Behavior is communication, and behavior serves a purpose. If your child is consistently acting out at his elementary school, the staff may want to create a behavior plan for him. This is not a cause for alarm -- an effective behavior plan is a win-win for everyone involved, especially your child. It behavior plan will teach him how to get what he needs in an appropriate manner. Learning the nuts and bolts of the behavior plan process will give you the information you need to participate fully in the process. Parents are the most important members of any behavior team.
An effective behavior plan always starts with data collection. Your child's school will probably create a team of people working with your child, including you, the family. Members of that team should collect information about the events surrounding the behavior. What happens right before the behavior occurs? What is the actual behavior? What happens right after the behavior occurs? After the information is gathered, you can sit down and look at it together. Are there any patterns? Maybe your child always acts out during math or with a certain classmate. Maybe the behavior occurs more frequently right before lunch. Examining what happens after the behavior occurs is important as well. Does your child get to leave class every time he engages in the behavior? Maybe the behavior earns him the attention of his classmates. Encourage everyone on the team to dig deep into the data. Behavior is communication. What is your child trying to express?
Finding the Function
Once you and the school have found patterns in the data, it is time to determine what they may mean. This is called the function. Behavior serves a function, or a purpose. It is often a means of escape or an attempt to gain an object, activity or attention. For example, if your daughter typically acts out during writing activities and is asked to leave class, she may be attempting to escape writing. If your son often engages in aggressive behaviors with certain classmates during recess, he may be attempting to gain their attention. If the behavior is successfully getting your child what he wants, then it is working for him and it is not likely to change without interventions.
Replacing the Function
After the team makes its best guess at the purpose, or function, of the behavior, it is time to brainstorm a way to replace it. If your daughter's behavior is successfully earning her a one-way ticket out of writing activities, you and the team need to think of a better alternative. Maybe she can request five-minute breaks during writing time. If your son is pushing other kids during recess, maybe the school staff could organize a structured recess game for your son and a few classmates, giving him clear guidelines for interaction and gaining attention. It is crucial that the team finds a way to fulfill the original function. Give your child an opportunity to get what she needs in a more appropriate manner.
Teaching New Behaviors
The final component to a solid behavior plan is the teaching of new, or replacement, behaviors. Perhaps your daughter wants to escape writing activities because they are too difficult for her. Maybe the school could offer additional math instruction or give you enrichment activities to work on at home. Your son may be hurting kids at recess because he does not know how to gain attention appropriately. The school may have a social skills group he could join to teach him the appropriate skills. Make sure to ask the school personnel their plan on reinforcing your child's new behaviors. A meaningful reinforcement system will motivate your child to learn and practice the new behaviors. This can be as simple as a sticker chart or five minutes of extra computer time -- whatever is motivating to your individual child.
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