Handling Behavior

The Beach Center on Disability
Handling Behavior

In Positive Behavior Support (PBS), the main strategies for addressing challenging behavior are selected based on the results of a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). Information from the FBA (setting events, antecedents, behavior, and consequences) gives us clues about why and how challenging behavior occurs (see "Understanding Behavior"). If we can modify or change events or circumstances in the environment (setting events and antecedents) that are likely to trigger problem behavior, while carefully controlling our responses (consequences) to the behavior after it occurs, we can effectively prevent or at least significantly reduce challenging behavior from occurring.

Move toward positive attitude. Before detailed strategies are considered, there are several things that parents need to keep in mind.

  • Use positive ways to address the challenging behavior and try to give positive reinforcement for good behavior. All strategies for handling challenging behavior should be positive. Negative strategies, such as punishment, are not effective in preventing challenging behavior and can result in side effects, such as anger or resentment toward the person who punishes, avoidance of punishing people, and even loss of self-esteem and feeling less worthy, if punishment is used frequently. It is very important to consider positive strategies and to try to focus on providing reinforcement, such as praise and other rewarding consequences, whenever your child engages in good behavior.
  • Change the physical environment. Challenging behavior can be related to physical environment. Rearranging objects, having more space, or avoiding certain places for your child to engage in particular activities can all be good strategies to help prevent challenging behavior.
  • Provide choices. Providing choices is an important strategy to consider to help address challenging behavior. When specific activities, objects, or tasks seem to be related to challenging behavior, a possible function of the challenging behavior may be that your child is trying to escape or avoid these things. If a child can have opportunities to make even small choices of activities, chores or tasks that he is expected to do (for example, choosing which chore he would rather do first, second, etc.), i, t may help prevent some challenging behavior.
  • Maintain a routine and a schedule. Unexpected events can be stressful to a child and often act as triggers for challenging behavior. Providing a picture or photographic schedule of major daily responsibilities, activities and events, and then letting your child know what is coming next can help prepare him/her for those events. When used consistently, a schedules can really increase and enhance the predictability of your child's world , and when things are more predictable, he/she is much less likely to need to engage in problem behavior to try to show or tell you that things are not working the way they should in his/her world.
  • Teach new skills. Teaching new skills is the most important part of PBS. Remember, all behaviors have meanings and messages. If the meanings and messages in challenging behavior can be expressed with appropriate communication methods and acceptable social-interpersonal behaviors, the child's need to engage in challenging behavior will be reduced. For example, a child will need help learning how to ask for help, if his/her challenging behavior is related to a difficult task.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). The results from a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) should lead directly to specific interventions and supports that are designed to address the function of the challenging behavior. Each event related to the challenging behavior (setting events, antecedents and consequences) also needs to be considered carefully, so that interventions are developed that effectively address each element in the A-B-C sequence.

Given this example of an A-B-C sequence, the following can be listed as intervention strategies.

  • Change Antecedents. Provide choices and options for scheduling when to do homework. For example, perhaps Arnold can choose a time and place when he would prefer to do his math homework. If he has other homework to do also, perhaps he can choose what order to do his homework in. If the math homework must be done at a particular time, perhaps he could choose which problems to do first, or what/how much he will do before taking a brief break. Even if he doesn't choose the math homework for the first homework activity, his parents can set a time limit for the first activity and encourage him to move to the math homework later. The math homework then becomes a more predictable and manageable activity using this strategy.
  • Change Behaviors. Teach new skills to Arnold to help him handle math homework difficulties. According to the information gathered through the FBA, Arnold doesn't have adequate skills to solve math questions that are likely to come up in homework assignments by himself. When he is faced with difficult tasks, Arnold needs to know who he can go to and ask for help. Arnold can learn how to communicate with his parents by asking for help, instead of engaging in challenging behavior when he gets frustrated and does not know how to do a particular problem.
  • Change Consequences. Use positive reinforcement when Arnold is trying hard to do his math homework. In Arnold's case, the function of the challenging behavior is to escape from doing the math homework. Putting Arnold in time-out just allows Arnold's challenging behavior to accomplish its desired goal. In this case, it is much better to provide positive praise and encouragement when Arnold is successfully engaged in doing his math homework. Changing the antecedents and consequences for his behavior can reduce the challenging behavior. If the challenging behavior occurs again, his parents should interpret it as a message, "I need help!" and sit down with him to help support and help him.
Posted on BrainLine March 31, 2009.

Full attribution: From the Beach Center on Disability, University of Kansas. Used with permission. www.beachcenter.org.