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Proactivity as a Problem


As I conference with the school on my child’s behavior, I’m finding it difficult to suggest a proactive approach to intervention. What do you see as the issue here, and how can we best address it?

This is an excellent question. To make sure we’re on the same page, proactive intervention refers to addressing a pattern of behavior in a way that it cannot happens again. For instance, if Sally doesn’t want to stay in her seat, she’s given a task she can only do standing up, or if Tony’s always dropping his crayons when it’s time to go to lunch, the before-lunch activity is changed so there are no crayons to drop. (These are just examples; intervention can become considerably more involved than this.)

Why it can be a Difficult “Sell”

Three reasons come to mind as to why a suggested proactive plan might meet with resistance:

1. Everyone is overwhelmed already. Schools have their hands plenty full just following mandated state and federal standards. The last thing they need is one more thing. If being proactive involves planning, it might just be shuffled to the bottom of the stack.

2. Proactivity means spending time and energy on something that hasn’t happened (yet). It’s an elective approach for addressing something that, in a perfect world, might not happen again. Look at it this way: How many folks buy a burglar alarm after their house has been robbed.

3. The prevailing thought might be, “the YOUNGSTER needs to be doing the changing, not me.” This is an understandable position, but it might not take into account that the child is “stuck” and doesn’t have the faintest clue how to change.

“Selling” It

An effective proactive plan for addressing problem behavior might be “sold” by pointing out some of the following benefits:

1. It sets up the child to be successful. If the youngster can go a day without the problem behavior, it can be the begining of a new, better pattern. Who doesn’t want to have a better day?

2. A proactive stance is the best and most efficient use of time and resources. The counselor, school psychologist, and administrator aren’t being called out for emergencies. Also, there are no discipline referrals for problems that don’t happen; there’s nothing for teachers to have to write. (They have enough of that already.)

3. There’s less distraction and more on-task work. The youngster, the other students, and the teacher all benefit from a problem that never happens.

4. It’s much more pleasant. Relationships fare better with a proactive approach. When there are no negative consequences, no losses are imposed (and we all know how kids hate to lose anything).

It would not be difficult to work a proactive approach into Response to Intervention, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, an Individualized Education Plan (Special Education), a Behavior Improvement Plan (also SpEd), or a 504 Plan. Tracking and follow-up, and accountability all the way around (including the parent, of course), would be built into the effort.

James D. Sutton, EdD, CSP

Consulting Psychologist/Certified Speaking Professional
PO Box 672, Pleasanton, TX 78064


October 13, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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