Many times when we hear the word “behavior,” we associate the term with “negative” or an action that should be eliminated as soon as possible. Actually behaviors are neither “good” or “bad,” yet simply actions that can be shaped, reinforced, or discouraged.
I planned on spending this post explaining how I found using the approach of replacing behaviors very effective in the special education setting. Instead, I realize this is a technique we ALL use… with the children in our lives, with people in our close circles, and even ourselves!
What is a replacement behavior?
A replacement behavior is an action that is absolutely incompatible with a targeted behavior you would like to extinguish.
If this “new” behavior is in taking place, then the “old” behavior cannot occur or co-exist.
Why replace a behavior?
If you’re unsure if replacing a behavior works better than stopping a behavior instead, I suggest reflecting on the last time you tried using “STOP DOING THAT!” and how it went 🙂
I believe all behavior is communication and it would be beneficial to listen!
Think about a student yelling out during class or another putting hands on another child when lining up for a transition. What needs are they communicating?
- Are they seeking attention?
- Are they frustrated?
- Are they trying to have social needs met?
Is there another way (replacement) to having these needs met?
Often when I hear pushback to using replacement behaviors (“they should just stop doing it in the first place!”), I think it’s important to recognize that these newly introduced behaviors are intended to be used as a transition and may eventually be faded out.
Here’s my favorite example that I like to use when I’m explaining the effectiveness of replacement behaviors:
I didn’t necessarily disagree with the change we were making in our hallways… although my ears LOVE a quiet hallway, I often felt a bit uneasy observing students receiving reprimands for not “following along” in those strict and silent lines. It was often my own students getting into “trouble!”
I did wonder how this was actually going to transpire… there WAS a reason for walking in those lines. I felt there really need to be some type of transition introduced for our students so they could adjust to such a big change
Fast forward a few months and our hallways felt like CHAOS. My students were loud, running, and putting hands on everything and everyone! I knew I had to do something, especially because a stern look and “DON’T TOUCH ANYONE!” wasn’t exactly effective long-term.
Of course, I focused on keeping safe hands first and the replacement behavior I put into place immediately was “Keep your hands in your pockets.” Another solution was to have students carry something in their hands. Busy hands are simply incompatible to the behavior I wanted to eliminate.
Will they have to keep their hands in their pockets all school year long? That is up to our consistency and students’ progress, but I know I was already looking ahead out how this replacement behavior could be faded so my students could safely walk in the hall with their peers.
Think of replacement behaviors as a “bridge” between the behavior we want to eliminate and the behavior we want our students to exhibit.