What is behavior?
Behavior is defined as the observable actions performed by an individual; it is what a child does and is usually expressed in verbs (e.g., runs, jumps, waits, requests). For our purposes, there are two kinds of behavior, positive and negative:
By negative behavior, we mean those things that a child does that are potentially dangerous, that interfere with his/her learning, or that interfere with family, school and daily life activities.
By positive behavior, we mean those things that a child does that protect him or her from harm, that open him or her up to learning, or that contribute to a more harmonious home or school experience.
What shapes behavior? What influences how a child behaves?
Behavior is influenced by many factors, including:
- the child’s characteristics (e.g., biology, learning style, motivation)
- environmental characteristics (e.g., how crowded, how noisy)
- interpersonal factors (e.g., how child and others interact with each other).
Behavior changes constantly as these factors change constantly. It is very dynamic and complex.
All behavior (positive and negative) is affected by:
- what happens before the behavior occurs (antecedents)
- what happens after the behavior occurs (consequences)
By manipulating the antecedents and the consequences, two things can happen:
1) Behavior can be strengthened (reinforced or rewarded) or made more likely to occur.
2) Behavior can be weakened (punished or discouraged) or made less likely to occur.
When you control the antecedents, you can prevent behavior from occurring.
When you control the consequences, you can stop the behavior from occurring. This is called intervening.
What is the function or purpose of behavior?
Behavior is communication. For children whose language is not well developed, it is sometimes the only form of communicating what they want or need. Often, our challenge is finding out what the child is trying to “say” with his/her behavior.
Often, behavior is directed to meet one or more of these needs:
- to gain social attention or contact
- to obtain something tangible
- to fulfill a sensory need
- to escape from a social situation or a demand.
The messages that are being sent by the child are:
“I want your attention”
“I want that”
“I like doing this”
“I want to leave” or “I want to stop”
How can we change behavior?
Our goal is to make positive behavior useful for the child (i.e., it will result in access to what the child wants) and to make negative behavior useless for the child (i.e., it will not result in access to what the child wants). Behavior management is really a form of teaching. The most effective behavior management strategies involve teaching the child a new skill — an appropriate way to meet his or her needs. Often, this is a communication skill or a new behavior which is the opposite of the negative behavior.
Since every classroom is different and every child is different, we cannot write an automatic prescription for behavior change. But, we can share specific strategies that have worked in other classrooms and teach you the technology so that you can decide how best to use it.
Behavior management strategies are like tools in a toolbox. You will find some tools essential, and you will find yourself using them in a lot of different situations. You will find other tools are useful only in certain situations. Some tasks will require that you pull out all your tools, and the combinations are endless! In addition, some of these tools won’t seem useful to you at all — you can just store those away. Even if you aren’t using them now, it might be good to know you still have them somewhere down the road.