Checklists or rating scales are helpful devices for measuring children’s problem behaviors because they (a) force you to consider only what children do, rather than how you feel about them; (b) give you a profile of children’s problem behaviors, so you know where their greatest needs are; (c) provide you with a vocabulary for describing problem behaviors; (d) indicate whether children’s problems are serious enough to require extra help; (e) give you a starting point for keeping track of whether your intervention is working or not.
Many behavioral checklists are available. I have chosen two, which are easy to use, and accurate in discriminating hyperactive and problem children.
- Conners Abbreviated Parent-Teacher Questionnaire (Conners, 1973) is a 10-item checklist used in screening hyperactive children, and keeping track of their treatment progress. It can be filled out by both parents and teachers, and takes only a few minutes to complete. What I like most about this scale is it gives you a reason to involve parents in their child’s treatment, and it lets you find out what the child is like at home. (See Appendix A for a copy of the questionnaire, along with scoring instructions).
- Walker Problem Behavior Identification Checklist (Walker, 1970) is made up of 50 examples of behaviors, which evaluate five dimensions of a child’s personality: peer relations, distractibility, acting-out, withdrawal, immaturity or dependency. Primarily teachers fill it out, and it takes about five to 10 minutes to do (see Appendix B).
This is a popular scale. We used it frequently with the behaviorally and emotionally disturbed children I worked with. One problem I noticed, however, is that some of its behavior descriptors are not specific enough. For instance, how many times would you say is “habitually”–usually, some of the time, or every time? This makes it hard to get consistency when more than one person is rating a child. If you use this scale, I suggest going through a few practice runs first, with other teachers or your school psychologist. This way, you’ll ensure everybody is synchronized on the terminology.
A word of caution: use these checklists to find out whether children need further assessment, but leave the interpretation of results to your school psychologist.
Another way of identifying problem children is by giving your class a sociogram. Sociograms are peer nominating techniques, useful in revealing children’s popularity. In carrying out a sociogram you would ask each child to choose one, two, or three children with whom he would like to do a particular activity. Sample questions are “Whom would you most like to sit beside in your classroom?” and “If you were going to Disneyland, whom would you choose to go with you?” This information can help you identify those children who are isolated and may need help making friends.
This is a worthwhile technique for you to explore. Friendship is a key part of children’s self-esteem, and a child with no friends is typically an unhappy child. The worse he feels about himself, the bigger problem he becomes for you, as he looks for other, perhaps less desirable ways of getting peer approval. What you have to take care in, however, is that children keep their choices confidential. Discussing among each other who they’d never pick in a million years might lead to peer stigmatism of the rejected child.