Reducing behavioural problems in children
“Too often people resort to punishment when working with children with serious behavioural problems, despite the fact that such methods give limited and sometimes even negative results,” says Anna Lind Pétursdóttir, Associate Professor at the School of Education. She is currently researching the effects of functional assessment and individually designed support plans on study habits and disruptive or aggressive behaviour in students with long term behavioural difficulties.
“In functional assessment it is reviewed which factors influence behaviour and why an individual shows undesirable behaviour. The individually designed support plan is a multifaceted intervention tool assembled to address the purpose of difficult behaviour. This is done to prevent such behaviour; to teach appropriate behaviour instead of the difficult one and to reinforce it systematically, as well as giving up reinforcing the inappropriate one,” says Pétursdóttir.
According to Pétursdóttir, two to three students on average in each class show such undesirable behaviour and such behavioural problems are a leading concern for teachers. “Behavioural problems often start early in life, and prospects are very bleak without successful intervention. Functional assessment and individually designed support plans have given good results in reducing behavioural and emotional problems in children; in fact better results than other methods,” says Pétursdóttir.
Changes were measured before and after the assessment and plan by collecting a number of direct observations, according to Pétursdóttir. Graduate students in educational science observed students in primary schools and kindergartens in different parts of Iceland; their work forming part of a project in the elective course Students with behavioural and emotional problems: reactions and resources in the educational community. The observations were conducted in the spring terms of 2009 and 2010 and the idea is to continue in the spring of 2011. The students were trained in performing a functional assessments and to design individual plans. Then they went into the field, used the methods in conjunction with staff and then collected the results for the student they worked with. Pétursdóttir then gathered the data and processed it.
Pétursdóttir hopes that the results of the study will increase the likelihood of functional assessments and individual plans being used to improve behaviour and study habits among the students with the most serious difficulties.