5 Tips for Teaching Social Skills to Reduce Challenging Behavior

Social Skills

How teaching social skills can promote positive behavior and increase student learning

Challenging behavior is one of the chief concerns of educators. Educators continue to report that they feel underprepared to meet the needs of students with challenging behavior in their classrooms and that behavior is one of the key impediments to student learning.

In reaction to the failures of zero tolerance approaches to behavior and discipline popular over the past decade, a recent sea change in education has seen more and more emphasis placed upon programming related to things like Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS), and Restorative Practices, all of which seek to address challenging behavior through teaching and learning as opposed to discipline.


CASEL’s 5 Social-Emotional Learning Core Competencies

With a staggering 71% of students in 6th through 12th grade believing that their school does not provide them with a caring, encouraging environment (CASEL, 2003), it is imperative that educators consider how to make students feel more supported in their school environments and provide more positive instructive ways to address challenging behavior.

The good news is, there is a wealth of research on how equipping students with social skills can predict everything from higher level attention skills and better job opportunities in the future to improved overall quality of life. Behavior research has shown that discipline and punitive consequences are but a secondary means of addressing challenging behavior. Instead, focusing on teaching students the skills they need to engage in positive, pro-social behaviors is proven to have more impactful, long-lasting results.

To this end, teaching students social skills can be extremely effective in increasing student learning and reducing challenging behavior. Adopting explicit evidence-based social emotional learning strategies can lead to better academic performance, improved attitudes and behaviors, fewer negative behaviors, and reduced emotional distress for students.

Below are 5 tips for teaching social skills to reduce challenging behavior:

  1. Teach positive behaviors.
  2. Focus on facilitating the desirable behavior as well as eliminating the undesirable behavior. We know what behaviors we don’t want students to engage in, but we also need to identify what desirable behaviors we want them to exhibit. For instance, if you know a student is cursing to get attention, teach them to get attention in more positive ways, like engaging a peer in conversation. Teaching and then reinforcing this positive behavior can eventually lead to a decrease in the negative, attention seeking behavior.

  1. Model positive behaviors.
  2. Emphasize the learning, performance, generalization, and maintenance of appropriate behaviors through modeling, coaching, and role-playing. It is also crucial to provide students with immediate performance feedback. Let them know how they did and reinforce them.  One common mistake teachers make is simply telling students to exhibit positive behaviors. “Sit still” or “use your quiet voice” are common commands, but often students don’t know how to sit still or how to use their quiet voice. Modeling and role playing can be a valuable way of teaching them these kinds of skills.

  1. Use punitive consequences sparingly.
  2. Employ primarily positive strategies and add punitive strategies only if the positive approach is unsuccessful and/or is the behavior is of a serious and/or dangerous nature. Positive reinforcement is an incredibly powerful tool and can go a long way in deterring students from engaging in negative behaviors.

  1. Differentiate practice opportunities.
  2. Provide training and practice opportunities in a wide range of settings with different groups and individuals in order to encourage students to generalize new skills to multiple, real life situations.

  1. Use assessment tools.
  2. A lot of times we think we know why students are engaging in certain behaviors, and we are often correct. But drawing on assessment strategies, including functional assessments of behavior, to identify those children in need of more intensive interventions as well as target skills for instruction can help us ensure we are providing students with the most effective interventions.

To learn more about how teaching social skills can reduce challenging behavior and increase student learning, check out the slides below or view this recent webinar presented by Dr. Patricia Wright.

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Learn Ways to Teach Social Skills that Reduce Problem Behavior

Watch the webinar on demand to learn how to reduce problem behavior to learn more about how teaching social skills can reduce challenging behavior and increase student learning, view this recent webinar presented by Dr. Patricia Wright..
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