Simple Behavior Management Strategies: When – Then 

By: Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min

Getting a classroom of students and or even one student to follow expectations is not an unfamiliar challenge. It is necessary for every teacher to have a bag of behavior strategies to pull from. Nevermind the stickers, the velcro charts, or the punch cards, a simple phrase can help clearly communicate expectations to students. Say hello to the When-Then statement.

What is a When-Then Statement?

A When-Then statement communicates to students a positive expectation and the positive consequence that will happen after students meet that expectation. 

You give them an expectation and are telling them what you will do in return. This type of statement is intended to build trust and break down expectations into smaller chunks. 

The When-Then statement also leaves room for student choice and should be considered somewhat negotiable. Students can choose not to, but then they don't receive the positive consequence.

When you [positive behavior], then you can [positive reward/consequence].

When-Then Chart

What It Isn't

When-Then statments are different than saying if you don't stop this, this will happen. That is negative and and likely will cause some students to dig in. This behavior strategy is not intended to give a non-negotiable directive. 

Careful to avoid this construction: When you [negative behavior], then [negative consequence] will happen.

How to Use When-Then Statements 

Classroom Behavior Strategies

  • Keep your tone calm and confident.
  • Make sure your expectations are realistic.
  • Keep the vocabulary age-appropriate and check for understanding with students.
  • Make sure to follow-through with the positive consequence.
  • Let students behind the curtain so they know you are allowing them to make a positive choice.
  • Use We. It comes across less threatening.

Individual Behavior Strategies

  • Understand the reason behind the behavior first so you can construct a good when-then statement.
  • Consider If-Then statements when the choices are less negotiable.

Getting Started

When-Then is an easy strategy to have in your back pocket when encouraging and creating a community of personal responsibilty and mutual trust. Remember the rules of simple language, attainable choices, and follow-through while keeping things positive.

Download a When-Then Chart to get started.

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behavior strategy: when-then statement
I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.
  • It’s a great strategy. We use it in kindergarten, helping children form basic ideas about interacting with others. I can’t think of a better way. And it’s really worth avoiding negative examples, they can be misunderstood by children at this age.

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