Every teacher worth her salt knows that in order to teach the class, you
have to have the class in order. But, what if your child has challenging behaviors? What will the school do to determine why your child is misbehaving? What can be done to change the behavior?
All behaviors serve a purpose, or function. Before we can try to change a behavior, we need to understand why the child is exhibiting the behavior. The function of behavior includes four categories:
To Avoid or Escape
Example: The student does not want to do classwork, so misbehaves to get sent out of class.
Example: The student acts out to gain attention from others.
Example: This is the kid in the grocery store who throws a tantrum until mom buys the candy.
Sensory Self Stimulation
Example: Rocking back and forth because it feels good.
A Functional Behavior Analysis, or FBA, is a document that school personnel use to help identify the why, or function, of the behavior. After identifying the function that the behavior is serving, we can try to change the behavior. Trying to change the behavior without identifying the function can be ineffective. Some behaviors can serve different functions in different circumstances and will need different interventions in order for the behavior to change or improve.
For example, a middle school student stands up on his desk, swings his belt wildly in the air while shouting, “Yeehaw!” at top volume. The teacher assumes that this is attention seeking behavior, so she sends the student out of class for a time out. The student misses the morning writing assignment and re-joins his class after completing a punish work assignment.
The teacher in this example assumed that she knew the function of the behavior without looking deeper at the circumstances. Because of this assumption, she may have strengthened the student’s misbehavior, instead of eliminating it, by ultimately giving the student what he was seeking. If she had worked with the student and his other teachers to complete an FBA, she may have gained insight into the behavior’s function.
In this example, the student could be seeking to avoid or escape the morning writing assignment. Maybe the student did not understand the assignment, or the topic made him feel uncomfortable, but whatever the motivation, he did not want to complete the task. By sending the student out of class, the teacher has just taught the student that if he engages in disruptive behaviors, he can escape his work. If the teacher had known that the function of the student’s behavior was to avoid/escape the assignment, she could have worked with the student to clear any misunderstandings and provide support for the assignment. In the future, when giving a writing assignment, she would be mindful that the student may need additional supports.
Alternatively in this situation, the student may have had motivation to seek access to the time out room. Maybe his girlfriend was in the time out room so he wanted to be in there too. In this example, the teacher sending the student to the time out room (essentially to be with his girlfriend) will reinforce his misbehavior. Instead of sending the student to the time out room to be with his girlfriend, the student could have been sent elsewhere to complete his assignment, thereby making the behavior ineffectual for gaining access to his girlfriend.
An FBA completed by a team of teachers can be an extremely helpful tool when a child is exhibiting misbehaviors. By determining the function of the behavior, the team can then make a plan to change the behavior, called a Behavior Intervention Plan, or BIP. FBAs and BIPs should not be completed with only one source of information as this can be a limited and incomplete set of data and ideas.
Behavior is complicated and dynamic. All people exhibit behaviors all of the time. Some behaviors are absolutely wonderful, and some are quite the opposite. Be careful about making assumptions about a child’s behavior without looking closely at other factors involved. You may find out that with a little support or teaching, the behavior can be changed for the better! And, as always, if you need further assistance, please reach out!