This morning I have read a superb piece by the ever-inspiring Nancy Gedge (@nancygedge) looking at behaviour management, staff emotions and mentioning the use of ABCs: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/try-keep-your-emotions-check-when-teaching-children-send
I have great faith in ABCs but have seen some misunderstanding around the way they are used…so I decided to write something. I hope it may clarify a few things.
Zena is five years old. The rule in her school is that we keep hands, feet, objects and comments to ourselves. The consequence, if we break that rule, is that we spend five minutes on the ‘naughty chair’, facing the wall and away from our friends. One day Zena is sitting with her group threading beads. She has made a lovely blue and red pattern and needs one more red to finish. John reaches across her and takes the last red bead from the tray. She asks him for it but he refuses to give it to her so she hits him on the arm. Miss Bell sees and puts Zena on the ‘naughty chair’. She feels sad and embarrassed to be away from her friends and realises that she should not have hit John.
The next day exactly the same thing happens again right up to the point where John takes the bead. Zena puts up her hand (having learnt from the time out consequence) and tells Miss Bell. Miss Bell comes over and suggests to John that, because he had the last red bead yesterday, Zena has it today. Harmonious play ensues, Miss Bell showers praise on Zena and John and Zena never hits anyone again in her school career.
Lena is five years old. The rule in her school is that we keep hands, feet, objects and comments to ourselves. The consequence, if we break that rule, is that we spend five minutes on the ‘naughty chair’, facing the wall and away from our friends. One day Lena is sitting with her group threading beads. She has made a lovely blue and red pattern and needs one more red to finish. John reaches across her and takes the last red bead from the tray so she hits him on the arm. Miss Bell sees and puts Lena on the ‘naughty chair’. She sits calmly and watches the pattern of light flickering off a blind.
The next day exactly the same thing happens again. And the next.
Miss Bell and the other staff roll their eyes and start to get annoyed with the situation. They go to Mrs Carter, the Head Teacher, and tell her that ‘it just isn’t working’ with Lena and the consequences are having no effect at all. She is a bit busy but gives them an ABC sheet and asks them to fill it in. Each day for the next three days, they watch Lena and the group activity.
A = group activity.
B = Lena hits John.
C = Lena is put on naughty chair (BUT IT CLEARLY IS NOT WORKING!)
Mrs Carter has a look at the forms after three days because John’s mum has come in cross and asked about reports that he is getting bullied by Lena. Luckily, at this point she sees the problem.
She explains to her staff that the forms need to look more like this:
A = Group activity where Lena is sitting at a desk between John and Mary. John has a habit of sitting close to Lena and reaching across her personal space. Lena looks anxious when this happens.
B = Lena hits John.
C = Lena gets taken away to sit in a calm and quiet space where she feels less anxious.
Soon the staff acknowledge that, in group play, Lena needs a space either side of her and that she should not sit beside John.
Mrs Carter then decides to do some training with staff about ABC’s and challenging behaviour. She explains how, for most children with neurotypical development, school discipline systems such as assertive discipline with rules and consequences work really well. Like Pavlov’s dogs, children learn by having a (pleasant or unpleasant) consequence imposed. But not for all pupils. For some, we need to look much more closely at what is really going on and what the REAL consequence of a behaviour is. For some, hitting another person may provide a consequential adrenaline release for which it is worth risking any telling off. For another, time on the naughty seat is a perfect way of getting some calm time in a safe space.
Mrs Carter also does a similar session for parents and carers and a slightly different one again for the children in the school.
6 years later when in secondary school Lena can say that she gets upset by the smell of Zuper-Duper lavender washing powder. Guess which brand John’s mum used to use? By that stage, Lena has also received her diagnosis of autism.
Each child is unique. Each situation is unique. Time, space and support are needed so that we can see what is REALLY happening.
For more on ABCs and how consequences work look at : http://www.challengingbehaviour.org.uk/learning-disability-files/10_Challenging_Behaviour_Supporting_Change_2008.pdf
This links to another post I have written about inclusion and society: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/included-or-not/