Use "Priming" to Decrease Problem Behavior

Does your student or child struggle with change? If their routine is broken or they are in an unfamiliar situation are they more likely to engage in tantrum behavior?


Many young children, especially young children with special needs struggle with change. For some children it may be a result of a difference in their brain, others it may be a result of their disability, for young children in general it is often a lack of understanding the situation and not having the skills to be able to express how they are feeling or ask the right questions to gain clarification. For any of these cases you can try to use a strategy called priming.


Priming is when you let the child know ahead of time when something is or is not going to happen. This is done before the potentially challenging situation to prevent the inappropriate behavior from occurring. Here are a few examples:


On rainy days I would tell my students and show them with a visual on our whole class visual schedule that we were not going to have recess because of the rain. This would usually result in no inappropriate behavior when it came time for recess. But if on a rainy day I would forget to review the changes I would always have at least one student who would cry, scream, throw himself on the floor, etc. when it was time for recess and he couldn't go outside. It is amazing at how one simple thing such as letting the child know before recess time that it was raining and we couldn't go outside would have such an impact on my little learners.


If I am watching my favorite tv show and my husband turns off the tv right in the middle of my show without warning me I am likely to engage in a mini tantrum myself. In a situation like this you are likely going to see a change in my body language and tone of voice. But if my husband were to tell me before he was going to turn it off and why the likelihood I am going to have a "tantrum" is much less.


A few tips when using priming:

  • Try using a visual to show the changes or expectations. This may help clarify what is expected of the child and help them understand what is going to happen.

  • You may still need to teach the child how to cope with change.

  • Let the child know what is going to happen and how you expect them to act.

  • Allow opportunities for the child to practice the expected behavior prior to the situation.

Priming is a powerful tool that can be used at school or at home. How do you use priming with your students or children?


Until next time!

Educating Early


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