School Behavior

Using the Stoplight System to Manage School Behavior

Many teachers swear by this system for managing the classroom behavior of children with ADHD who need clear expectations, visual reminders, and positive incentives.

A stoplight like the one used in a school behavioral management system known as "The Stoplight System"
A stoplight against a blue sky

Teachers and parents can use a simple strategy — called the stoplight system — to put the brakes on bad behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The system uses the graphic of a stoplight and a clothespin bearing a child’s name to indicate when he is behaving well or having difficulty.

The behavior management system works well in the classroom as well as at home to reinforce household rules. The use of explicit guidelines, rewards, and consequences is particularly helpful for children with ADHD. Read on to find out how to get started.

Step 1: Establish Rules

The teacher and students work together to establish the class rules and expectations. Write them on poster board and hang it prominently near the classroom door.

At home, post household chores and rules on the refrigerator or on the bathroom door.

[Free Handout: Solving ADHD Challenges in the Classroom]

Step 2: Identify Rewards

Each student receives two bottle caps at the beginning of the week. More can be earned by positive behavior, such as lining up quietly or helping others. Children with ADHD might receive rewards for raising their hand rather than shouting out answers or turning in all of their homework assignments on time all week.

At the end of the week, the caps are traded in for rewards — stickers, school supplies, books, a small toy, or a special lunch with a friend.

Step 3: Enforce the Rules

If a student breaks a class rule or doesn’t do a chore at home, the clothespin bearing his name is moved from the green light to the yellow light. He loses three bottle caps and is denied a classroom or extracurricular privilege.

A second infraction takes his clothespin to the red light, and costs five bottle caps and two privileges. If there’s a third infraction, he owes 10 bottle caps, forfeits all privileges for the day. If the infraction happens at school, the teacher calls his parents.

TIP: To build leeway into the stoplight system, a teacher or parent should warn a child with ADHD before moving his clothespin. If a child’s behavior improves, allow him to move back to green from yellow. That way, a child gets to make a fresh start from the green light.

[Guiding Good Behavior: Tips from a Seasoned Teacher]

2 Comments & Reviews

  1. So many problems with this article!
    1- NO PUBLIC DISCIPLINE SYSTEMS. This will de-motivate and increase shame and RSD, and basically make your ADHD kids hate you and school.
    2- NO REWARDS. These de-motivate students over the long term, and make the point that regular class behavior isn’t expected for them. Also: the problem for ADHD kids is that they can’t think of the long-term impacts of their behavior. Rewards will not change this fact; even if rewards are motivating (which isn’t often the case), they will just make *more* long-term impacts for their behavior to feel terrible about later if they don’t get them.

    The best classroom management systems for kids with ADHD:
    1- Frequent, scheduled breaks (preferably for the whole class so nobody’s singled out)
    2- Schedule on the board
    3- Watch or clock with a second hand on it to help keep track of the schedule and when breaks are coming
    4- Flexible seating, preferably with two or three options for your ADHD kid (back or side of the room for standing/wiggling, front for paying attention, maybe something facing the wall for test-taking/focusing)
    5- Guides for notes etc. to help keep them focused on the next thing.
    6- Quiet, personal check-ins when it seems like the kid needs a break/is overwhelmed/getting to be too much.
    7- When needed, a non-public strike system that you use for *everyone* (see: Smart Classroom Management)

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