Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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Teaching Self-Control Skills to Defiant Students

Teaching oppositional, defiant kids to manage their own behavior allows educators to spend more time teaching and less time dealing with challenging behaviors in their classrooms. Managing one’s own behavior is called self-control. Self-control skills are used to help “uncooperative” children to engage in instructional activities, keep track of whether or not they complete tasks, use appropriate play and social interaction, participate in classroom routines, and pay attention to their own behavior.

Kids can learn to monitor their own behavior and control their own actions through using self-control techniques.  In order to help kids learn to monitor their own behavior, educators should ask themselves the following questions:
  • Are there any factors or challenges that the youngster faces that need to be considered before implementing a self-control plan?
  • Is the youngster able to make an accurate self-assessment of his/her behavior? 
  • What goals do I have for the youngster and the classroom or home environment in using a self-control plan? 
  • What is it that interests or engages the youngster that may be used to begin a self-control program? 
  • What is the youngster’s current level of self-control?

Here is how a "self-control skills" training program works:

1. Educators should assess the youngster’s current level of self-control to accurately report on his/her behavior. For instance, the educator may ask a youngster as he sits to eat snack, “Did you wash your hands?” If the educator has just observed the youngster sit at the table without washing his hands, yet he responds that he did wash his hands, the educator will know that the youngster can’t accurately assess his behavior. It’s easier to have kids assess behaviors around activities in which they are currently engaged. Some kids may not be able to accurately assess their own behaviors and may need to be taught how to self-assess prior to using a self-control program. Educators may need to teach kids to correctly report if they did or didn’t perform a task that the educator asked about (e.g., getting a drink of water, putting away a backpack, returning a book to the shelf, etc.).

2. Educators can identify what observable behaviors they want the youngster to learn to self-manage. Each step needs to clearly describe what the youngster should do. For instance, a younger child may be taught that when told to “clean up,” she should stop playing, pick up toys, place them on the shelf, and take a seat in the circle area.

3.  Once the behaviors have been identified, they are visually displayed for the youngster using photographs or drawings on a poster, a sheet of paper, or in a booklet. The youngster is given a way to monitor his/her behaviors using a checklist or chart that shows the activity with a place to indicate whether the youngster performed the step correctly (using a check mark, smiley face, sticker, thumbs up/thumbs down, etc.). Teachers can laminate the chart or checklist and use a wipe-off marker so that it is reusable, or make a chart that the youngster can take home to share with his/her parents. A goal of the chart or checklist is to teach the youngster how to independently engage in appropriate behavior. It isn’t used to punish or withhold activities. It may be used to chart special activities or materials that the youngster earns. Sometimes kids respond well to the use of an earned “special” activity if they complete the chart (e.g., reading a book with the teacher, playing with a specific game, having time on the computer, etc.). If the self-control chart includes a special activity or material, the youngster can choose the special activity. A visual representation (e.g., a photo or picture cut out from a catalog or magazine) of the special activity can then be placed on the chart as a reminder of what the youngster can earn when the chart is complete.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

4.  The youngster is taught to engage in the desired behaviors and then to monitor his/her performance. Once the chart is prepared, the educator should review the chart with the youngster after the activity or routine has occurred. The educator can review the steps that are listed on the chart and explain how the youngster’s performance will be marked (e.g., “The third picture shows ‘I put the books on the shelf.’ If you put the books on the shelf, we are going to mark a ‘thumbs up.’ If you did not put the books on the shelf, we will mark a ‘thumbs down.’ Let’s think about what happened. Did you put the books on the shelf? Yes, you did. We can mark a ‘thumbs up.’”). Once the educator has reviewed the system with the youngster and the educator believes that the youngster understands it, the educator should try it out the next time the activity or routine occurs. During the activity, the educator can remind the youngster of the behaviors on the chart. When the activity is over, the educator can help the youngster mark the chart.

5.  The educator should provide positive attention or feedback to the youngster while the youngster is learning self-control. When the educator gives the youngster feedback for using the chart, the educator should praise him/her for engaging in the behavior and the accuracy of his/her ability to self-manage. Over time, the educator can gradually provide less assistance for using the chart. The goal will be to get the youngster to use the chart independently until he/she does the behavior easily and no longer needs the self-control system.

Self-control skills are designed to teach kids how to engage in appropriate behavior, independently. Over time, the educator should decrease his/her assistance and support kids to use self-control skills independently. If a youngster misses a step or does not complete the chart, the educator can gently redirect the youngster to complete the step and encourage him/her to try harder the following day or during the next appropriate activity.

When procedures to teach self-control skills are carefully implemented, positive changes in behavior can be expected. Self-control skills are most effective when the educator implements the self-control program systematically and monitors the youngster’s progress. When a youngster has difficulty with the process or is not making progress, the self-control system must be reviewed, and additional instruction or new procedures may be needed.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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