Challenging Behavior: Easy Steps to Respond

All children engage in challenging behavior, but do you know what’s is causing it? Challenging behavior is often a result of a skill that is learned the wrong way. All behavior is a form of communication – sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes it is inappropriate, and can look different for each child. To help you understand how to best respond to challenging behavior, it is helpful to also understand some behavior basics.

Human Behavior 101

Human behavior is predictable and is largely under the control of its environment. For your young child, the environment is the parent. Meaning, you, as the parent, is in charge of what they get to have and don’t get to have, what they have to do and don’t have to do, and the quality and amount of the attention they receive from you. Children learn by being reinforced, by someone or something in their environment. Therefore, when challenging behavior continues, there’s something in the environment that is making the behavior happen again. 

For example, your child might want a toy that is out of reach. They might begin to cry for the toy, which could result in you coming over and giving it to them. Because your child has been successful in getting what they want by crying – they will be more likely to do the same thing in the future.

How To Respond

The next time your child engages in challenging behavior, you can follow these easy steps in order to figure out why the challenging behavior is occurring, and then determine how to respond appropriately:

Step 1: STOP: Stop and take a deep breath. This helps you not react too soon!

Step 2: REPLAY: Do an instant replay. Look at the following:

  • What happened right before the behavior
  • What did the behavior look like during the episode? 
  • What happened immediately after the behavior?

Step 3: THINK: Think about it. Use the context clues to take an educated guess!

  • What did they want/get?
  • How do I want them to ask?
  • How can I change what happens before, during and after next time?

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box with your responses. How you respond in one situation, may not be the way you respond in every situation. You might arrange the toys/environment to make your child more successful to even prevent the behavior from occurring. Or you might use your actions, instead of your words, to tell your child what to do. 

Just remember, your child’s environment is you. Your response to their communication matters and has the power to make the behavior stop or continue! 

If your child is struggling with challenging behavior, or has an autism diagnosis, Project Play Therapy’s ABA Team can help. Give our office a call at 615-832-8955 or email us at