Simple Behavior Management Strategies: When – Then 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Simple language can change behavior.

Getting a classroom of students or even one student to follow expectations is not an unfamiliar challenge. Every teacher must have a bag of behavior strategies to pull from. Never mind the stickers, the velcro charts, or the punch cards; a simple phrase can help communicate expectations to students. Say hello to the When-Then statement.

What is a When-Then Statement?

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

You give them expectations and tell them what you will do in return. This type of statement is intended to build trust and break 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 they don't receive the positive consequence.

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

When-Then Chart

What It Isn't

When-Then statements are different than saying if you don't stop this, this will happen. That is negative 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 positive consequences.
  • Let students behind the curtain so they know you are allowing them to make a positive choice.
  • Use We. It comes across as less threatening.

I worked with a teacher, let's call her Ginnie, who had the biggest heart and the worst classroom behavior management strategies. Very quickly into each year, multiple kids would be

Functional Spaces That Promote Positive Behavior

Individual Behavior Strategies

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

Defiance is an inevitable and generally not a welcomed part of a classroom. You are spending your day getting through your content, building community, and regularly demanding that students do

Classroom Strategies for Defiant Behavior

When-Then is an easy strategy to have in your back pocket when encouraging and creating a community of personal responsibility 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.

Helpful Resources

Individual Behavior Plans and Charts

Templates, guides, and charts to help you create engaging and effective behavior plans for students.

Calming Strategies Notebook

Calming Strategies Notebook

The calming strategies notebook helps students develop a personalized set of coping skills they can use to handle big feelings.

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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.

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  1. 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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