The Crayon Box
Behavior Therapy Technique

By: Dr. Michelle Stangline

Rationale: I discovered this technique when I was training my puppy. She would lunge at cars when we were walking. This became very dangerous and she almost got us both killed one day.

So, I tried this animal behavior therapy technique using a dog treat. When a car approached I would give her a calm warning. If she stayed calm as the car passed I would give her a treat with praise.  

She started to behave when I gave her a warning, and then a treat for her good behavior. Then, I thought, “How can I apply this technique in a way that is appropriate for children?”

After much thought, I came up with the “crayon box” and began to apply this technique to students in the classroom.

Teachers liked the idea and started using this technique on their most disruptive students. We started to see student behavior improving.  Basically, this is behavior therapy moving extrinsic behavior to intrinsic behavior.  


    - 1 box of crayons, markers, or colored pencils
    - 1 plastic bag to put the earned crayons, markers, or colored pencils in


Show the student a box of crayons, markers, or colored pencils. Explain to them that you want to give the box to them. However, they will need to earn the box crayon by crayon.

  1. Give the student a plastic bag and write the student’s name on it. This is for the earned crayons, etc.
  2. Write the student’s name on the box and keep the box close by for easy reach. By writing the student’s name on the box they understand that the box belongs to them, but that they need to earn the items in it before they get the box.

Next Steps:

  1. Identify one behavior you want the student to change. Tell the student that when they are using this negative behavior you will give them a warning.
  2. If the student makes the choice to turn the negative behavior around they can earn a crayon, marker, or colored pencil. Make sure they put the earned items in a plastic bag away from other crayons, etc.
  3. Once the student has earned all the items in the set they get to keep the box.
  4.   The “earned box set” is a ticket to the treasure store.

Other Considerations & Recommendations:

* You may want to start with a set of 8 to ten crayons, markers, or colored pencils, especially for younger children.

* Never take away a crayon, marker, or colored pencil if it has been earned.

* The student can also be given a journal for drawing out their frustrations, anger, and sadness. The crayons, markers, or colored pencils are fun to use with this journal.

* Other sets of items can also be earned in this manner. Once you finish with one boxed set, you can offer a different type of drawing set. This keeps this technique fresh and the students won’t get tired of it.

* This technique is great for Response to Intervention data collection. You now have a log and can chart how many “sets” the student earns.



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Disclaimer: This website and its content is intended for trained licensed mental health professionals and school certified mental health professionals to use for their clients / students at their own discretion.

*If you ignore the disclaimer above are using these techniques on yourself and you feel any discomfort or upset it is highly suggested that you seek out a licensed  mental health professional immediately.

"Beyond Art Therapy" is the concept from Dr. Stangline that combines all creative fields in therapy. It is not the traditional "art therapy" but goes beyond to include sand tray therapy, play therapy, mindfulness, meditation, color therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a vast majority of other therapies.

For any other type of mental health emergency call your local 911 / Police Number immediately.

Dr. Stangline does not offer advice / suggestions to anyone who is not a professional mental health provider, or a student who is studying this field and has questions about mental health programs of study.

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