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Ask Dr. Shore...

About Controlling
Cafeteria Behavior

Dear Dr. Shore,
Do you have any suggestions for managing a cafeteria in a K-2 building? There are about 220 children in each of our three lunch periods. The noise level is tremendous! I do not consider it a safe environment. In the event of an emergency, I don't think we could get the children out safely because of the chaos that exists. I've made suggestions, but they aren't well received. I've suggested having each person on duty manage a section of the cafeteria so as to get to know the children and have more control. Help!

The lunchroom is probably the rowdiest place in school and sometimes the noise can be downright unbearable. Students often see lunch as a time to release pent-up energy. In addition, they might feel that the rules that apply in the classroom do not apply in the cafeteria. As a result, it is not unusual for lunchrooms to get out of control.

Schools need to walk a fine line in managing students' behavior in the lunchroom. On one hand, lunch should be a time for students to relax and unwind, as well as to chat with their classmates. On the other hand, they must still show respect for their fellow students and keep noise at a moderate level. That demands a modicum of structure and a few basic rules. Failure to enforce rules in the lunchroom is an invitation to chaos. Below are a few suggestions you might want to try.

Learn More

To learn about school cafeteria policies, see
* Managing Cafeteria Behavior
* Cafeteria Behavior
* Cafeteria Behavior Form
* Increasing Appropriate Behavior in a School Cafeteria
* Lunchroom Behavior

Establish a lunchroom code of conduct. Consider posting clearly stated rules (no more than five) in a prominent place in the lunchroom.

Assign lunchroom monitors to groups. Your suggestion to have each person manage a section was a good one. In that way, they can get to know their students better and manage them more effectively.

Praise or reward students who are following the lunchroom rules. You might even reward them with tokens that can be exchanged for prizes or privileges.

Reward well-behaving tables. In that way, you can prompt students to encourage their tablemates to behave well to obtain the rewards. For example, you might allow the table with the quietest students to get lunch first, or have the table of students who behaved best during lunch go to recess before other tables. Or you might develop a more formal system in which each tables of students earn points (which can be exchanged for rewards) for such behaviors as keeping voices down or lining up properly.

Conduct a lunchroom raffle. Give tickets to students who are behaving appropriately -- with a maximum of three tickets per student per lunch. Have students write their names on the tickets and place the tickets in a box. At the end of lunch, draw a ticket from the box and reward the student with the winning ticket with a prize or a special privilege.

Place misbehaving students at a separate table for a set period of time, perhaps a week. That table might be set apart from the others or in another room that has adult supervision

Good luck.

Dr. Kenneth Shore

About Ken Shore Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.