Forest Park is venturing into unknown, but fascinating, territory as one of the first municipalities in the country to try and teach proper social behaviors to children through a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Previously focused just in schools, Forest Park is experimenting by rolling the effort out on all fronts.
The library, village, park district, community center and even the police department are trying to figure out how to replicate the “catch them being good” methods that have proven successful in Forest Park schools.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” as the popular African proverb goes. Well, in a village sometimes frustrated by rude and unruly kids and teens, this approach has merit.
The model is simple. Instead of telling kids what you don’t want them to do, tell them what they should do. Essentially, it’s turning a negative command into a positive one. “Stop running” versus “Please walk.” “Don’t hit” versus “Please keep your hands to yourself.”
Yes, it sounds a bit simplistic. But, in schools, at least, it works. The number of infractions at local schools has dropped significantly since the program’s inception. The key to its success, though, is repetition. A 40-minute assembly once a year about how to behave in the cafeteria is not going to change kids’ behavior. But when the message is consistently reinforced day after day, the desired behavior will eventually become the norm. (Enticing them with pizza parties and other incentives is sure to help, as well.)
That means that even on a school level, the program demands the commitment of teachers and all other personnel. If we want kids to change their behaviors, then we as adults have to change too. For many, yelling “no” and “stop” comes naturally when we spot a youngster doing something wrong. But if we want this to work, then we have to model it as well. The concept will take some time for people outside of the school system to adapt their ways and develop new habits.
In extending the efforts across the community, the message needs to be apparent everywhere you look, if it is to catch on for both adults and children. At the middle school, there are signs that plaster the hallways, announcements made over the intercom and raffles lined up every week. Somehow these “reminders” need to be translated into other areas of the community so that we don’t end up with only a few village employees who went through the training and are the only ones who know the program exists.
The best part about developing this program, though, is that it provides a more long-term, albeit slower, solution to behavioral issues. It aims to curb problems before they start, and that is really the most fitting way that we can help a child succeed. All too often the focus is placed on how to “fix” so-called problem kids (and every kid is a problem sometimes). This program tries to mold young minds before the rebellious or obnoxious behavior starts.
Some will say that this type of education should be the parents’ job, not for the schools – or town – to handle. We disagree. We see this not a radical new concept but as a return to those days when every adult was charged to engage kids and to set expectations of reasonable social behavior.
We applaud village leaders for this effort.