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Positive Behavior Support and Families

Brief Overview of Positive Behavior Support

What is Positive Behavior Support?

Positive Behavior Support is a process used to prevent and replace challenging behavior, teach new skills, and improve quality of life. It is a research-based approach comprised of numerous evidence-based practices used to help parents, family members and others understand the reasons why a child is engaging in problem behavior and then create and use strategies that will improve the quality of life of that child or adult. Taking a team-based approach is one of the best ways to solve difficult behaviors without having all the responsibility and tasks of the positive behavior support process fall on one person alone. However, single parent families can implement the positive behavior support process at home, even if developing a team is not always possible.

How Can I Start the Positive Behavior Support Process at Home?

The positive behavior support planning process begins with the following steps:

Creating a Team

Focus first on collaboration and identifying potential team members. This includes family members, friends, educators, sports coaches, tutors, care-givers, and anyone who has information about your child or loved one.

Planning Life Goals for the Child or Adult

A family - mother, daughter, son, and father - sit together smiling on a sofa.

The goal of positive behavior support is to improve quality of life, not only for a son or daughter, but for everyone within the family. When done well, the positive behavior support process provides families with a plan for problem-solving that is used to identify solutions that fit within the family's everyday routines and within cultural and values that are held by that family.

Identifying Challenging Behavior

Data collection strategies are used to understand all of the reasons that have an impact on a son or daughter's behavior. This information is used to create and monitor plans that fit the needs of the individual and his or her family. It's also used to identify why challenging behavior is happening. Understanding why a behavior is happening is just as important as developing strategies to eliminate it. In some cases, a child may be seeking to escape from a non-preferred person, household chore or family event. In other situations, problem behavior may be communicating that the child wants a toy, activity, or person. At times, a child will display problem behavior in order to get their parents or siblings attention. In many cases, problem behavior is a form of social communication. Although in many cases, a child may engage in challenging behavior in order to seek out or avoid social situations, there are times when behaviors result from physiological issues (example: sensory disorders) or from medication side effects.

List Replacement Behavior/New Skills to Teach

A boy and girl, both toddlers, playing outside, sharing a ballon, under a tree in the sunshine.

The positive behavior support process gives the child, family members, and other team members a chance to work together and figure out what the next steps will be. The team works together to collect information about what they see, experience, and know about the child.  Team members will focus on a child's strengths in order to identify strategies that will improve quality of life at home, school, work, and in the community. Based on the information collected, the team will come up with replacement or new skills to teach your child or loved one. Oftentimes, challenging behavior results from the person's inability to perform a skill (ask for help, initiate play, interact with others, etc.).

Brainstorm Preventative Strategies

Positive behavior support strategies include teaching a child or adult new social and emotional skills as a better way to respond to situations or events that trigger problem behavior. The data collected by the team helps to provide information about what might cause problem behavior, such as, noise, smells, crowds, or other uncomfortable situations.  After reviewing the information, each member of the team can brainstorm creative strategies that will help avoid known triggers. Changes can be made to the child's environment in order to naturally prevent or minimize problem behavior. Strategies that include the child's entire family helps to make sure that the changes become a part of the family's way of life and this will increase the likelihood that positive behavior support plans are effective over a long period of time. The team gathers data to determine if the positive behavior support plan is working effectively. Of course, changes to the plan can be made when needed.

Develop Effective Responses to Challenging Behaviors

A grandfather and grand-daughter together, smiling.

It's important for the team to come up with strategies for when undesirable behavior takes place.  Your child or loved one needs to understand what will happen after his or her bad behavior just as much as they need to know what is expected of them. Your plan should include details about how to handle situations before they escalate or get out of hand.

Management of the Positive Behavior Support Plan

It's important to monitor the plan for making sure:

  • The plan is being used and carried out by all team members
  • Everyone is still documenting behavior and monitoring the plan's success
  • Team members feel supported, they know what to do and have the tools to put the plan in place.

An important goal of positive behavior support is to create a plan that meets the needs of the child or adult, that it can be used long term, and that it gives families the support they need to continue preventing difficult behavior.

Positive Behavior Support at Home

Understanding Behavior

Strategies for Preventing Challenging Behavior

Daily Family Routines

Participating in the Community

Managing and Monitoring Behavior

Parent Training Modules for Early Intervention

Positive Behavior Support at School

Positive Behavior Support and Independent Living

Positive Behavior Support Practices from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center

Positive Behavior Support Practices are fact sheets that describe successful practices in positive behavior support. Each Practice includes an overview, examples, issues and needs, and frequently-asked questions on a specific topic. The purpose of Positive Behavior Support Practices is to provide information about important elements of positive behavior support. These Positive Behavior Support Practices are not meant to be used for general implementation. A positive behavior support plan is not a "one size fits all" kind of process. These practices should only be considered during the planning, assessment and support process.

Methods of Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) – When a person displays behaviors that interfere with their progress in education and daily living, an FBA may be used to understand why a behavior is happening.

Collaborative Teaming in Positive Behavior Support – This is a team-based approach for positive behavior support. A team is comprised of family members, friends, professionals (educators, service providers, coaches, tutors, etc.), and anyone who can provide insightful information about the person in different environments or settings.

Proactive Support Strategies – These strategies are focused on reducing and avoiding challenging behaviors and allowing an individual to be as independent and successful as possible.

Positive Consequence Strategies – This is the use of strategies that address challenging behaviors by providing positive interaction (applause and praise), rewards, and opportunities to escape uncomfortable situations (short breaks) and more.

Teaching Replacement Skills – Often, challenging behaviors take place when a person hasn't learned other important skills. An intervention plan should include details on teaching an individual to learn or improve their ability to complete a task or skill in a more effective and positive way.

System Change in Positive Behavior Support – In order for systems (school schedules, home routines, community activities) to effectively support positive behavior support, they must be generally proactive, inclusive, flexible, and respectful of diversity.

Competing Behavior Model – This model helps to provide a link between functional assessment information (information learned by documenting what happens before, during, and after behaviors take place) and developing a positive behavior support plan.

Group Action Planning and Positive Behavior Support – A person-centered planning process that is developed by a collaborative team made up of the focus person, parents, friends, and professionals.

Addressing Cultural and Economic Diversity in Positive Behavior Support – Strategies for practitioners on how to be sensitive to the cultural and economic issues of the individuals and families they serve.

Research-based Case Study Summaries

The following case studies come from peer-reviewed research articles that explain the behavior interventions process for individuals with challenging behavior. The se summaries are meant to provide ideas for proven intervention strategies that are used in the field. While these case studies help us to learn more about positive behavior support and behavior intervention strategies, they are only meant to be examples. All PBS plans should start with person-centered planning and functional behavioral assessment. The functional behavioral assessment is used to identify interventions that are based on why the behavior is happening. More importantly, all PBS plans should always be individualized for the person receiving support. Please gather valuable information from these case studies, while being cautious not to assume all plans will work for all individuals who engage in similar challenging behavior.

Intervention Case Study 1: John is a 10-year-old boy in the fifth grade who lives with his parents and two younger brothers. John has a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome and has some problems with social interventions.

Intervention Case Study 2: Tolu is seven years old and has autism. He lives with his parents and younger brother. He does not use language to communicate. The family likes to go out to eat occasionally. However, if Tolu's father is not there, he will stand on tables and chairs at the restaurant, refuse to leave the playground at the restaurant, and sometimes run away from his mother.

Intervention Case Study 3: Haley and Kelti are six-year-old twins who live with their mother Shannon. They are both deaf and attend a school for deaf students. They both have a diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder and show limited social and language development. They both display problem behaviors that include hitting, kicking, screaming, and crying. Haley will run away from her mother and Kelti sometimes engages in self-injurious behavior, such as hitting her head.

Intervention Case Study 4: Two articles present a family-centered behavioral support process in which parents and professionals work together to improve significant challenging behaviors seen in their children.