For SLPs, Therapy Ideas

Top 10 Phrases I Use In Middle School for Behavior Management

A few weeks ago, I recorded a few of my sessions. I noticed that I said many of the same phrases over and over. After more thought, I decided to start writing down some of my most used phrases, especially ones related to behavior management.

They are below, with a short commentary on some examples of situations I might use the phrase in! I always love hearing phrases that other SLPs use in the speech room so I hope some of these are helpful!

1 – “Look at their face. They look _________ (e.g., annoyed). What can we change so that everyone is having fun?”

Do you ever have students that irritate other students in your groups? This is such a problem at the middle school level! Many of my students also have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, tone, and emotions in other students. This means that even when somebody looks outwardly frustrated, many of my students miss that cue and keep bothering them! Yikes! This is the verbal prompt I give most often to support my students in looking at their groupmate and fix their behavior. I frame it really positively and we use the opportunity to problem solve how everybody can have fun!

Some of my students who need these cues respond really well to the question, “Did you mean to make ____________ feel frustrated/uncomfortable?” My students often think they are making a joke and want their classmates to laugh, however their classmates are often left feeling annoyed, irritated, or uncomfortable. To summarize the situation, I might say something like, “”I bet you thought, “This is going to be funny!” but your friend was thinking, “This joke is weird. I want to get away!” I bet that isn’t what you wanted! No big deal.”” This takes the blame off the student and takes away the mean intention behind what they said or did. Other students hear this type of language and have gotten much more forward about saying what they’re thinking and feeling when another student makes them uncomfortable. Win-win!

2 – Hmm. I’m feeling a bit confused.

You guys… I say this approximately 1 million times a day. During 1 session that I recorded, I said this over 20 times! My students do some pretty darn unexpected things. Using the word “confused” allows my students to understand that what they did is outside accepted norms for the group they are part of without attaching lots of negativity to their actions. It also allows them to explain why they did what they did!

My favorite part of using this statement is that many times, it allows me to express that I don’t agree with what a student did in a really passive, calm way. I’ll often say this and move along without discussing the behavior further. It’s perfect for students who do lots of attention seeking behaviors.

Other similar things I say often are: “Well that’s confusing.”, “I’m really confused.”, and “I’m a bit confused about what you’re doing.”

3 – How can I help? How can I make this better?

This is one of my favorite phrases to use when a student is started to get frustrated. This kicks off some collaborative problem solving where my student and I work together to figure out exactly what is going wrong. SO many of my students can’t easily identify why they are mad, why they shouted at their friend, why they pushed somebody, why they ripped up their paper, etc… When asked why, most of my students say they “don’t know” or that it was because they “were mad”.

Asking a student how you can help slows them down for a moment to think of why they are mad and something they could do to help. Sometimes they’ll ask to be done with work and depending on the situation, I might agree or I might say they can be done for 10 minutes and then we’ll start back up again. It’s all about that compromise! 🙂

4 – “Let’s _____________ and then we will make a plan.”

Do you get asked over and over to do fun activities like games? This is almost always my response! For example, I might say, “Let’s finish this worksheet and then we will make a plan”. When they finish the worksheet, we will sit down and collaborate on what they want to do and how we might be able to incorporate it into speech, play it at the end of the session, or even in a future session. I use this phrase a lot while my students and I are walking to speech. I often get asked lots of “Can I”/”Can we/Are we” questions and I’ll simply say, “Let’s get to the room, read what I have planned for today, and then we will make a plan”.

Of note: If my students don’t stop asking about things like games, I simply tell them, “If we ask for it then we’re not doing it” to make it clear that it’s up to me when we play games or do any other preferred activity. My students learn quickly and help remind each other to NOT ask!

5 – I feel ya. I understand. I’ve been there.

A day in most of our students’ lives has got to be HARD. This is what I say when they feel an emotion I can relate to. When they get frustrated over a difficult problem, I can relate! When they feel excluded from a group of peers, I can relate! When they are exhausted and don’t want to work anymore, I understand! They love hearing that I get tired and cranky and frustrated too 🙂 Sometimes this answer is enough for them; they just want to be understood and heard!

6 – What could we do? What are our options/choices?

These questions take my students further along on the collaborative problem solving path. For student who can identify what is wrong or what they want to change, I challenge them to think of solutions! When they say they don’t want to come to speech today, I’ll tell them that they need to get their minutes in this week but that I can definitely be flexible! Then, I ask them to help me problem solve.

A few weeks ago, a 5th grade student and I had a power struggle that lasted almost 2 hours. I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong and he refused to look at me, speak to me, or move. #SoMuchAttitude After 2 hours, he said that he was never coming to speech again and that he had gotten upset because he had missed band because of speech! I assured him that I never meant to pull him from something like that. I asked him these questions to see what we could do to make sure he didn’t miss band again. I showed him my schedule and we worked together to come up with a “Plan B” in case band was ever during speech again. Guess what happened? After all of this, he decided that he liked his group the most and he’d continue coming on the same day at the same time, even if that meant missing band once and a while. Imagine that!

7 – Do you have a plan? What’s your plan?

Sometimes, at the middle school level especially, I deal with students who get up and LEAVE sessions abruptly. Or who grab things of mine they shouldn’t. This is always what I ask them. These questions are also useful when students grab something they seem distracted in any other way! “I see that you’re staring at whiteboard. Are you thinking of a plan?” As you can probably tell by many of the phrases I use, I’m all about my students identifying their own problems, solving their own problems, and coming up with a plan on their own! I’m just here to support them in learning how to do this 🙂

8 – (silence)

One of my favorite mottos is “Responding by saying nothing is better than responding in the wrong way.” Many of my students behaviors are attention seeking so many times, I don’t respond to give myself extra time to think about what I want to do and how I really should to respond. I think most SLPs could stand to do this more. But, it SURE can be hard to stay quiet sometimes for many of us… me included!

9 – Let’s take some time to calm down and then we’ll figure it out.

Too often, I get into problem solving mode when my students really just need 5-20 minutes to take a break and calm down first. Nobody is able to solve problems well when we’re super mad or frustrated about something. Our students need this time too. During this time, I try to place very few limits on my students. Sometimes they’ll sit in the hallway or rip up their paper or lay on the floor. I just let them! We will figure it out later! My students know they will be held responsible for any and all behavior, especially destructive behavior… I just refuse to talk about it until they are calm.

Of note, some students NEED to verbally debrief immediately when they’re upset… I think it’s to feel heard. If this is true for a student of yours, definitely don’t use this technique. Instead, I tell those students, “We can talk about it for 2 minutes. After that, I want us both to take a break for 10 minutes. If you still want to talk about it after that, I’d love to.”

10 – You rock.

Our students NEED to be encouraged and supported as much as possible. The biggest thing I do to reduce behavior in my speech room is to bond with my students. Our relationship is put above anything and everything. I tell them that they are amazing and smart and kind and hard-working and creative and impressive and awesome. And that they rock. Every.Single.Day.


Hope that helped give you some new phrases to try out this week! Stay strong (and positive)! You’re doing amazing things!

{thanks for reading}

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Shannon

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3 Comment

  1. Reply
    A. Read
    February 12, 2018 at 11:42 AM

    I plan on using these problem solving phrases with my middle school students!! Thank you!!

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      February 13, 2018 at 3:09 PM

      No problem! Glad they were helpful for you!

  2. Reply
    Christine Stang
    April 8, 2018 at 5:13 PM

    Well said Shannon!

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