Node Smith, ND

Behavioral problems at school are a concern for many parents, school administrators, as well as teachers. Often problems with outbursts, violent behavior, bullying, or lack of cooperation or participation have multifactorial causes, many of which, are not under the control of teachers or school staff members. With many dual-career families, more children are left unsupervised after school. This trend can be a contributing factor to the likelihood of illicit drug use or delinquent behavior.

The question is; what can be done at after-school programs to help engage kids who may have behavioral problems, in a way that enhances their educational experience, involvement in the classroom, and ultimately may help curb poor after school choices?

Pax Behavior Game or PaxGBG

A game that promotes good behavior and self-regulation through positive reinforcement could be part of the answer according to a research team from the University of Georgia and Pennsylvania State University. The team studied 72 community-based after-school programs in rural, urban, and suburban areas over a five-year period. The ages of the programs were kindergarten to fifth grade. The staff and children in all of these programs played a game called “Pax Behavior Game,” or “PaxGBG.” PaxGBG is a team-based game that allows children to earn privileges to be more active and expressive during non-game times. Its essentially a reward system that incorporates a group dynamic.

PaxGBG was shown to decrease hyperactivity over the long term

There has been past research on the PaxGBG and it has shown to decrease hyperactivity over the long term. A decrease in hyperactivity is associated with less mental health problems, less delinquent behavior and less acting out.

How to play the game

The game facilitates positive reinforcement by counting disruptions that teams of children have, rather than individuals. It can be played during any activity, and timing can vary – usually between 1 and 30 minutes. As children get familiar with gameplay the timing tends to increase. During the game, “3-inch” voices have to be used, and everyone has to remain on task, teams can’t have more than four outbursts to win. Winning teams get to choose prizes or to do an energetic activity for 30-60 seconds (like screaming or doing a crazy dance).

Game teaches social cues for co-regulating behavior

The game is not about telling kids they can’t jump around or yell, but rather teaches how to use social cues for co-regulating behavior.

Findings are 2-fold: PaxGBG decreases hyperactivity in children and encourages staff to interact calmly with kids

The study found the PaxGBG game to decrease hyperactivity among children and also that it encourages staff members to interact with kids in a calmer manner, and to avoid aggressive and combative leadership styles. It creates a teamwork dynamic not only amongst the children, but also between the children and staff.

Creates an atmosphere of positive peer pressure for all

The researcher who developed and studied the game comment that it is highly effective because it helps give the adults tools to regulate difficult groups of children. It creates an atmosphere of positive peer pressure for everyone.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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