The number one job of parents and educators is to teach their children how to succeed in life. We teach them the knowledge they need to grow up and get a job. Along the way, we teach them something that, in my opinion, is more important than what we read in books. We teach them proper behavior. Yes, having an understanding of the topics specifically taught in the classroom is important, but that knowledge means nothing if your child does not learn how to behave properly.
Young children will use any means necessary to get what they want and need. If it works, they will continue to use it. It is the job of parents and educators to make sure those behaviors are functional and not problematic. Nobody is perfect and raises a perfect child, so children will learn to use problem behaviors to get the things they want and need. That’s where teaching replacement behavior comes in.
What is a Replacement Behavior?
To answer that question, we need to take a step back and talk about what a problem behavior is. There’s nothing to replace without a problem behavior.
So, a problem behavior is just as it sounds, a behavior that is problematic. It is socially unacceptable or dangerous, but it still serves as a way for someone to get what they want. Screaming at a waiter because your food was incorrect is a problem behavior,
A replacement behavior is the socially acceptable, harmless version of the problem behavior. It’s the one that won’t get you fired, thrown in jail, punched in the face, what have you. It’s the one you definitely want your kids to learn how to use.
What You Need to Know
You can’t just go willy-nilly tossing in a non-problematic behavior where a problematic one once stood. It needs to serve the same function. In a previous article, I give an in-depth rundown of the four functions of behavior, but I will give a quick overview here.
The four functions include:
- Escape: anything that gets us out of what we don’t want to do
- Access to tangibles: anything that gets us something tangible that we want
- Attention: anything that gets us someones attention
- Automatic: anything that provides a positive internal sensation that is not mediated by the environment
So, the first thing you need to do when you’re trying to teach a replacement behavior is to determine the function of the problem behavior. Once you’ve determined that, you can decide on a good replacement.
Deciding on a Replacement
Let’s think of some problem behaviors, shall we…
Screaming to get your attention. Throwing a tantrum to get what they want. Grabbing something out of someones hands. Running away. Hitting. Biting, Scratching.
None of these behaviors are things we want to see kids do, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to replace them.
As I said before, when you’re trying to find a replacement behavior, you need to figure out what your child is getting from the problem behavior. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Actually Replacing the Behavior
In order to do this, you can only provide the child with what they need when they display the replacement behavior of your choosing.
At first, your child will continue to attempt to use the method that they were using before. Be sure to block access to whatever it is they want and prompt them to use the replacement behavior.
*Note that I used words like “calmly.” You never want to make a big deal out of the problem behavior, especially if it serves an attention function. Drawing attention and focus to the problem behavior can take away from the replacement behavior. You want all the focus to be on the replacement behavior, so it’s best to ignore the problem behavior and prompt the replacement behavior.
It is also crucial to reinforce the child for using the replacement behavior. If a child politely requests your attention, give it to them immediately, even if it is just to say, “I love how you asked for my attention so nicely. I will be able to talk to you in just a few minutes when I’m done this.” Even if you can’t provide them with what they ask for, you still need to reinforce the fact that they asked for it properly.
If you notice, 3 out of the 4 suggestions for replacement behaviors include teaching your child to request what they want in a better way. This means teaching your child how to functionally communicate. Again, I have a more detailed overview of functional communication in another article, but I will give a brief explanation here.
There are many types of functional communication. The one that comes to mind first it talking, but that isn’t the only form of communication. There is sign language and picture exchange communication systems (PECS). Any type of communication that gets your point across unproblematically is functional communication. Hell, you could speak only in charades and that would still be a type of communication – probably not your best option though.
The Gist of it
So, when it comes down to it, kids don’t always use the best methods to get what they want. That’s where parents and educators come in.
You need to:
- Determine what function the problem behavior is serving
- Decide on a good replacement behavior
- Ignore the problem behavior
- Prompt the replacement behavior until they can emit it on their own
- Reinforce for using the replacement behavior
Follow these steps diligently, you can have better behaved kids in no time!
If you need any suggestions on replacement behaviors, drop me a comment below!