New Normal: Teaching Positive Behaviors at Home During a Pandemic

New Normal: Teaching Positive Behaviors at Home During a Pandemic
by Brynn Fallah

Work, parent, teach. And repeat…


Like a lot of parents, suddenly I’ve found myself simultaneously a full-time work-from-home and stay-at-home parent due to new Coronavirus restrictions that have shut down my state and are requiring all non-essential employees to work from home. As the 2 week timeline was extended to a month and then two months, my thoughts went from “We can do this!” to “Oh boy” to “How are we ever going to get through this?”

One thing quickly became clear: for my own sanity I needed to settle into this new normal and figure out how my family and I would make these circumstances work (and hopefully do so with a sense of happiness). My first thought was to intentionally set up positive behavior supports for my family (which includes my 5-year-old son, Thomas, and my husband). My training is in School Counseling and I’m currently employed as a project coach with the Delaware Positive Behavior Support Project. So, I should have all the tools needed to make this work, right?

The Fallah Family Two Part PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Support) at Home Plan:

Our first step was to develop our family rules/expectations.

  • We agreed on Respectful, Positive, and Safe. Family expectations (like a school’s) should be few in number (3-5), clear, positively worded, and easy to remember. They should reflect your core values as a family and now is an ideal opportunity with all this newfound time stuck inside together to sit down and talk about core values. For more on how to start this process, check out how to start a positive behavior support process at home.

Next, we determined because this was a “new normal” we needed to set up a system to reward Thomas when he followed our expectations. 

  • I explained to him that I wanted to find items within our house that I could use to reward him for following our family rules (these are the tokens or tickets that you may be familiar with your child earning at school). My goal was to find something appropriate for a 5-year-old, sustainable, and honestly, something he would think is fun. We found a game with a bunch of small frogs to repurpose into our new tokens: “Fallah Frogs”.  Check out this helpful tip sheet about rewards and consequences for more information.

Day 1 with the Fallah Frogs didn’t go well. Shocking, right? All I had told Thomas was that he needed to follow the family rules and follow our schedule and would earn frogs. I wasn’t explicit. What’s more, my husband had made a grand declaration that the frogs were “dumb and didn’t work”, so he refused to use them. I couldn’t help but laugh (and cry) to myself… it sounded a lot like something I experienced in schools. If the system isn’t consistent across all educators in a school the success is impacted.  So, if half of the adults in my household thought the frogs were dumb, how could we possibly be successful? I regrouped and was determined to calmly show both my husband and Thomas that this could work.

Over the course of the first few days things evolved. We did some problem solving.  I loosened our daily schedule from being planned by the half hour to this: the morning is for learning and the afternoon is for play. Instead of rewarding a Fallah Frog for every perfectly implemented half hour, I made a check list of things Thomas could earn frogs for. The list includes explicit, positively worded, daily behaviors like:

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Make bed
  • Wash hands for 20 seconds
  • Listen the first time
  • Work on educational apps or worksheets
  • Work or play independently while Mommy and Daddy work
  • Get exercise everyday (outside or video)

Thomas trades in 10 frogs for extra iPad time in the evening. For 15 frogs, extra iPad time plus a snack of his choice. This has Thomas working intentionally for frogs, counting them throughout the day, and even reminding me of times he should be earning them.  It also gives me and my husband structure to ensure we are giving him feedback when he does the right things… and not simply correcting him when he makes a mistake.

We’ve been excited to see some initial success, but we have also realized that since these circumstances are new to all of us, there is a great need to teach new behaviors right now. At 5, Thomas knows how to get dressed, brush his teeth, and make his bed, but at some point, those behaviors needed to be taught. What he doesn’t know how to do is to not use my morning work Zoom meetings as an opportunity to put on a performance for my co-workers. He doesn’t know how to learn from home in any structured way. He honestly doesn’t even really know how to play independently. So, we’re teaching him. If you need help (like I do) to teach your child how to not interrupt your works calls, check out this great resource. 

“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we….

…teach? ….punish?”

“Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?”

-Tim Herner

We are teaching new behaviors, new expectations. While he is learning, we instantly reward him a frog for doing any of the behaviors on our checklist. When he does one, I say, “Thomas – I’m giving you a frog for listening the first time. Great job. I’m proud of you for making a good choice.” There are many variations to this praise, but using immediate feedback helps tie the behavior to why he is earning a frog (and is therefore more likely to understand and repeat the behavior). We also reward other behaviors not officially on the list but fall into one of our family rules. For example, telling the truth (responsible), getting out of the way when a car comes on our evening bike rides (safe), and reminding us of having a good attitude even when we’re stressed (positive).

Our next step will be creating a home matrix, which will further define desirable behaviors and show Thomas how they’re organized by our expectations. If you are looking for an easy resource to do this at home check out:  these simple guidelines to create a family matrix. For my family, I made the choice to do one thing at a time since my initial approach overwhelmed them, but the home matrix would look something like this that my colleague recently created for her home:

Our plan is far from perfect but here’s what we will to continue working on:

  • Being intentional
  • Looking at what’s working and what isn’t working and re-evaluating
  • Using more praise than correction
  • Using pre-correction, prompting and redirecting when teaching the new and old behaviors
  • Providing as much positive, immediate, and explicit feedback as possible every day

We are learning this new system and new life at home as much as Thomas is, so my husband and I are working on being patient with him and ourselves. We are a normal family, so we still have moments of exasperation, yelling, and time we need to just be alone. However, even my husband has come around to the frogs and is slowly learning how to use them.  What a relief to discover that even husbands can learn new behaviors!

To help you and your families with PBIS at home (now and in the future), please check out these resources:

Florida PBIS Shared a GREAT Visual to Outline the Core Features of PBIS at Home:

Our Friends at Ci3T have released a document that outlines the ways to use the core features of PBIS during the COVID-19 Crisis.  If you are looking for an overview, please check this out:

If you have a partner (like mine) who did not buy in to PBIS at first, this resource from Hull Services helps to explain why positive and consistent routines and teaching expectations are especially important right now:

Click to access the SEL resource from Hull Services
Nebraska PBIS has released a document with lots of tools and ideas to get you and your family started with PBIS at home.

Click to access Nebraska PBIS Document
And.. don’t forget to check out our website!



Make a Family Matrix!

an image of the steps to create a family matrix

We know many caregivers are at home full time with their children.  A great activity to help establish routines and behavioral expectations is to create an At-Home Matrix.  Check out the steps and an example from one of our staff members, Heather Godwin.

Click Here to See an Example