What to do when your interventions aren’t working

What to do when your interventions aren’t working

A recent post from a school counselor went something like this, ” I’m feeling discouraged and defeated. So often I work with students on behavior issues, especially aggression, and we really connect, have a great session and they go back into the classroom and immediately repeat the negative behavior we just worked on. Help!”

Can you related? We’ve all been there.

I remember doing an anger control group with students during my internship and on the way back to class they got in a FIGHT and sent to the office. Not good…

When you’ve given it you best shot and feel that the strategies you’ve tried aren’t working, here are some suggestions:

  • Ask the teacher what they’ve tried and how it worked: This is a great starting place especially if it is a teacher referral. You don’t want to suggest things that have already been tried and failed (although sometimes they are still good ideas that just haven’t had enough time to work).
  • Ask the student what the problem is: Just as you spend time with the teacher identifying the problem, I think it’s a good idea to get the student’s perspective. Do they see it as a problem? Why or why not? Assuming they agree that it is a problem, ask them what they have tried to correct the problem. It’s also a good idea to ask about any interventions that the teacher has tried and why they haven’t worked.
  • Use role play whenever possible: Practice makes permanent and just talking about a behavior problem and even understanding what to do is entirely different than acting on the the information. Find a way to act out the different situations that the student may face so they can practice the new behaviors.
  • Consider everything that happens after the session to be research and development instead of THE Final Answer to the Problem.  When things don’t go well, I ‘d ask the student, What happened? Why didn’t it work out? What could you do differently?  Then you can proceed to tweak the intervention to better fit the situation and hopefully make it more successful.
  • End every  sessions with the question: What could go wrong? Followed by, And how will you handle that based on what we’ve just talked about?

In this microwave world, many times we all think that behavior is something we ought to be able to change in one or two sessions, especially if the student seems cooperative and engaged. Unfortunately this is not only unrealistic but also an assumption that others make as well. In comparison, do teachers expect to teach one lesson on addition and when they are finished every student in the class will not only have learned the concept but never make an addition mistake again? Ever? Of course not, but somehow we think learning new behavior techniques is easier. Just as some students will need many more lessons on addition, so lots of students need many more lessons on positive behavior before they know how to implement the strategies in every situation, not just sitting in our office.

Finally, I think that we must be careful not to judge ourselves and our abilities based the student implementing our strategies. Ultimately we are the guide, not the hero in the story. It is up to the student to accept the challenge, take the responsibility to change, and reap the benefits of better choices. You are making a difference. Measure the gain not the just the accomplishment of the goal.

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