Behavior Intervention: Definition, Strategies, and Resources

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A therapist watches as a child draws pictures.

When faced with difficult situations, children may occasionally lose their temper or experience emotional outbursts. Behavior issues, such as uncontrolled tantrums, aggressive physical behavior, and repetitive emotional outbursts, may interfere with children’s ability to function in school and may cause turmoil at home.

Targeted behavior interventions tailored to meet each child’s needs can prevent these challenging behaviors and teach children to use communication through positive behaviors in response to challenges. Effective behavior intervention plans can effectively minimize negative behaviors and ensure a healthy educational environment that optimizes learning and can improve family interactions.

This article presents examples of positive behavior intervention plans and strategies. It describes applied behavior analytic assessment and intervention, including the ABC model of behavior assessment. It also outlines the benefits of earning a masters in Behavior Analysis online to prepare for a career in applied behavior analysis.

What Is a Behavior Intervention Plan?

A child who struggles in school may require an individualized education program (IEP) that describes the goals that a team of educators have established for the child during a school year. Key to the IEP’s success is identifying any special support required to reach specific goals. The plan’s special support needs often include a behavior intervention plan that is designed to teach and reinforce positive behaviors.

What is a behavior intervention plan? BIPs, which are also called positive intervention plans, are customized to the needs, abilities, and skills of the child:

  • They are individualized.
  • They are positive.
  • They are consistent.

The BIP has many distinct components:

  • Skills training to promote appropriate behavior
  • Alteration of the classroom or learning environment to minimize or eliminate problem behaviors
  • Strategies to encourage appropriate behaviors that replace problem behaviors
  • The support the child will need to behave appropriately
  • Collection of data to measure the child’s progress

Types of Behaviors the Intervention Plan Aims to Minimize

Teachers understand the importance of setting classroom rules and expectations. The rules and expectations must be clearly communicated to students and enforced when necessary. The intervention plan is intended to guarantee that all children benefit from a safe, nurturing learning environment. The behaviors that an intervention plan addresses may include some of the following:

  • Making noise in class
  • Disrupting other students
  • Talking out of turn
  • Intentionally creating a power struggle with the teacher
  • Distracting the learning process by repeatedly arguing over minor issues
  • Brooding, rudeness, or negative mannerisms in class
  • Overdependence on teachers or other students

Preventive Strategies: Encouraging Positive Behaviors

To manage their classrooms, many teachers tend to focus on problem behaviors. Another way to prevent and reduce challenging behaviors is by acknowledging correct behaviors and praising small successes.

Vermont-NEA (The Union of Vermont Educators) describes strategies for effective behavior management in educational settings:

  • Stay calm at all times, and demonstrate to the students that the teacher is in charge.
  • Give instructions as simple, direct statements rather than in the form of a question or request.
  • Make sure that students know when it’s time for them to give the teacher their full attention.
  • Use the student’s name when giving praise and when disciplining, and make sure the student understands which action triggered the praise or discipline.

The Personalized Nature of Behavior Intervention Plans

The success of a BIP depends on the participation of the students in crafting plans that address their unique situation, character, and personality. Encouraging the student to participate in planning may help build rapport and motivate the student to agree to pursue the plan’s goals. The right plan will be something the student looks forward to rather than something seen as a chore or an embarrassment.

  • Ask the student about the goals to be achieved, and include those goals in the plan along with the goals set by parents and educators.
  • Make sure that the student understands which behaviors to exhibit in specific situations, so the student will be able to recognize behavioral improvement.
  • Provide highly motivating reinforcers, such as items or rewards that would motivate the student, for appropriate behaviors to encourage participation.
  • Include in the plan graphics or other elements that represent the student’s interests, such as favorite movie or cartoon characters and other items that the student will respond favorably to.

How Applied Behavior Analysts Collaborate to Devise Individualized Strategies

In a paper published in the journal Behavior Analysis in Practice, researchers Collin Shepley and Jennifer Grisham-Brown identify gaps between research and practice in the application of behavioral analysis in schools. The researchers point out that more than 25% of applied behavior analysts work in schools, which is the second-largest employment sector for applied behavior analysts after health care.

However, the emphasis on blended practices that individualize education for all students requires the participation of many different parties, including educators, behavior analysts, and parents. A curriculum framework that supports blended practices combines data-driven decision making; professional development; and a leadership plan involving teachers, children, and families.

The role of behavior analysts in such team settings entails several activities:

  • Identifying the behaviors to target for instruction
  • Determining the prerequisite skills to address the target behavior
  • Selecting socially appropriate replacement behaviors based on the functional behavior assessment

The researchers emphasize the importance of collaborative working relationships to the long-term success of positive behavioral interventions. Elements of success include agreeing on roles and responsibilities, understanding the goals of the interventions, and establishing criteria for terminating or reevaluating the relationship.

Applying Strategies at Home in Extraordinary Circumstances

A key to the success of positive behavior interventions is consistency. Disruptions in students’ routines, such as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, make it even more difficult to implement and maintain intervention plans. In addition to requiring drastic changes in children’s daily routines, the pandemic creates anxiety and uncertainty that can discourage positive behaviors.

The Texas Education Agency provides a checklist that parents and educators can use to support challenging behaviors at home:

  • Adjust the child’s IEP and BIP to the home learning environment, and encourage parents and guardians to promote replacement behaviors and self-regulation skills.
  • Remove distractions from the home learning environment, keep all required materials well organized, and set a schedule that matches the child’s learning style (including breaking assignments into small chunks).
  • Encourage parents to respond calmly when a child misbehaves and to focus on the replacement behavior using the same reinforcers that are applied in school settings.

What Is a Positive Behavior Intervention System?

A positive behavior intervention system integrates data, support systems, and intervention practices with the goal of improving social and academic outcomes for individuals with behavior issues. This proactive, systematic framework drives the success of the intervention.

Integrating Data, Support Systems, and Intervention Practices

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) describes the three-tiered evidence-based framework designed to ensure the social and academic success of all students:

  • Tier 1, Universal Prevention, applies to all students and emphasizes prosocial skills and expectations by teaching appropriate behaviors.
  • Tier 2, Targeted Prevention, applies to some students and focuses on supporting students who are at risk of developing more serious behavior problems.
  • Tier 3, Intensive, Individualized Prevention, applies to the small proportion of students whose behavior doesn’t improve after applying Tier 1 and Tier 2 support. The students in this group include those with developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and emotional and behavioral disorders.

All three tiers combine three components to achieve their desired outcomes:

  • The systems component encompasses the mechanisms used by the school to design and implement educational practices that promote student achievement.
  • The data component covers the collection, analysis, and application of data about students to improve academic outcomes.
  • The practices component describes the implementation of research-backed strategies that achieve the goals targeted by the BIP.

Improving Social and Academic Outcomes

Just as IEPs are geared to individual students, the multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) involves the entire school community in improving behavioral and academic outcomes. The goal of the MTSS process is to provide every student with early access to individualized academic and behavior interventions based on the student’s specific needs.

Ensuring effective social and emotional functioning requires positive behavioral supports to increase academic engagement, minimize problem behaviors, and improve academic outcomes. Achieving this goal requires strong leadership and collaboration among educators and behavior interventionists as part of teams that include principals, classroom teachers, school psychologists, social workers, and guidance counselors.

Examples of Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies

Positive behavior intervention strategies include designing routines, implementing silent signals, assigning tasks, and setting expectations. These strategies help encourage positive behaviors from individuals while simultaneously suppressing negative behaviors.

The goal of intervention strategies is to understand that the problem behaviors are a means of communicating and to respond with compassion. This establishes a trusting relationship between students, families, teachers, and behavior analysts that shifts from fixing students to understanding them.

Designing Routines

Routines are a component of every successful classroom, but they’re also effective in addressing inappropriate behaviors in home settings. Routines provide students with more time to spend on learning by reducing the time required to transition from one task or activity to another.

Classroom routines describe the procedures for many common activities:

  • Turning in work
  • Passing out materials
  • Making up for missed work
  • Establishing arrival and dismissal procedures
  • Providing options to occupy students when they finish an assignment
  • Transitioning between activities

Using Silent Signals

The use of silent signals to discourage problem behaviors in the classroom provides many benefits:

  • They establish a working relationship with the student without calling out the negative behavior.
  • They’re quick and easy, so there’s no loss of instruction time.
  • They help build the student’s self-esteem and encourage the student to participate.

Examples of silent signals include returning the student’s attention to the current activity or assignment, redirecting misbehavior, helping students who struggle to talk in front of the class, encouraging reluctant students to participate, and praising students when they behave well or succeed at a task.

To use silent signals, teachers should meet with the student individually to explain their tacit communication methods, allow the student to decide the methods whenever possible, set a cue for the student to use when wanting to participate, and use as many positive and encouraging signals as negative ones.

Applying Task Assignments

The curricula and assignments can be modified in many ways to promote positive behaviors in students:

  • Ensure the material is appropriate for the students and properly motivates them to learn.
  • Change the number or difficulty of assignments to avoid overwhelming students.
  • Divide difficult assignments into several parts.
  • Assign tasks that require the active participation of the students.
  • Shorten lessons or change the pace of the instruction.
  • Help students maintain a planner for their assignments.
  • Use multiple modes of instruction, such as video, audio, and hands-on exercises.
  • Increase the amount of reinforcement and the frequency of task-related recognition.

Setting Expectations

Before teachers can set expectations for students, they must have a plan for operating the classroom. They must understand the characteristics of their students, and they must know what the school expects students to achieve. The expectations communicate to students how they’re required to act toward other students and school staff. They also let students know the standards they’re expected to live up to and the structure in which their education will be provided.

The expectations should be developed with input from students to increase their sense of ownership and make it more likely they’ll behave as the guidelines describe. The expectations must be appropriate to the grade level and abilities of students. They must be posted prominently and communicated clearly and regularly to students. The consequences for failing to meet the expectations must also be clear to students.

Resources for Creating a Positive Behavior Intervention System

Here are some resources for developing and implementing PBIS strategies:

  • The OSEP Technical Assistance Center on PBIS provides a guide to resources for using PBIS to increase racial equity, as well as four resources designed to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services features a list of resources available through various federal government agencies. The department also offers information for educators and families on services available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • The National Education Association has compiled guidelines for schools in the process of implementing positive behavior intervention systems.

The Three Tiers of Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Strategies

The tiered nature of positive behavior intervention and support strategies is designed to accommodate the education and social needs of all students in school and at home. Particular systems and practices correspond to how the three tiers meet the needs of students in general, students who exhibit skills deficits, and students who need IEPs:

  • Universal Prevention (Tier 1) addresses the behavior and academic needs of all students through the core program.
  • Targeted Prevention (Tier 2) addresses the needs of some students who require help to develop specific skill deficits.
  • Intensive, Individualized Prevention (Tier 3) addresses the higher level of attention and resources a few students will require to improve behavior and academic performance.

Applied behavior analysts work with educators and parents to implement each of the three support strategies in classroom and home settings as part of comprehensive positive behavior intervention plans.

Strategies and Goals Between the Three Tiers

Tier 1 serves as the foundation for Tier 2 and Tier 3 by creating a school-wide program that identifies students who need additional support.

  • The Tier 1 leadership team monitors school-wide data and makes sure that all students in need have equal access to support services. The team also evaluates the program’s overall effectiveness.
  • The Tier 2 team identifies students who are at risk of developing more serious behavior and academic problems. The team participates in group interventions in which 10 or more students typically participate.
  • The Tier 3 team works with the 1% to 5% of students whose needs aren’t met by the programs offered in the first two tiers. The team often works directly with individual students who have disabilities, emotional or behavioral disorders, or no diagnostic label.

How Applied Behavior Analysts Implement Each Support Strategy in a Classroom

Applied behavior analysis studies the environmental events that are critical to understanding and changing children’s behaviors in the classroom and in the home. It examines behaviors based on the relationship between antecedents and consequences:

  • Antecedents describe what happened just prior to the behavior.
  • Consequences describe what happened immediately after the behavior.

For Tier 1 and Tier 2 students, the support strategy can be integrated with standard instruction and may require occasional instruction in small group settings. Tier 3 students in particular are likely to require supplementary aids and services in education settings. The services must be effective in reaching the student’s education and behavior goals without stigmatizing the student.

The skills taught to Tier 3 students focus on adjusting to classroom learning:

  • Participate and learn in a group.
  • Initiate and sustain reciprocal peer interactions.
  • Complete seatwork assignments.
  • Communicate needs clearly.
  • Follow classroom routines.
  • Reduce problem behaviors that interfere with learning.
  • Self-regulate, make inferences, and consider the perspective of others.

How Applied Behavior Analysts Implement Each Support Strategy in Homes

Applied behavior analytics has proven effective in teaching skills that are useful in the home and community. Instruction may take place one-to-one or in groups using techniques like positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behaviors in various settings.

  • In collaboration with the family, the analyst first establishes a goal behavior.
  • Each time the student uses the behavior or skill, the student is rewarded in a meaningful way.
  • Over time, the rewards encourage repetition of the goal behavior or skill, and it becomes a meaningful behavior change.

What Is a Positive Behavior Intervention System?

Applied behavior analytic intervention strategies are used to treat challenging behaviors that may be displayed by individuals on the autism spectrum. Behavior analysts typically start by assessing these challenging behaviors. The information collected during an Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) assessment is integrated in applied behavior analytic intervention strategies. Once an intervention protocol is designed, targeted and consistent treatment can be implemented. Early intervention is key to successfully reducing such behavior problems.

Applied Behavior Analytic Intervention to Treat Individuals with Autism

The primary concern of behavior intervention strategies for students on the autism spectrum is to individualize the program to the education and behavior goals of the student. The process begins with a detailed assessment of the student’s abilities, interests, preferences, and family situation. Goals are based on the student’s age and level of ability.

  • Communication and language
  • Social skills
  • Self-care (e.g., hygiene, independent living skills)
  • Play and recreation
  • Motor skills
  • Learning and academic skills

Each skill is reduced to small, specific steps that the analyst teaches one at a time using various techniques. The analyst tracks the student’s progress and communicates with the family and other program team members.

The Importance of Early Intervention to Address Disruptive Behaviors

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the importance of early intervention to address disruptive behaviors in all children, including neurotypical children and children with ASD. The agency cites studies that link disruptive behavior disorders present in all children to a higher risk of such long-term problems as mental disorders, violence, and delinquency.

The most effective treatment approaches are group parent behavior therapy and individual parent behavior therapy with the child’s participation.

Certain situations increase the likelihood of a child exhibiting disruptive behaviors. Applied behavior analysts, teachers, and parents can prevent and minimize such behaviors by anticipating the times, occasions, and activities that are most likely to precede disruptive behaviors. Similarly, by identifying children who are most likely to have small or occasional behavior problems become more serious, intervention teams can steer the children away from negative behaviors and toward positive alternatives.

Educators and analysts can help parents spot the signs of behavior problems in their children by encouraging parents to perceive situations from the child’s perspective. This helps parents prepare children for future situations and activities that the children may struggle with.

  • Parents are encouraged to teach children many different words they can use to express their emotions and feelings.
  • Parents help children develop problem-solving skills, so they can imagine alternative solutions when problems arise.
  • Parents are instructed to use if-then statements to help children learn to wait patiently for their favorite activities.

Integrating the ABC Assessment Tool in Applied Behavior Analytic Intervention

An ABC assessment is used to help intervention teams understand why certain behaviors occur and which consequences are likely to affect whether the behaviors will be repeated.

  • An antecedent occurs immediately before the disruptive behavior.
  • The behavior that results is the child’s response or lack of response, whether verbal, an action, or other form.
  • A consequence occurs immediately after the behavior, whether positive reinforcement of a desired behavior or no reaction to incorrect or inappropriate behaviors.

Children have abundant opportunities throughout the day to learn and practice skills that promote positive behaviors. Parents, family members, and caregivers are trained to support learning and skills practice whenever the opportunity arises. The intervention plan emphasizes positive social interactions and enjoyable learning.

Striving Toward Positive Behavior

The work of applied behavior analysts helps educators, families, and communities ensure that all children receive the assistance they need to achieve their academic and social goals. Programs such as Regis College’s online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis prepare applied behavior analysts for careers helping children, families, and educators gain maximum benefit from the educational opportunities that are available to them.

Learn more about how the Regis College online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program helps students pursue their professional goals.

Recommended Readings

How Parents Can Support Children with ASD or Other Behavior Issues While Under Covid-19 Quarantine

What Are Some Examples of Positive Behavior Supports in the Classroom?

What Is a Behavior Intervention Plan, and Why Is It Important in ABA Therapy?


Autism Speaks, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

BookWidgets, “Handling Challenging Behavior Problems in the Classroom”

Child Mind Institute, Disruptive Behavior: Why It’s Often Misdiagnosed

Classcraft, “How to Use PBIS Strategies in the Classroom”

Crisis Prevention Institute, “Top 10 Positive Behavior Support (PBIS) Online Resources”

Henry-Stark Counties Special Education District, HSCGED Guidelines for MTSS Implementation for Social/Emotional and Behavioral Concerns

Indiana Department of Education, Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS)

KidsHealth, Individualized Education Programs

National Association for the Education of Young People, “Reducing Challenging Behaviors During Transitions: Strategies for Early Childhood Educators to Share with Parents”

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Applied Behavior Analysis in Early Childhood Education: An Overview of Policies, Research, Blended Practices, and the Curriculum Framework”

Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, 4 Resources to Support Students During the Pandemic

Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Getting Started

Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, A Commitment to Racial Equity from the Center on PBIS

Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Tier 1

Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Tier 2

Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Tier 3

Ohio Department of Education, PBIS for Educators

PBIS World, Non-Verbal Cues & Signals

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