Have a Wonderful School Year

Well, the 2013-14  school year is upon us. Educators are starting back and the students will follow quickly.  Behavior Doctor Seminars hopes you have a wonderful year filled with tons of positive successes.  

Please write in this year and brag about your successes.  If you try a new technique, please share it so others can use your success to help a student in their school.  If you are having issues with a student please send in (non-identifying information) about the student and let us brainstorm as a whole group how to solve the issues we deal with on a daily basis.

During the month of August, I have trained bus drivers in Olathe, Kansas and educators in Dover, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Anne Arundel, Maryland; and Waukon, Iowa.  In many of these trainings, the attendees came in on their own time to sit all day and learn behavioral techniques.  I have met so many wonderful people who truly care about children and helping them be successful.  We have many golden apples in our profession and I am proud to say I work in this profession.  The rewards don’t show up in our bank accounts, but we seem to reap thousands of rewards of smiles, high fives, students who struggle and then succeed, and relationships that last a lifetime.

We at Behavior Doctor Seminars hope you have a wonderful 2013-14 school year and that all your students carry you in their hearts as they progress toward their future goals.  Happy New School Year.

Repost of Flip Charts and Why I Hate Them


Why I am Against the Use of Red, Yellow, and Green Flip Charts

I’m reposting this so I can put it on Pinterest. So many people are putting up pictures of flip charts under PBIS and no one from http://www.pbis.org has ever said, “This is part of PBIS”- so I would like to stop this train.

Against the Use of the Response Cost Strategy of the
Red, Yellow, and Green Flip Charts
Written by
Laura A. Riffel, Ph.D.
Many people ask me how I feel about the red, yellow, and green strips where children flip their card if they produce misbehaviors.  Typically, the set up is that all students start on green and every time they misbehave they have to flip their chart.  Most of the teachers interviewed have the students miss their recess if they get flipped to red.  Most of the time, the children who end up on flipping their card to red are the very children who NEED to go outside and run during recess.  The teacher does not realize they have caused their own pain in this case.
I personally am against the use of these charts for several reasons: 1) Public Display, 2) Defeatism and 3) Punishment redemption. 
Public Display
A public display of who is appropriate and who is not appropriate would be like posting grades in the hallway.  In my opinion it is a gross violation of privacy.  Any visitor to the room has instant access to private information. In my opinion it is a violation of FERPA.  You would not post an “F” paper on the wall, so why would you post “F” behavior?
Many children who are continually singled out as the “bad” student accept that role and provide supporting documentation to fulfill that role.  If I feel like a zero; I will behave as a zero.
Punishment and Redemption
The United States houses 5% of the world population and 25% of the world population of incarcerated.  If the threat of jail and loss of freedom does not stop 25% of the world population from engaging in criminal activities, then why do some teachers believe taking away recess will stop inappropriate behavior?  Response cost and punishment work for 75% of us, but for 25% of the world it doesn’t work.  Typically, the children whose behavior we wish to target for change are in the 25% so it is a futile attempt at changing their behavior. 
On numerous occasions, this researcher has been called into a school to assist with a child whose behaviors are impeding his or her learning or that of others.  When observations were completed, it was discovered the root of continued behavioral issues stemmed from the child’s perceived loss of a privilege and their negative reaction regarding that loss.  Three cases will be discussed:
1)     A sixth grade student who was basically known as public enemy number one in the school was engaging in many disruptive behaviors.  These behaviors became so disruptive the school called in a behavioral specialist.  After observing the student for a day and interviewing the staff, the behavior specialist interviewed the student.  When the student was asked why he engaged in these behaviors his response was this: “I’ve been a student at this school since Kindergarten.  When you enter Kindergarten here you know that the sixth graders get to go to the zoo on a class field trip in May.  I’ve been looking forward to that trip since I was in Kindergarten.  In October, I messed up and got in a fight with another student.  The principal told me that I didn’t get to go on the field trip in May now.  So, I figure what else do I have to lose?”  When adults take away the one thing kids have to look forward to like field trips and recess, they just gave the student permission to be as bad as they want to be.
2)     A third grade girl had been a model student since preschool.  Suddenly, her third grade teacher implemented the red, yellow, and green flip chart and was very stringent about behaviors earning yellow and red flips.  The girl daily had to flip her chart for the following behaviors: 1) not having her feet flat on the floor, 2) erasing too much, 3) not putting her name on her paper.  The mother reported having to take her daughter to the doctor for frequent vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.  In this case the child was a “good” child as reported by more than three years of previous teachers, and  became clinically stressed when unrealistic expectations were placed on her using a public display of her behavior.
3)     The third case involves a mother contacting me and bragging about the successful implementation of the flip chart for her son.  From August through April the student remained on green each day, thus the mother believing this was working for her child.  In April, the distraught mother called proclaiming “help” her son was on yellow three days in a row.  I asked her if she had asked him why he was on yellow, she replied no and told me she would call me back.  She called a few minutes later and said, “You are not going to believe what he said.”  I said, “Oh, I bet I have a good idea.”  She went on to tell me this, “He told me that he was tired of sitting and he figured out that if he had one behavior he could get up and walk around the room and yet still not miss out on recess so he was doing something to get himself to flip a card each day when he wanted to get up and walk around.”  Bingo, the child had figured out the system.
Same Results
The Porteus Maze Test was given to sixty children in the fourth grade (Porteus,1965).  The first series was given as a baseline, and the second series was administered under one of four different experimental conditions: control, response cost, positive reinforcement, or negative verbal feedback.
Response cost and positive reinforcement, but not negative verbal feedback, led to significant decreases in the number of all types of qualitative errors in relation to the control group. The reduction of non-targeted as well as targeted errors provides evidence for the generalized effects of both techniques equally.  If both work equally, then why employ the one with the potential for public display, defeatism, and punishment redemption?  Positive reinforcement is just as effective and produces less stress producing protocols for children. 
Decreased Critical Statements and Increased Praise Statements
Three behavior management strategies were investigated for efficacy as used in a Head Start classroom (Tiano, et.al, 2005). The three strategies included: (a) techniques currently used by the teacher, (b) response cost, and (c) the Level System (token economy). This study used an ABACA single subject withdrawal design with follow-up where all conditions were implemented until stability was reached. Classroom behavior was evaluated by both behavioral observation and teacher report. Children’s and teacher’s behavior were examined. No conclusions could be made concerning the efficacy (i.e., inappropriate behavior) of the techniques. However, Teachers used more labeled praise statements and lower critical statements during the Level System condition than all other conditions.  Shores, Gunter, Jack (1993) indicate we can improve behavior by 80% by pointing out what one student is doing correctly.
Overgeneralization of a Special Education Technique
With the exception of the Salend and Henry study (1981), research on response- cost systems has been limited to special education classrooms (Spencer, et. al., 1988). The red, yellow, and green flip chart system is a response cost system applied to a typically developing class of which there is limited research on its effectiveness. 
What does work?  Token economies work with most children and allow the educational staff to label appropriate behavior; which increases appropriate behavior (Shores, Gunter, & Jack, 1993; Horner & Sugai, 2005).  If a child exhibits behavior impeding their learning or that of others, the educational staff can then have a discussion with the child about the targeted behavior and have them earn extra tokens for the preferred payoff. In other words, if a child is working on a token economy and 5 tickets equals 15 minutes on the computer, a preferred activity, and then the child has a behavioral learning opportunity ( a misbehavior), the staff should use the following intervention:  “It’s a bummer that you chose to throw paper towels on the ceiling in the bathroom.  We have discussed how this is not respecting others and property and we have a plan for how we will conduct ourselves in the restroom the next time.  Due to this behavioral learning opportunity you will have the opportunity to earn six tickets instead of 5 to earn your computer time.  I believe behavior change can be effectively mastered when we up the ante requirement for inappropriate behavior rather than taking away a previously earned privilege such as recess or field trips. 

Bena, T. (1980).Response cost and impulsive word recognition errors in reading disabled and normal children. Unpublished honors thesis, University of Iowa.
Brent, D. E., & Routh, D. K. (1978). Response cost and impulsive word recognition errors in reading-disabled children.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 6, 211–219.
Burchard, J. D., & Barrera, F. (1972). An analysis of timeout and response cost in a programmed environment.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 5, 271–282.
Buss, A. H., Braden, W., Orgel, A., & Buss, E. H. (1956). Acquisition and extinction with different verbal reinforcement combinations.Journal of Experimental Psychology, 52, 288–295.
Buss, A. H., & Buss, E. H. (1956). The effect of verbal reinforcement combinations on conceptual learning.Journal of Experimental Psychology, 52, 283–287.
Docter, R. F., & Winder, C. L. (1954). Delinquent vs. nondelinquent performance on the Porteus Qualitative Maze Test.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 18, 71–73.
Errickson, E. A., Wyne, M. D., & Routh, D. K. (1973). A response-cost procedure for reduction of impulsive behavior of academically handicapped children.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 1, 350–357.
Fooks, G., & Thomas, R. R. (1957). Differential qualitative performance of delinquents on the Porteus Maze.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 21, 351–353.
Foulds, G. A. (1951). Temperamental differences in Maze performance.British Journal of Psychology, 42, 209–217.
Hollingshead, A. B. (1957).Two factor index of social position. Unpublished manuscript, 1965. Yale Station, New Haven, Connecticut.
Iwata, B. A., & Bailey, J. S. (1974). Reward versus cost token systems: An analysis of the effects on students and teacher.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7, 567–576.
Kaufman, K. F., & O”Leary, K. D. (1972). Reward, cost, and self-evaluation procedures for disruptive adolescents in a psychiatric hospital school.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 5, 293–309.
Levine, M., Leitenberg, H., & Richter, M. (1964). The blank trials law: The equivalence of positive reinforcement and nonreinforcement.Psychological Review, 71, 94–103.
Matson, J. L., & DiLorenzo, T. M. (1984).Punishment and its alternatives: A new perspective for behavior modification. New York: Springer.
Meichenbaum, D. H., & Goodman, J. (1971). Training impulsive children to talk to themselves: A means of developing self-control.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 77, 115–126.
Nelson, W. M., III, Finch, A. J., Jr., & Hooke, J. F. (1975). Effects of reinforcement and response-cost on cognitive style in emotionally disturbed boys.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 84, 426–428.
Palkes, H., Stewart, M., & Freedman, J. (1971). Improvement in Porteus Maze performance of hyperactive boys as a function of verbal-training procedures.Journal of Special Education, 5, 337–342.
Palkes, H., Stewart, M., & Kahana, B. (1968). Porteus Maze performance of hyperactive boys after training in self-directed verbal commands.Child Development, 39, 817–826.
Porteus, S. D. (1942).Qualitative performance in the Maze Test. Vineland, New Jersey: Smith.
Porteus, S. D. (1959).The Maze Test and clinical psychology. Palo Alto, California: Pacific Books.
Porteus, S. D. (1965). Porteus Maze Tests: Fifty years application. Palo Alto, California: Pacific Books.
Riddle, M., & Roberts, A. H. (1977). Delinquency, delay of gratification, recidivism, and the Porteus Maze Tests. Psychological Bulletin, 84, 417–425.
Salend, S. J., & Henry, K. (1981). Response cost in mainstream settings.Journal of School Psychology, 19, 242-249.
Spencer J. , Salend, L., and Balber, H. (1988). Effects of a Student-Managed Response-Cost System on the Behavior of Two Mainstreamed Students, The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 89, 89-97,     
Sanderson, M. (1945). Performance of fifth, eighth, and eleventh grade children in the Porteus Maze Qualitative Maze Tests.Journal of Genetic Psychology, 67, 57–65.
Schalling, D., & Rosen, A. S. (1968). Porteus Maze differences between psychopathic and nonpsychopathic criminals.British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 7, 224–228.

Shores, R.E., Gunter, P.L., & Jack, S.L. (1993), Classroom management strategies: Are they setting events for coercion?, Behavioral Disorders, Vol. 18 pp.92 – 102. 

Sutker, P. B., Moan, C. E., & Swanson, W. C. (1972). Porteus Maze Test qualitative performance in pure sociopaths, prison normals and antisocial psychotics.Journal of Clinical Psychology, 28, 349–353.
Tiano, J.D., Fortson, B.L., McNeil, C.B., & Humphreys, L.A. (2005). Managing classroom behavior of Head Start children using response cost and token economy procedures. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention, 2(1), 28-39.
Weiner, H. (1962). Some effects of response cost upon human operant behavior.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 5, 201–208.
Weiner, H. (1963). Response cost and the aversive control of human operant behavior.Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 6, 415–421.
Wright, C. (1944). The qualitative performance of delinquent boys on the Porteus Maze Test.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 8, 24–26.


I had to wait awhile to post this article so the school district I’m talking about doesn’t know I’m talking about them. I guess I shouldn’t care if they know, but I do care about people’s feelings. I was presenting a small group of educators and most were from rural areas.  They said they didn’t like some of the rewards (which by the way, are all attention based) I spoke of because their kids were so disrespectful. I made the assumption the kids were middle school, but they informed me they were grade school.  I told them they didn’t have to do every single thing in my presentation, it was just ideas.  I could tell they weren’t really listening to anything I said because they just wanted to focus on what they thought was wrong with their “kids”.  

Here’s the real problem.  They talked the whole time I was talking.  They were disrespectful to a speaker who was brought in to give them ideas.  If they are disrespectful to an adult, I know they are disrespectful to children.  I see this all the time as a presenter. Adults talk through my presentation, it is always just a few; but the few that do, are always the ones that raise their hand and ask me what to do with disrespectful kids.

YOU get what you give.  If you are respectful to children, they will mirror that respect back to you.  If you model disrespect, then that is what comes bouncing back to you. It’s like the PBIS schools I work with, when they first start the teachers are walking down the hallways pointing out inappropriate behavior.  After the training, the teachers walk down the hallway giving positive behavior specific praise. Prior to PBIS, all the adults see is inappropriate behavior. After PBIS, the main thing adults see is appropriate behavior.  Energy flows where attention goes.  

I have ten rules about behavior and the most important one is, YOUR reaction determines whether a behavior will occur again.  I don’t think the team I was training that day “got” the message….but then I don’t think they wanted to “get” the message.  I think they would rather sit around and admire the problem for awhile.  

I know this sounds negative, but it’s really not meant to be.  For the most part, the schools I work with have figured it out.  It makes such a difference in the feeling of the school.  It makes such a difference in your family, in your relationships.  Focus on the positive and that is what you will see.  Focus on the negative and that is what you will see.  We get what we give.  Help those in your situation turn their thinking around to think positive thoughts. :)  Happy Summer

Stealing and Lying

I received this letter this week and it is so similar to others  I have received I thought I’d post it here:

Dear Dr. Riffel,
I have a third grade SLD student that I have worked with for several years that has just recently begun to steal and lie.  She has stolen a teacher’s cellphone which she told an elaborate lie about how it got in her backpack.  A week later, a classmate’s coat and purse went missing.  A day after that she took another girl’s backpack.  She told a huge lie about a boy stealing the items for his sister (he has no siblings) and that she went to his house to retreive the items.  Even after I got her to admit that she had taken the items and had lied about it, she went right back to blaming the boy.  

I am very concerned about these new behaviors and need some advice on how to deal with them.  I thought about telling some social stories her property being taken and how she would feel.  Any suggestions?

Here’s my response:

Dear Perplexed,

I worked with a third grader this year with the same issue- also SLD.  We got him a clear backpack which probably wasn’t necessary- but thought it erased any doubt.  This kid would even stuff things in his underpants.  We did a social story through video self-modeling and found something he wanted very badly- he loved pictures of animals off the Internet (that was his thing).  The teacher laid one out on her desk every morning so he could see it.  At the end of the day, they would privately go check his backpack and if nothing was in there that wasn’t his, he got to take the picture home.  We don’t know why he was so motivated by the picture- but it worked the rest of the year.
For your young lady- I’d start with video self-modeling about not taking things that aren’t yours.  Does she bring anything to school that she really loves?  We had another child that found a toy lying on the floor that belonged to another student. He took it and said, “Finders keepers – losers weepers”.  The teacher was addressing the class (these were third or fourth graders) about not taking things and not leaving things laying around.  One of the other kids in the class raised his hand and said, “Yeah, Kenny (the boy who stole the toy), you love your I-Pad (he brought it to school and used it – special education) and you are always on it. What if you laid it down on the bench while you went to the restroom and Billy (kid whose toy he stole) came by saw it and said, “Losers weepers-Finders keepers”.  How would you feel?”  Kenny got up and gave the toy back to Billy.  When the teacher talked to him privately he said, “I never thought about it that way.”- so if she has something she dearly loves, ask how she’d feel if someone took that.
I’d make your video story about this little girl being the heroine – have her act it out.  She finds something where it should not be and she returns it to its rightful owner.  She sees things laying out, but she knows she is not suppose to take them- so she leaves them where they are.  At the end of the video show her in a hero cape looking like Wonderwoman or some other hero figure.
Then you could use the student/teacher rating sheet http://behaviordoctor.org/files/tools/0809studentteacherratingscale.doc  and use the following as your criteria:
1) taking home only my own things
2) telling the truth
3) keeping my area neat and tidy
I always put in one I know they can do so they get the points for at least one behavior each period of the day.
The other thing is to figure out why she’s doing it:
  • Is she doing it for attention or is she doing it to gain access to the item?
Let me know what you think of the video self-modeling social story and the student teacher rating sheet.  Thanks for writing,

What Are We Teaching Them?

The other day I was doing a school-wide universal team training.  During one point in the training, the task was to determine what is an instant trip to the office and what should teachers take care of in the classroom.  In universal training, it is a very important point.  Discipline has to be consistent from class to class throughout the school.  If it’s not okay to chew gum in classroom “B”, then it has to be not okay to chew gum in classroom “C”.  

It’s my least favorite part of the two day training because someone always gets their feelings hurt and storms out of the room.  It usually occurs because one teacher is adamant that a particular behavior should be an office offense and the rest of the staff disagree.  Whatever the behavior happens to be is a trigger for that particular teacher.  In other words, these teachers are invested in having a power struggle with the student proving the teacher has “ultimate power” in the classroom.

In my most recent training, a middle school team asked me “What do you do about these kids who come to class without their books?”  Mind you, this is after I told this story:

“I was doing a training with 500 people in the room.  A high school teacher stood up in the back and said, “What do you do about these kids who come to school without a pencil?”  I could tell from the look on everyone’s face that this was the woman who always asked questions like that.  There is typically one person in each crowd who likes to try to trip up the speaker and put them on the spot.  I like having “fun” with these people.  I said to her, “What do you do with students who come to your class without a pencil?”  She replied, “I send them to the office.”  I asked her what happened to them when she did that?  She replied, “Well, the principal gives them a good talking to and then sends them back to class with a pencil.”  I asked her how long they were gone and if this happened with the same kids each day.  She answered that the students were gone for approximately 20 minutes and yes, it was typically the same kids each day.  She then pressed me, “What do you do about those kids?”

I said, “Well, when I taught I kept a can of pencils in my classroom and when a kid said they didn’t have a pencil, I smiled at them and said, “You know, I tried that when I was in school. It didn’t work for me and it’s not working for you.  Here have one of mine.”  I then asked her if she could do that.  She replied “No.”  

I thought, well, maybe she doesn’t have the money or want to spend her own money on pencils so I told her I had previously asked parents to send in a package of pencils.  I asked her if that would work for her.  She replied “No.”

I thought, well, maybe she works in a very low socio-economic area so the parents couldn’t afford pencils.  I said, “Well, I’ve paid kids with little prizes for bringing me pencils in the hallway.  How would that work for you?”  She said, “I can’t do that.”

I thought, oh maybe she is afraid she won’t get the pencil back when she loans it to them so I said, “Some teachers hold the student’s shoe hostage until they get the pencil back.  How would that work for you?”  She said, “I can’t do that.”

Finally, I was ready to reel her in.  I said, “Why can’t you do that?”  She said, “That would be feeding their addiction.”  I said, “Are they eating the pencils?”  She said, “No, their addiction to not being prepared.”  I said, “They are addicted to getting out of class and you  are feeding that addiction every day.  I’m surprised your whole class hasn’t caught on and come to class without a pencil.”  

She didn’t like my answer, so she left the training thinking I was the worst presenter ever.  She was caught up in the philosophy of: “Those kids should just come to school and be good.  I shouldn’t have to do anything extra.”  As a famouse television doctor would say, “How’s that working for you?”  

Back to the ladies now asking me what to do with kids who come to class without their books- I told them basically the same thing. “Keep the books in the classroom.”  They said, “Well, what is that teaching them?”  

Here’s my answer:

“It’s teaching them that learning is more important to me than any little trick you can pull.  Teaching you is more important than getting into a coersive cycle with you.  I’m smarter than that.”  

Besides, have you never forgotten anything in your life?  I can’t tell you how many times I have been running a training and I’ve had people forget to bring their data, give me a million excuses for why they couldn’t collect the data, forget to bring their computer or forget to bring anything else that was important to the training.  I do not send them home, they have to use my data and analyze that. My hope is the next time they will remember to bring their own data so it’s meaningful to them.  However, they still learn the main objectives of the lesson using my data and I didn’t let them out of the work I was requiring.

For all the other behaviors that teachers want to send kids to the office for I say this:

I’ve had adults bring in cell phones and forget to turn them off, play games that make noise, and have full conversations in the middle of a training.  Did I send them outside?  No, I used proximity and secret signals to let them know it was not allowed.  

I think we have to get over the idea that we are “teaching kids to be responsible” by sending them to the office when they forget something.  We aren’t teaching them to be responsible if they keep forgetting their items day after day.  We are teaching them it is a sure fire way to get out of class and we are ensuring their decline in education.  Any time out of class is lost learning time.  We have to use proactive strategies to keep all the kids in class and all the kids learning.

If kids are being sent to the office because of disruptions, frequently the teachers will say to me, “Well, I have 20 other kids to teach.  I have to get rid of the ones that aren’t letting me teach.”  The answer is still “NO”.  You have to figure out why the kids are disrupting.  Are they bored?  I know no one wants to admit their class is boring, but the truth is, some of the classes I sit in to observe student behavior- I’m so bored I can barely contain myself and I’m only there for a short time.  I can’t imagine having to sit in that class day after day.  We need to be more proactive.  Put antecedent modifications in place so targeted behaviors disappear.  The truth is, our class should be so exciting that kids can’t wait to come in the door because they know they are going to learn something new and exciting.  We should use group contingency-group reward strategies to help the kids behave and work together.

I think we need to help kids “UNLEARN” what others have taught them.  There is no way possible you are getting out of this class and the work that is required.  If we do that, there will be less disruptions in the class. I taught for over 30 years and I only took one student to the office the entire time I taught.  I taught on a military base and so we had a lot of kids who were new.  On the first day of school, I had recess duty.  A boy who was not in my class, threw a rock and hit a little girl.  The little girl needed stitches.  The boy would not tell me his name, nor his teacher’s name.  On the way in with my class, I dropped him off in the office and told the principal it was his fault the little girl was needing stitches.  I said, “He won’t tell me his name, nor his teacher.  I have to take my kids back to the room, so I’m dropping him off with you.”  That is the only child ever sent to the principal by me.

It’s not that I didn’t have discipline problems, but I dealt with them because I didn’t ever want to admit to a child that their behavior was so bad- I couldn’t handle it.  I figured out why they were doing what they were doing and put proactive measures in place so they didn’t need to have the behavior. I taught them learning is the most important thing that happens in this room and there is nothing you can do that will let anyone be denied that privilege.

Jesse Lawrence Turnbull

It’s coming up on the anniversary of Jay’s passing.  January 7, 2009 started off like any other day.  My husband went in to Jay’s bedroom to help him pick out his clothes for work and ask him what he wanted for breakfast.  Jesse Lawrence Turnbull, better known as Jay was starting his day in an ordinary way.  For those of you who haven’t read my other blogs, Jay was an amazing adult with autism, bi-polar condition, intellectual disabilities and obsessive compulsive disorder.  He lived with our family for a decade and we loved him like a son and brother.

Jay told Tom which outfit he wanted to wear for the day and then ordered waffles for breakfast.  Tom told him to get up pretty soon and get in the bathroom.  Tom went out to fix his waffles.  Five minutes later, Jay was found in the bathroom and we lost him to a sudden heart attack.  He was 41 years old.  It was a huge loss for our family, for his family and for the almost 700 friends of his who came to his funeral.  Yes, 700 friends.  You see Jay touched so many lives.

As I reflect on the anniversary of his death, I celebrate his life.  My reason for writing this blog post today is ask you this question: “Do the children you work with, live enviable lives?”  “Do they live a life filled with exciting things to do, things to look forward to, and positive connections to people who care deeply about them?”

Or, is their day filled with monotonouos activities that have no real value?  No matter our abilities, we all want to feel like what we are doing matters for something- that we are helping someone else.  I think that is the greatest gift anyone can give someone else.  Our job as educators and parents is to help children figure out what their strengths are and then help them figure out how to use their strengths to help others.  Jay wanted nothing less.  Jay lived a life of dignity.  He worked four hours a day at the University of Kansas.  He was a mailman.  He posted outgoing the mail and metered the postage and then delivered the incoming mail.  He had friends in every floor he visited and little rituals that he did with each person.  He never forgot a name or something specific about them.  He knew to ask about kids, cars, meals etc.  He had been taught by many people – especially his parents – how to be social with others.   He had a wiggle in his step as he rolled his little cart down the glass hallway from one building to another.

So my question to you is this- “Can you help put a wiggle in the step of the children you are responsible for with disabilities?”  Make it fun.  Life should be fun because as we all learn, life can be short.  Here’s hoping you are having fun as a teacher, parent, educator, administrator and you are making it fun for the kids you have in your care.

Teachers Love Their Students

I’d like to write a personal comment about the commitment of classroom teachers.  It seems there is a lot of bad press about teachers and I’d just like to set the record straight.  Yes, there are some lackluster teachers- but here’s what I know:

I’ve been answering emails about behavioral issues since 2000.  Every single year since then, I have received an email on Christmas day from a classroom teacher.  It always starts out the same:

“I know it’s Christmas day and you are probably celebrating, but I have this child that I just can’t get out of mind.  Can you help?  Here are the things I’ve tried and here’s what’s happened when I tried that.  What do you think I can do to help when the child comes back from winter break.”

The behaviors are always different- sometimes it’s a boy, sometimes a girl.  But it never fails that I receive an email from an educator on Christmas day.  This year, I went to bed thinking that I had not received an email on Christmas day.  I got up the next morning and there was an email in my in-box – it had come in around 11 p.m. the night before- on Christmas night.

When I hear teachers talk about their class, they say “my kids”.  They take the children home with them in their heads.  They lose sleep worrying about their kids.  They spend their winter breaks worrying about them.  

I just had to send a positive thought wave out to all the teachers and anyone who ever thought they did not care- because I know they do.  I average 250 emails a day, the majority of my emails are teachers writing asking behavioral questions because they want to do the best they can for the students in their class.

I taught for over 30 years.  Many times at Christmas, my gift was an ornament. As I hang the ornaments on the Christmas tree each year, I remember which student gave me each ornament.  I love remembering their sweet faces and thinking about what they are doing as adults.  I’m friends with a few of them on Facebook- now that they are adults.  It gives me so much pleasure to see the pictures of their children, their weddings, their promotions and their commitment to their jobs.

I promise you there are more teachers like the one that emailed me at 11 p.m. on Christmas night, than there are the negative ones we hear about in the media.  We heard stories of bravery and love from Sandy Hook and I know in my heart that the majority of teachers in the world are just as brave and just as dedicated to your children.

When school starts back up in a few days, if you are a parent, write a letter to your child’s teacher and tell them you appreciate what they do.  Give behavior specific praise.  Don’t just say “Good Job.”  Tell them specifically what you like about their teaching.  The more you praise a teacher, the more he or she will feel appreciated. If you feel like it- give them a hug.

Merry Christmas from Behavior Doctor Seminars




Dear Friends,




My husband and I had the extreme honor of being housemates to Jesse Lawrence Turnbull, better known as Jay or JT.  Jay was the most endearing person we have ever known.  He was like a son, brother to our children, and a friend.  Jay happened to have autism, bi-polar condition, obsessive compulsive disorder and intellectual disabilities.  That did not stop Jay from living a very dignified life.  He worked at the University as a mail clerk, metering and delivering mail to two floors of special education professors. He went out with friends and enjoyed movies, bowling, eating out, and dancing. He loved music.  Every night of the week there was music on in our home.




Jay received a salary from the university where he worked, but his concept of money did not let him appreciate the hundreds of dollars.  Instead, Jay earned eight $1 bills each day at the end of his shift to reward him for a job well done.  This was money given to his job coach from his salary. She would give him eight dollars and Jay proudly put those eight dollars in his billfold each afternoon and used the money to purchase a soda pop during his break and to spend at night when going out with friends.  This money meant the world to him.




Jay went everywhere we went.  He was used to seeing my husband open up his wallet and get out a dollar or two for the Salvation Army kettle during the Christmas season.  We always let Jay put the money in and told him it was to help the poor.  In December of 2008, it was extremely icy.  Jay’s job coach took him to the local grocery store and because it was icy she dropped him off at the door and told him to wait while she parked the car.  Jay was not always steady on his feet especially on icy surfaces.




As his job coach was walking toward the door, she saw Jay open up his wallet and take out all eight of his dollar bills and put them into the Salvation Army kettle.  Those eight dollars were equal to a hundred dollars to him.  It meant not having a soda pop during break or having money to go out to dinner with friends. He knew the money went to help others and his heart wanted to share.




We didn’t know it, but Christmas 2008 was to be Jay’s last Christmas on Earth.  Jay had a massive heart attack and passed away January 7, 2009.  He was 41 years old. We miss him every single day.  He didn’t know what it was to hate (except asparagus).  He never judged anyone and accepted everyone for who they were.




I ask you in Jay’s honor to think about dropping eight one dollar bills into the Salvation Army Kettle this Christmas if you can afford it.  I dropped mine in this morning and sent a kiss up to Heaven.




Wishing you all the peace of the season; whatever holiday you are celebrating, think about sharing your heart with “Random Acts of Christmas Kindness” (RACK up this season).




Laura Riffel


Holiday Shopping

If you need to take your children with you while you do holiday shopping here are some tips to help you:


Ten Tips For Holiday Shopping with Young Children:

1.  Role play before you go about asking for things.  Remind them that whining, begging, crying will earn them a trip home and will end the fun.

2.  Give them something to look forward to.  When we get home, we will make homemade cookies or have hot chocolate with marshmallows.

3.  Give them a pad and pencil and have them write down everything they see that they want for Christmas.  Tell them you will mail this letter to Santa or keep it for your planning.  Young children can draw pictures and you write down what they want.

4.  Make sure your children are: a) well rested, b) hydrated, and c) well fed.  This will keep them from asking for food at the mall or discount store.

5.  If you can afford it, have them look for a gift to donate to a charity.  Philanthropy really helps with the “gimme, gimme” syndrome.

6.  For older children have them look online or in a catalog for a toy they want.  Then have them write down the prices of that toy in varous stores so they understand the value of budgeting and looking for the best deal.

7.  Have a plan in case you become separated from your child.  Practice it and for very young children, give them a business card with your cell phone number on it.  Teach them that if they get lost to find an adult and hand the card to the adult.  Tell them to look for an adult that works in a store- not a random stranger.  For older children, have a set meeting spot.

8.  Talk to your children about a budget.  Tell them you have “X” amount of dollars to spend and you are shopping specifically for _______________.  Have them help you find what you are looking for while you are at the mall.  Give your child a picture of what you are looking for and have them carry it.  You can then ask them with each thing you look at, “Does this look like the picture?”  This way your child will feel they are helping you and it will keep them occupied.

9.  Compliment your child 5 times more than you correct them.  Point out all the things they are doing correctly.  “I like the way you are holding my hand.”  “I like the way you are staying right beside me.”  “I like the way you have not asked for anything.”  Remind them about the payoff of number 2 for good behavior at the mall.

10.  Do good deeds while you are shopping.  Pick up things that have fallen on the floor and put them back on the rack.  Straighten things that others have messed up.  Tell your child that it is always a good thing to do good deeds for others.  This teaches your child responsibility and charity for others.  During the Holiday season the clerks typically have to stay for an hour or more cleaning up the messes left behind by shoppers.  You will be teaching your child a valuable lesson on being considerate of others.

Bonus- Smile at people and teach your child to smile at people.  Goodness spreads.

*Photo from http://www.animationfactory.com-