Defining Problem Behavior

When working with any behavior, whether it be a problem behavior or even a target behavior, it is critical to make sure that all stakeholders are in agreement with what that problem behavior is, and what it is not, so that when it is observed it can all be agreed upon. If you are not currently in the ABA field, I have a feeling you will look at behavior definitions after reading today’s blog.

Once you’ve determined that a behavior is worth targeting for reduction, defining the problem behavior is the first step in writing a Behavior Intervention Plan.

Why is it Important?

Think of this when you’re in a larger setting, let’s say a staff of 6 -10 in a school setting, what if the behavior is described as just: aggression. What type of aggression are we talking about? Kicking, biting, scratching? So many things could fall under the umbrella of aggression. A quick rule of thumb when trying to come up with an operational definition is to make it clear enough that it could be recreated by someone reading it. For that aggressive behavior, let’s say that when we really look at it we find out it involves kicking, but we can break that down even further. Example: Kicking is defined as coming into contact with another person’s body, using a foot from a distance of 6 inches or more.

What Happens When you Don’t Define the Behavior?

As mentioned above, we want to make sure everyone is on the same page with what the behavior actually is. For instance, I picked my daughter up from daycare and I had the dreaded note in the backpack with red ink on it. Red ink at her daycare only meant that she had done something, “wrong”. Upon reading the response from the teacher, it went something like this, “Your child was off-task during circle time today, can you please discuss with them the importance of being on task during circle time”. Ok, I chuckled a little bit cause she was three and talking to a three-year-old about their behavior hours after said behavior is not very effective, plus the only thing I knew was that she was, off task. Let’s just picture this hypothetical conversation for a moment, “Hi cute child of mine, I heard you were off-task today, do you think you could be more on-task tomorrow”. Yes, it gives me a headache just thinking about it. So the next day I asked the teachers what exactly my kiddo was doing and what it was, is that my daughter was playing with the sequins on her shirt, (you know the ones that when you swipe your hand over them they change to a new picture I mean who can really resist them, they are fun!), instead of reciting the alphabet. This was an easy fix, I just had to make sure she did not wear that shirt to daycare anymore.

The example of my daughter is the lack of a clear definition of behavior between myself and my daughter’s teacher, but what if we added 6-10 more stakeholders, such as school staff? I have worked in schools where I am told the child has aggressive behaviors, but aggressive behaviors can really be anything, so let’s break that down a little. Let’s pretend our aggressive kiddo is kicking, believe it or not, we can break this down even further, because even the definition of kicking can mean lots of things to different people in different situations. The Rockett’s kick right, ok how about soccer players they kick a ball right? So let’s define out imaginary kiddos kicking behavior just a bit more so that anyone who reads or hears the definitions could easily either replicate it or identify it. For example, Kicking is defined as any occurrence of making contact with any part of another person’s body with a foot, from a distance of 6 inches or more.

There Has to be a Manual for this Stuff?

We have the next best thing to a manual we have a free download that you can share with families that you work with, or if you are a parent use it to help communicate behaviors to your provider. You can click below to grab your free copy today.

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