You’ve done it – you’ve successfully completed last year’s requirements, lazily basked in the sun all summer, and returned to school ready to take on the new year. Your pencils are sharpened, your files are color-coded, and your outfit is picked out. You’re eager to meet your students and begin therapy, never stopping to consider developing a behavior management plan, because why would you? Your students will be angels, of course! Many of us attend graduate school lectures, frantically taking notes and absorbing information in an attempt to learn as much as we can about cognition, language development, and articulation strategies. We want to be the best therapists we can be, but much too often we are sidelined by behavior difficulties that arise during our therapy sessions. Where was this topic covered in graduate school? You’re not crazy – it wasn’t. Negative behavior during therapy sessions can be contagious and destructive, undermining our best attempts to facilitate speech and language growth with our students. Below is a list of advice concerning the SLP’s handling of negative behaviors during therapy sessions.

Develop the rules:

This one requires more thought than meets the eye. Think about the problems you’ve encountered in the past that have been disruptive and make a general rule to address them. Keep the list short – remember, many of our students are language-impaired and respond better to shorter lists that don’t overwhelm them. This can be a work-in-progress in which the therapist can change a rule according to new negative behaviors throughout the year that arise; however, be sure to review the new rule with the student to ensure comprehension. I provide different sets of rules for various age groups (e.g., pre-school, K-2, and 3-5 grades) as behaviors are oftentimes different.

Use visuals:

These will always be your very best friend in regards to all things therapy, especially with behavior management. Many of our students have receptive language issues, making it very difficult to process verbal reinforcement. I find that almost all students respond well when the therapy rules are visually presented in a central location during therapy. During the first several weeks, I review the therapy rules with the students and have them repeat them to me, as well as their peers.

Provide positive reinforcement:

Way too often I see teachers and therapists provide too much negative reinforcement to students. While they may have the best intentions, providing an environment with too much negative reinforcement is discouraging for anyone. For example, rather than disciplining a student for running down the hallway, notice when they’re walking and compliment them. Providing positive reinforcement shapes good behavior and provides encouragement. When negative behavior is present, I typically provide neutral reinforcement rather than negative (e.g., ignoring the behavior, complimenting other students’ positive behavior, providing distractions, etc.). Negative behavior shouldn’t be taken personally, nor should it be given any attention – this will only provide gratification and ensure it will continue.


Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you’ve provided a list of rules with accompanying reinforcements, then make sure you adhere to them. When rules and expectations shift, children oftentimes find themselves confused and unsure what’s expected of them. This will only result in more anxiety from the student, which will lead to more negative behaviors. This may require more attention and effort on the therapist’s part in the beginning, but once it’s established, students will garner respect and will eventually fall into a routine of expected behavior.


Negative behaviors are no easy task, but they will inevitably always be a part of our day-to-day therapy lives. With careful planning, and much practice, we can gain better control of negative behaviors and focus on all the things we actually learned in graduate school!


Author: Griffin Parrott, SLP

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