

  2. Identify instances of nondisruptive and appropriate classroom behaviors.

  3. Implement the beeper system (explained below) at the start of each class period. When the beeper sounds, praise a number of students (including the children who are the focus of your concern) if they are not engaged in disruptive behavior.

  4. When a child is disruptive, ignore the disruptive behavior (unless the nature of the behavior cannot be ignored).

  5. At the same time you are ignoring a child's disruptive behavior, direct your attention to others who are being appropriate and praise children who are adjacent to the target child for their appropriate behavior.

  6. If a child is engaged in severely disruptive behavior, remove him or her to a time-out area for a short period of time. The first step in implementing this technique is to identify the types of behavior that are disruptive. These are the behaviors you will ignore. Also, at this time, identify those disruptive behaviors that cannot be ignored (e.g., aggression, loud and violent tantrums, etc.). Try to keep this list short. Concurrently, identify those nondisruptive behaviors that you will attend to and praise when they occur. Identify the individual child or children who will be the focus of this technique.

You may need some help to deliver praise for appropriate behavior in a systematic manner. An auditory cue or signal to look around every so often and deliver praise and attention for nondisruptive behavior will allow you to incorporate this technique more readily into your instructional plans. The beeper system involves the presentation of audible beeps at random intervals within a class period. Each beep cues you to scan the class and praise appropriate classroom behavior.

This technique provides a certain number of opportunities for children in the class to earn praise. The beeper system works best when a tape recorder is used to present beeps at random intervals for designated periods of time (e.g., 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc.). The tape is an efficient way of cueing you, for you do not have to rely on memory alone to cue praise. The beeper system must be audible so it can be heard anywhere in the room from your desk, with or without earplugs.

When the beep sounds, you scan the class and praise the children of concern if they are not engaged in disruptive behavior at that time. You can praise other children for nondisruptive classroom behavior at the same time. You may also want to implement a point system whereby points are given to students who are not engaged in disruptive behavior. They can trade these points in later for free time.

When an individual child is being disruptive, withhold your attention from that child. Instead, praise the appropriate behavior of children who are adjacent to the child. For example, "I like the way Johnny and Susan are doing their work. Ashley, you are sitting so nicely." Notice that your attention is diverted to behavior that is appropriate and not to the specific incident of disruptive behavior. However, if the child is severely disruptive, remove him or her to a time out away from the general area for a short period of time so that the disruption does not continue to disturb other students.

One comment that sometimes comes up needs to be addressed. The suggestion to some teachers to "catch them being good" is often met with "I don't have the time. I have too many children to make this workable. I don't have time to praise children in my class on a frequent basis. If I do this, I won't have enough time to devote to my instructional duties." There are several ways to respond to this objection.

First, it is true that using the strategy of praising children when they are not disruptive may initially take a lot of time from the teacher and he or she may feel overwhelmed. Consistently praising appropriate behavior is a new skill for some teachers, and it may feel as though it takes an inordinate amount of time away from other activities. However, the more you practice praising children frequently, the more natural it will feel, and it will become an inherent part of your teaching repertoire.

Second, after this initial "learning period" there may actually be no more time invested in dealing with disruptive situations than was invested previously. Very often, using this positive strategy merely requires a shift in teacher attention: There will be drastically decreased amounts of attention paid to disruptive behavior balanced by increased amounts of attention paid to nondisruptive behavior. Also, as a child's behavior improves, the need for praise becomes less frequent, thus allowing more time for other teaching duties.

Finally, praise for appropriate behavior makes school more fun for the children and motivates them to learn. Consider using healthy doses of praise as a good investment in a child's future in school.

Teachers must realize that disruptive behaviors do not go away by magic. There is an appropriate saying you can use with teachers who do not want to entertain any new techniques to overcome disruptive behavior: "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting!"

Additional Suggestions and Considerations

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