Understanding the science behind behavior helps educators begin to view challenging behavior with a different lens. First and foremost, behavior is communication. Through a child’s behavior – positive or negative – a child is communicating something. In early childhood classrooms, the teacher is the detective trying to figure out what the behavior is communicating.
There are four reasons why children exhibit negative behavior.
1. Attention Seeking: Children are looking to gain attention from an adult or peer
2. Access: Children would like access to an object or activity
3. Escape/Avoidance: Children would like to get out of something that is non-preferred or to avoid a situation or activity.
4. Sensory Stimulation: Children need more sensory stimulation or less sensory stimulation to meet their physical need.
To understand the function of the behavior, use the ABCs.
A: Antecedent (Trigger): What happened just prior to the behavior
B: Behavior: The specific behavior the child engaged in (determine the most intrusive behavior)
C: Consequence: What happened immediately after the behavior (by peers and adults)
Typically, children who are exhibiting ongoing challenging behavior tend to have temperaments that are more intense, persistent, sensitive, and/or distractible than the average child. In addition, there may be a setting event (an event that impacts the behavior that occurred outside of the incident) that you are not aware of. Examples of setting events are: family dynamics (argument that morning, divorce, parents out of town, etc.), physical health, lack of sleep or proper nutrition, mental health, cultural, moral or ethical beliefs. All of these pieces will need to be put together to determine how to respond to the behavior.
As teachers, how we respond to the behavior will either maintain that behavior (the behavior will occur again) or decrease the behavior. In order to know exactly how to respond to decrease the behavior, you need to determine the function of the behavior. In order to know the function, you have to collect data on the child’s behavior (see the Behavior Support Planning Chart). If the child is seeking attention from the adult or peers, it is essential that no attention is given to the child when they exhibit the behavior. If a child is seeking access to an object or activity, do not give them access when the exhibit the behavior. If the child is trying to avoid a situation or activity, it is essential that you have them follow through with the activity when they engage in the
behavior. If the child needs more stimulation to function in the classroom, give them the stimulation they need. If the child needs less stimulation to function in the classroom, find ways to decrease the stimulus in the classroom.
All of this is very easy to say and very difficult to do! Use the Behavior Support Planning Guide to help you see the patterns in a child’s behavior. When behaviors occur, use these strategies to de-escalate the behavior:
1. Stay calm and non-reactive
2. Take a deep breath before you respond
3. Be aware of your own state (fatigue, hunger, illness, etc.)
4. Try to understand the function of the behavior in the moment
5. Use positioning or blocking if necessary for elopement
6. If attention seeking, ignore the behavior – you may need to take the rest of the class away from the behavior
7. Reinforce other students’ behavior
8. Reinforce ANY positive behavior from the student
9. Wait them out
10. Ask for a break from another adult if feeling overwhelmed and emotional
Things to consider: keep in mind the preventive strategies that were discussed in the previous article (Preventing Challenging Behavior). Is there a social/emotional skill that needs to be taught: turn taking, anger management, problem solving strategies, etc.? Is there a replacement behavior that needs to be taught (i.e.: when you feel like __________, do this instead: _____________)? Finally, how will you reinforce wanted behavior?
With patience, consistency and hard work, you will be able to decrease challenging behaviors in your classroom and ensure success for every child