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Success Counseling: A Guide to Advanced Behavioral Management


As part of our commitment to education and supporting students on their academic and test prep journeys, members of our leadership team regularly share some of their knowledge and wisdom gained from working students as well as their own research. Recently, Chiranjeevi Raghunath posted a brilliant breakdown of metacognition and I was inspired to share a bit about one of my areas of expertise: success counseling as advanced behavior management.

To understand what success counseling is, you have to start with the basics. All humans have needs. Our needs can be basic, like food, water, or sleep, and they can also require something more complex and emotional, like freedom, safety, or fun. Behaviors are the strategies we use to meet our needs. Issues arise when our behaviors come up against “rules”. Even if you successfully control a problematic behavior, you are removing the strategy but the underlying need remains.

For example:  It’s against the rules to throw a ball in the house. Billy threw the ball in the house because he wants to have fun. It’s raining so he can’t go outside. Take the ball away, Billy still needs fun, but he is left with the need but no strategy… Danger lurks!

If we understand that behavior is used to meet needs, we can start to develop a stronger understanding and empathy for behaviors that we find challenging. If behaviors break rules, then in a functional system, behaviors cannot simply be stopped, they must be replaced with better ones that still meet needs.

With that in mind, I’ve listed an array of strategies that we can use to address behaviors of the growing learners in our lives. Keep in mind that all of these approaches are effective, but in different ways and with different risks.


  • Any system in which there are consequences for unwanted behaviors that are not logically linked to them.
  • Emphasis is on control and authority. Compliance is usually out of fear or aversion to the consequence.
  • The behavior may change due to a punishment, but the heart rarely does.
  • The reason to act is external. Internally there is often secret defiance, and disregard or disdain for the rules in the absence of the authority controlling them.


  • Any system in which desired behaviors are solicited by the promise of an external perk not logically linked to the behavior.
  • Emphasis is also on authority and control, as the person with power controls access to the reward.
  • Compliance occurs because the desire for the reward eclipses other needs.
  • Behavior may change, but it is almost universally temporary, and the reward will most certainly be expected (if not increased in value or substance) next time
  • Again, the reason to act is external, and the absence of the reward acts as a punishment.


  • Any system in which feelings are manipulated through moralizing, should-statements (ethos), or framing.
  • “You should have known better.” – “I expected more of you at your age.” – “Look what you did.” – “No mother should have to go through this for her child.” Etc.
  • Emphasis is on negative emotions. The negative effect on a child’s sense of self can be profound.
  • False dilemma: either change the behavior or accept the narrative of personal “badness.”
  • The reason to act is to avoid inner turmoil and toxicity.

The Buddy Approach

  • A system in which compliance is gained because of a special relationship between you and the child. You are the “cool” caregiver who allows freedoms and access that others don’t, provided that the appearance of compliance with bigger systems is kept up when it matters.
  • Emphasis is on maintaining rapport. More clearly reflects needs of the caregiver than those of the child.
  • Compliance occurs out of a desire to defend the special arrangement and protect freedom
  • System is ripe for codependency, distrust of true authority, and collapse when any real need for compliance is warranted
  • Self discipline, respect for the reason behind rules, and adult problem solving skills are near impossible to cultivate in this process.


  • A system in which logical, natural consequences follow undesirable behaviors.
  • Emphasis is on framing the connection between action and outcome. Restitution is necessary to transition through the situation, with growth contingent on the locus of control.
  • Motivation for compliance may be split and is wholly dependent on the effectiveness of the guide.
  • Overall, a significant;y more growth-oriented system than punishment, but still only influential to big picture emotional development under key conditions.

Success Counseling

  • The aim of a Success Counselor is to change the heart, which will motivate a change in behavior.
  • Central premise:  Effective discipline consists of
    • Stopping one behavior
    • Starting another that fits with stated expectations but will also help the child get what he or she wants.
  • There is no discipline system that will work long term if it is geared toward getting a child to bend to your will without meeting his or her needs as well.
  • The goal is to manage the child using the least amount of power necessary to resolve the dilemma. The use of power ultimately stems from weakness.
  • The whole point of discipline is for a child to take responsibility for his or her actions. If successful, the child becomes the one deciding when freedom is withdrawn and when privileges will be restored.
  • Responsibility → choices → power.

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