Thursday, March 12, 2009

Behavior Management Redux

I have talked before about managing behavior in group settings. As a therapist, I also frequently work with clients on an individual basis. After talking about some clients with one of my therapists I thought that the subject deserved to be revisited. Music therapists are often called upon to work with the most volatile children because music seems to be a motivator or sometimes a calming influence. When I work with clients who have been reported as having episodes of spitting, hitting, throwing things, or even self-abuse I usually don't see these inappropriate behaviors during music therapy because the kids love the music so much. Their interest in music, however, is not enough to guarantee appropriate behaviors. There are several musical and non-musical things that can be done to increase the chances of having productive work session with students who require behavior intervention strategies.

1. Try using a picture schedule for the activities you will be doing. I have a picture that represents each song or activity, beginning with a Hello song and ending with a Goodbye song. The student is expected to take each picture off the schedule in the order of the activities. A picture schedule is helpful because it provides a visual reference that can be used to redirect attention. It also gives the student an indication of where they are in time. Once a student is familiar with the general flow of a music therapy session, the picture schedule allows him to know how much longer he needs to maintain his focus of attention and behavior. The schedule can also be set up to allow breaks or rewards as indicated by pictures. It is much easier for a child to respond to first/then expectations if he has the visual representation.

2. Keep the session or work time short when working with a new student or situation. The idea is to aim for success by completing a session from beginning to end without any major behavior incidents. Once a successful routine has been established, the session time can be increased incrementally across sessions.

3. I have sometimes had success in using a visual timer. This type of timer can indicate how long the student has left in the session or how long before he or she can obtain a specific reward. I like to find out what object rewards or activities the student receives in the classroom and you may have to use those in the music session until a pattern of appropriate behavior has been established. Ideally, we want to give the child a musical reward so that if he or she can maintain good behavior for the specified amount of time, then a favorite instrument or song is presented.

4. Keep the session flowing and moving at a good pace. I counsel my therapists that during music therapy sessions there should be a music stimulus as much as possible. Suggestions for this idea include singing instructions such as raising a hand to make a choice or putting instruments back into a bag. This helps to keep the music going and limits down time in between activities. I see the most aberrant behavior in between activities so it is also important to have all materials in order and easily accessible to minimize dead time.

5. Focus on the positive behaviors. It is too easy to become preoccupied with the unwanted inappropriate behaviors and forget about any good moments that might occur. Positive verbal praise should be a given for anything the student does correctly or well. The reinforcement should be immediately after the good behavior and varied in content. Specific and creative verbal praise is much better than a redundant, “good job!”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lessons from New Zealand: How Music May Soothe the "Savage" Teenager

I thought this would be an enlightening exercise in figuring out why people were serious about using music to drive away some hoodlum kids. The news article explained that there is a mall district in New Zealand that has been having a problem with teenagers hanging around and causing trouble. We all know that this is not a new problem in the world, but the city leaders in Wellington wanted to do something about the problem. Their idea is to use music by Barry Manilow to chase away the kids!

One of the quotes from a city manager was, "The intention is to change the environment in a positive nobody feels threatened or intimidated." People often ask me if I use music to soothe my clients. I think they realize that music has the power to influence mood and can alter or augment an emotional state. I actually do not often have to use music to soothe a client, but more often I work with teachers to put music strategies in place in their classrooms to use as an aid to a calming and relaxing atmosphere for students with emotionally aggressive or agitated episodes. Music may be used for distraction, active engagement or relaxation to help a student calm down or re-focus his attention in a more productive direction. (I have discussed this in more detail here and here.)

This story from New Zealand also emphasized the importance of music preference. One of the keys to using music therapeutically is to find music that is appealing to the client. This principle has often been overlooked in research studies that have tried to prove that music helps in relaxation. There are also many products out on the market that use sound vibration or some kind of acoustic sound instrument to help in relaxation. While these strategies may work for some, I think most people will quickly become bored with the musical product or may not enjoy the music from the onset. They will not gain as much benefit from these therapies without liking the musical product.

I think the idea of using Barry Manilow music to keep teens away is a perfectly good idea and I would like to be there when the teenagers start hearing it! I think it might actually work. I like some Barry Manilow songs (after all, they are very singable!) but I hope they don't play so much that all the patrons are driven away!

...This one's for you...

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