NOTE: I wish I could give proper credit to the person that put together this handout but it was given to me years ago at a Stake Leadership Training.  A school teacher was invited to speak to us and share some of her ideas that have worked over the years dealing with difficult children.  While she wrote the following comments from a school teacher's perspective, many of her ideas could be applied to Primary Presidencies, Primary Teachers and can be for use within our own families. 

ATTENTION SEEKERS:  A child who needs attention will take whatever kind of attention he or she can get from you - positive or negative.  Plan to give your attention seekers the maximum amount of positive attention for appropriate behavior, and minimal attention for negative behavior.  Use consequences as a last resort.  Children will soon learn how best to gain the attention they want.

USE POSITIVE RECOGNITION TO MOTIVATE STUDENTS TO BEHAVE: Begin immediately recognizing children for making responsible behavioral choices.  Let them know by your words and actions that you are following through with the positives you spoke about when you taught them your discipline plan.  When children know that you notice and appreciate the good efforts they're making, they will be more motivated to continue behaving appropriately.  Use the following positive recognition techniques to encourage appropriate behavior and reinforce it.

Positive repetition....after giving a direction, immediately look for at least two children who are following the direction.  Say the children's names and restate the direction while they are following it.

Direction: "Line up quickly and quietly."
Positive Repetition: "Kerri is in line.  That was very fast!  Sam, you lined up without a sound.  Great!"

MARBLES IN A JAR: Begin your positive recognition with this classic technique.  Over the years, marbles in a jar has proven to be a great positive reinforcer.  It's simple, versatile, and extremely effective in motivating appropriate behavior.  Simply drop a marble into a jar whenever one or more children behave, or when the whole class is following directions.  When the jar is filled, reward the class with a fun activity.

USE A PARADOXICAL RESPONSE: When a child is defiant, talks back or refuses to comply with a request, he or she usually expects you to react with anger and ultimatums.  Instead, use a paradoxical response: If the child is shouting, speak softly.  If the child yells louder, speak more softly still.  This technique takes the child off guard and de-escalates the confrontation.  It shows the child that you are in control and are staying in control.  You are not becoming part of the argument.

SHARE GOOD NEWS WITH PARENTS: Parents often receive news only when there is a problem.  Send home positive notes and make positive phone calls to let parents know their child is off to a good start.  Continue your positive communication with parents all year long.

ONE-ON-ONE PROBLEM-SOLVING CONFERENCE: A one-on-one problem-solving conference is a meeting between you and your child to discuss a specific behavior problem.  The goal of this conference is NOT to punish but to listen to the child and give caring and firm guidance.

Follow these steps when conducting a one-on-one problem solving conference:

1. Show empathy and concern.  Let the child know that you care of about him or her, and that you are meeting to offer help and guidance, not to punish. 

2. Question the child to find out why there is a problem.  Don't assume you know why the child is misbehaving.  Ask questions:

"Did something happen today to get you so upset?"
"Are the other children bothering you?"
"Do you have trouble seeing the board?"

3. Determine what you can do to help.  After listening to what the child has to say, you may discover a simple solution for correcting the problem (for example, moving the child's seat).

4. Determine how the child can improve his or her behavior.  Brainstorm with the child what he or she can choose to do differently in the future to handle the problem more effectively.  Teach new behaviors if necessary.

PRAISE: Praise should be your #1 choice in positive recognition.  When you take the time to say something positive to a child, you convey the message, "I care about you, I notice your good efforts, and I'm proud of you."

"Nicki, you lined up so quickly and quietly.  That really helps us to be on time.  Thanks for being so cooperative."

Hand-in-hand with positive verbal responses go non-verbal responses.  A smile, a wink, a pat on the shoulder or a positive gesture can clearly communicate your support for appropriate behavior.  Use these responses often with all your children.

STRETCH, SHAKE AND WIGGLE: When you notice that your children are becoming restless, take a moment to do a "stretch, shake and wiggle" exercise to give them a short break from the lesson and enable them to return to task refreshed and ready to go.  Ask them to:

1. Stand up, place feet apart, stretch arms up while taking a deep breath, then lower arms while exhaling.
2. Shake their hands, then legs, then whole body.
3. Wiggle their fingers, nose, ears, and toes.
4. Take another big breath, exhale, relax, close eyes and visualize how they will get back to work (quickly, quietly and attentively.)

SPECIAL PRIVILEGES: Recognize good behavior by rewarding children with activities they particularly enjoy.  Ask them what they would like to earn. 

NONVERBAL REINFORCERS:  For many children a smile from you can be the most meaningful motivator for good behavior.  Enhance your repertoire of positive recognition techniques with these simple nonverbal gestures:

- Look at the child in the eye and smile.
- Give a thumbs up or a "high five".
- Wink or nod to express approval.
- Give a hug about shoulder level.
- Offer a handshake for a job well done.
- Write a compliment on paper.
- Give a gentle pat on the back.

STAR BOX: A subtle gesture is often all it takes to motivate children to stay on task.  During your lesson, walk up to the chalkboard, look around the room, and without saying anything, write the names of on-task students in a "star box" drawn on the board.  
LETTER BY LETTER: Promote cooperation in your classroom.  Display the word "cooperation" in large letters.  Discuss and encourage cooperative behavior.  When an individual or whole class cooperates, pin a star over the first (or next available) letter of the word.  When the star reaches the last letter, reward the children with favorite activities that require cooperation, such as a craft project.

A ROLL OF THE DICE: Post a list of six positives and number them with number six being the most desired treat/privilege.  Children who are "caught" behaving appropriately earn a chance to roll a die to determine which positive they will receive.

POPCORN POSITIVES:  Display a large picture of a bowl.  Cut out construction paper pieces of popcorn.  Choose a behavior the class needs to work on.  Each time you see one or more class member demonstrating the behavior, post a few pieces of popcorn "in the bowl".  When a predetermined number of popcorn pieces are earned, reward them with a popcorn party.

MYSTERY REWARD: Use a mystery award to positively reinforce your entire class.  Plan an activity that will become your mystery reward, for example, "game".  Each time one or more students are behaving appropriately, walk to the board and write one letter of your reward.  When the entire word is written they have earned the activity.


The Look - Give the off-task child a look that says, "I'm aware of and disapprove of your behavior."  Maintain eye contact until the child is back on task.

Physical Proximity - As you are teaching, simply walk over and stand close to the child.  The child will know why you're there.  Stay there until the undesired behavior is stopped.

Mention the off-task child's name while teaching - When you notice a student who is not paying attention while you're teaching the class, just mention the child's name in context to your lesson to redirect his/her attention back to task, or ask them a question from your lesson.

CALL THE CHILD AT HOME AFTER A GOOD DAY: Make a quick phone call to offer some well-deserved words of praise.  If the child isn't home, share the good news with the parents and have them deliver the positive message later.

CALL THE CHILD AT HOME AFTER A BAD DAY: End a difficult day on a positive not by phoning the child to get things back on track.  Listen to what the child has to say.  Express your confidence that next time will be better.

GRAB BAG: This is an excellent positive motivator for one child or for the entire class.  The students can earn tickets to the Grab Bag by exhibiting appropriate behavior.  Each "grabber" may take one card out of the Grab Bag.  On the card is written the reward the student has earned.

Use of tangible rewards (such as stickers, prizes, treats) is not recommended on a consistent basis.  However, tangible rewards are particularly effective when they are overly excited or when a child is not responding to other forms of positive recognition.  Use tangible rewards with discretion and always pair them with your sincere words of praise.