What do I do when____?
As a behavior analyst, one of the most common questions is "what do I do when my child/student does____?" You could fill in the blank for any type of behavior that would be considered a problem or a behavior the adults want to address. As soon as this question is asked, I know that first thing that needs to happen is education on the prevention of problem behavior and the building of replacement communication and social emotional skills.
Behavior intervention occurs before the behavior happens and happens continuously until there is data to support it can be faded because the behavior of concern has decreased. Responding only to behavior after it happens will not reduce the behavior. It may stop it in the short term, but it is not building alternatives for the child to do instead. Responding only to behavior leads to parents and teachers walking on eggshells or what waiting for the problem to happen, and cros
sing their fingers, instead of feeling empowered with preventative strategies.
The first step is always to determine what the alternative is going to be. For many children, even those without identified communication needs, teaching communication alternatives is a good place to start looking. For small children, for example, that may engage in tantrums or meltdowns, teaching the child how to seek out help, how to express they are upset, and even other ways to protest. For older children that have more social emotional needs, teaching different ways to get what they want can help decrease problem behavior. Teaching children how to negotiate or express that they need something different and allowing alternatives to happen to keep problem behavior low is the best first step.
When I am called into crisis situations to just respond to the problem behavior, I am very clear that how I may work to get the child calm or to stop the problem behavior in the moment is not necessarily the best strategy. The best strategy is to help the child discover and practice alternatives to avoid the behavior before it even occurs.