10 Tips for Encouraging Positive Student Behavior

Teacher walking and talking with teen student in school hallway

Teaching is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs, and the past few years have only amplified that. To encourage positive behavior in the youth you are working with, try these tips from our mental health experts. And, above all else, be patient and kind to your students and yourself. You are all trying your best.

Providing structure to the day helps us all feel more at ease because we know what to expect. The routines can be as simple as scheduling regular classroom meetings, mindfulness activities or water breaks. Try to be flexible when routines get interrupted, getting back on track when you can. Tomorrow is a new day.

Taking time to have fun can serve as a welcome distraction and relieve stress. Make time for games, fun and engaging activities, and laughter. Not only will this help your students relax and build relationships with one another, it can help prevent challenging behavior from occurring.

Kids benefit from clear and consistent limits and boundaries. Help avoid confusion and future limit-testing behavior by being clear on the front end about classroom rules and expectations.

Not being active, not getting enough rest or down time, and eating poorly can lead to moody, distracted kids. On the flip side, getting the activity, rest and nutrients they need helps kids feel more emotionally balanced and focused.

Support your students in developing healthy habits:

  • Rest: Incorporate frequent breaks throughout the day and encourage students to get adequate rest at night.
    • Take a few minutes to practice deep breathing together.
    • Build in quiet time for students to read, draw, listen to music or play independently.
    • Encourage students to recharge their bodies and minds with a good night’s sleep.
  • Nutrition: Support students in making healthy food choices.
    • Encourage students to have healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, including a variety of colorful veggies and fruits.
    • Reward students with attention, not food. Rewarding with treats may seem to work in the moment, but it can lead to more behavior challenges down the road.
    • Take regular water breaks and encourage your students to drink water instead of sugary drinks, such as soda, juice and sports drinks.
  • Physical activity: Sitting still for too long can result in boredom, disengagement and disruptive behaviors, whereas movement counters drowsiness, boosts energy, and improves focus and learning.
    • Build physical activity breaks into the day to proactively meeting your students’ needs.
    • Invite students to do jumping jacks, walk or jog in place or dance.
    • Ask students to stand up, or even stand on one foot, when they are answering a question or reading.

We all need to practice healthy strategies for managing feelings and coping with stress. Coping is not something we are born knowing how to do, it’s something we learn how to do with practice.

It’s difficult for anyone to learn something new when they’re upset, tired or distracted. Be sure to teach and practice new coping skills when everyone is calm instead of in the heat of the moment.

  • Begin class by having everyone take several slow, deep breaths.
  • Have everyone get up and stretch when students start losing focus.
  • Play music to either bring the energy down or boost it up. 
  • Give everyone opportunities for creative expression through writing, drawing, etc. 

When we are struggling to express ourselves with words, we tend to show others how we feel with our behavior.

Help acknowledge your students’ feelings by:

It’s natural at times to catch yourself thinking “this child is difficult” or “this student is bad,” but kids are human. Be realistic with your expectations and accept that kids will make mistakes—especially during times of uncertainty and stress. Try to focus on helping your students fix the behavior by telling them what they can do, instead of blaming them or thinking something is wrong with them.

Show kids that good behavior is the best way to get your attention. When your students do something good, give specific praise right away. Kids are more likely to repeat a good behavior when they receive positive attention for it. We are all more likely to repeat a behavior when someone praises us for it, so don’t hesitate to speak up and share your appreciation and gratitude for what someone else is doing.

Ideally, we want to be consistent with our responses; unfortunately, that’s not always possible when things are changing day to day. If you can go into each day knowing that it’s not going to be perfect, and that you may need to be flexible, things should naturally go smoother. When your focus is on maintaining strong, healthy relationships with your students, everyone wins—even if the day or task doesn’t go exactly to plan.

Don’t underestimate the power of your influence. Your students learn by watching you, and they are paying attention to how you are navigating this challenging time. If your kids see you taking care of yourself and choosing your battles, they will learn to do the same.