3.2 Behavior Support Plans

3.2: Provide teachers/providers with training and tools to develop and implement behavior support plans

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A behavior support plan is an action plan that outlines the steps used to address a child’s challenging behavior and is developed only after a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) has been conducted (see Recommendation 3.1). This assessment-based behavior support plan is designed to help the child learn and should be developed by a team. Team members may be the child’s parents, grandparents, teachers, school directors, child care providers, and behavior specialists.

Behavior support plans address environmental triggers of the challenging behavior. They include instruction on how to help the child learn more appropriate communication and social skills to replace the challenging behavior and provide caregivers at school and at home with strategies for responding to the behavior so that it is not reinforced.

Establishing and implementing a process that involves assessment-based behavior support plans can prevent suspensions and expulsions by teaching children appropriate social skills and reducing challenging behavior, helping them be successful participants at school, at home, and in the community. These plans can also help providers/teachers understand the function of a child’s behavior (e.g., attention seeking or avoidance), proactively arrange a learning environment so as not to trigger the problem behavior, and provide effective responses to reduce the occurrence of the challenging behavior.

How Do I Do This?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Discuss with your teachers how a carefully developed behavior support plan can make challenging behavior less likely. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what practices teachers are currently using to address the challenging behavior. You can support teachers and staff to reflect on their own practices by asking questions such as:

  • What interventions or strategies are you currently using to address children’s challenging behavior?
    • What has been working well as you use these interventions and strategies?
    • Have you encountered any challenges using these strategies?

You should also discuss what steps are already taking to develop a behavior support plan by asking questions such as:

  • What information do you have about the child’s challenging behavior?
    • What predicts or precedes the challenging behavior (antecedent)?
    • What do teachers, children, and caregivers at home do in response to the child’s challenging behavior?
    • Why does the child engage in the challenging behavior? Does the child obtain something s/he wants (e.g., attention, a toy) or avoid something s/he dislikes?
  • Are you using strategies to prevent challenging behaviors from occurring?
  • Are you explicitly teaching children new skills that they can use to replace the challenging behavior?
  • Are you using strategies to help adults respond to the child’s behavior in a way that ensures the challenging behavior is not maintained and that new skills are learned?
  • Has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) been developed for this child? If so, how can the existing goals/outcomes of the IEP/IFSP be integrated into this discussion? In what ways can we align the outcomes/goals of the IEP/IFSP with the goals of the proposed behavior support plan?

From the HHS and ED Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings:

If a child’s behavior impedes the child’s learning, or that of others, the IEP team, must consider behavioral intervention strategies, including the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, when developing the initial IEP, or modifying an existing IEP, so as to reduce the need for discipline of a child with disabilities and avoid suspension or expulsion from a preschool program.

Step 2. Gather information about the child and his or her behavior. This will help the team understand how, why, and when challenging behavior occurs. (see Recommendation 3.1).

Step 3. Help teachers understand how useful a behavior support plan can be. A behavior supports plan is useful when it:

  • Uses a team-based approach. This team may include parents, family members, teachers, providers, other caregivers, behavior specialists, and yourself (the school director/administrator). This team should already be in place if a functional behavioral assessment has been conducted (refer to Recommendation 3.1). Full participation in this team-based process can help you get the full picture of a child’s challenging behavior and help ensure that the plan you put in place is followed at home and school.
  • Is based on a behavior hypothesis statement. Behavior support plans are aligned with the behavior hypothesis statement and guide the development of specific steps to help the child.
Vignette 1: Ms. Holloway holds a team meeting to talk about the data they collected 2 weeks earlier. They refer to the behavior hypothesis statement that they formed at the last FBA meeting: “When another child tries to take his toy or a toy that is near him, Shaun hits and pinches the child, and as a result the child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.”
Vignette 2: The team uses the behavior hypothesis statement to develop a behavior support plan for Sophie: “When the teacher announces it’s time to transition to circle time activities, Sophie lies on the ground and cries, and as a result, the teaching assistant calmly talks and works with Sophie at a table. Sophie uses this behavior to escape nonpreferred activities and acquire attention from an adult.”
Vignette 1: Ms. Flowers helps the team brainstorm strategies to prevent Shaun’s hitting, pinching, and kicking. Since Shaun engages in these behaviors to access preferred toys, the team decides to have multiples of a few high-interest toys (e.g., blocks and dump trucks) at school.
Vignette 2: To modify the antecedent conditions of Sophie’s challenging behavior, the team implements the use of a visual schedule as a prevention strategy. On this visual schedule are pictures and text that depict a series of events, which alternate between preferred and nonpreferred activities (e.g., breakfast, circle time, books, alphabet/numbers, recess, circle time, free play, nap time). This schedule helps Sophie see a visual representation of her day. Adults agree to use the visual schedule with Sophie to identify tasks that need to be completed before moving to a preferred activity. They also give Sophie 2 minute warnings before the end of a preferred activity.
  • Teaches the child replacement skills. Replacement skills are alternative skills that a child can use instead of the challenging behavior. The key here is consistency and repetition. Caregivers should provide positive reinforcement when the child uses these replacement skills.
    • For example, when the purpose of the challenging behavior is to obtain something (e.g., attention, object, activity), replacement skills may include:
      • Following a schedule
      • Participating in a routine
      • Asking for help
      • Asking for a hug
      • Asking for a turn
      • Asking for an item
      • Teaching delay of reinforcement
Vignette 1:Shaun’s speech therapist encourages the team to teach Shaun how to ask, “Can I play?” or say “My turn” whenever he wants access to a preferred toy. They also design a choice board that serves as a visual cue for Shaun. He uses the choice board to point to the toys he wants to play with.
  • When the purpose of the challenging behavior is to escape something (e.g., activity, demands, social interaction), replacement skills may include:
    • Asking for a break
    • Saying “No”
    • Saying “All done”
    • Identifying and expressing feelings
    • Using supports to follow rules
    • Following a schedule
    • Providing a choice
Vignette 2: The team teaches Sophie the replacement skill of asking for a break both verbally and by using her visual schedule when she hears a song or story she doesn’t like during circle time. The team teaches Sophie to move the pictures on the visual schedule herself. The physical movement of the picture paired with the 2-minute warnings provides Sophie the support she needs between transitions. She learns to ask for a break instead of crying or running away.
Vignette 1: Adults in the classroom stay around the block area and sandbox where Shaun’s challenging behaviors are more likely to occur in order to monitor the situation. They prompt Shaun to say “My turn,” redirect him to use his choice board, and reinforce appropriate behavior. They set up opportunities for Shaun to practice at school with other children and at home with Shaun’s brother.
  • When the purpose of the challenging behavior is to escape something (e.g., attention, object, activity), consequence strategies may include:
    • Redirecting the child to use an appropriate replacement skill and then allowing escape
    • Offering alternatives
    • Stating clearly what the expectation is
    • Using “wait time”
    • Praising/reinforcing the child for engaging in appropriate behavior
    • Responding in a way that does not maintain the challenging behavior
Vignette 2: Instead of providing access to the teaching assistant whenever Sophie engages in the targeted challenging behavior during a nonpreferred activity, Mr. Brown and the teaching assistant are instructed to redirect Sophie to use her visual schedule. They also prompt her to ask for a break and then allow escape. The team also provides Sophie with praise for appropriate and on-task behavior.

Step 4. Identify training needs. You can help your teachers identify training needs so that they feel prepared and comfortable with developing and using individualized behavior support plans. It will be important to take into account if teachers are brand new to the process of using behavior support plans or if they have some experience with these processes. For teachers who have not done this before, an in-person training led by a trained specialist who goes over each step of the process with hands-on exercises may be helpful. A free online module on developing a behavior support plan is available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website (see Module 3b).

  • It may help to discuss with teachers what they see as their strengths in developing and using behavior support plans, as well as what they might find more challenging. For example, do staff feel comfortable designing the different components of the intervention? Or are they struggling with making sure that teachers and caregivers at home are following the plan as intended and consistently? It’s also important to ensure that staff have enough support (time and assistance) to design the behavior support plan, as well as to implement the plan reliably.
Vignette 1: Shaun’s teacher, Ms. Johnson, wants to learn more about consequence strategies. She reaches out to her director, Ms. Holloway, to seek additional support so that she feels more comfortable providing the appropriate responses to Shaun’s behavior when it occurs in the classroom.
Vignette 2: Mr. Brown voices his concern to the team and his director, Ms. Anderson, that it may often be difficult to implement the replacement skills the team has identified for Sophie. He’s worried that Sophie’s use of her visual schedule during circle time will be challenging to do without interrupting the whole class.

Step 5. Plan a course of action. After identifying professional development goals and needs, you should work with teachers to identify action steps to help them accomplish their goals.

Vignette 1: Ms. Holloway works with the team and Ms. Flowers, the behavior specialist, to schedule a training to review strategies for responding to Shaun’s challenging behavior. They decide to hold weekly team meetings as they begin to implement Shaun’s behavior support plan. If they see that Shaun is about to use physical aggression to obtain a toy, they agree to prompt Shaun to say, “My turn” and “Can I play?” and redirect him to use his choice board to point to the toys he wants to play with. They also continue documenting Shaun’s behavior using the ABC forms. Each week, they come together to track Shaun’s progress by reviewing their observation data, discussing challenges, and identifying what’s been working well.
Vignette 2: Ms. Anderson connects Mr. Brown to Ms. Espinosa, the school psychologist. Ms. Espinosa calms his concerns by reminding the team of the importance of consistently using Sophie’s visual schedule with her throughout the day at school and at home. With time, this will become more manageable as she learns to use it to ask for a break rather than crying or lying on the floor during circle time. Ms. Espinosa provides support to all team members, including Sophie’s parents, by helping them create the visual schedules together and writing reminder notes to ensure that they provide Sophie with 2-minute warnings before the end of each preferred activity to further promote smooth transitions. She also refers the team to the CSEFEL inventory of tools if they need more practice.

Step 6. Acknowledge progress. It is important to recognize teachers and members of the behavior team as they make progress, as well as for team members to acknowledge one another’s achievements. This could include “shout outs” to staff in regular emails, meetings, and newsletters, or sending handwritten notes or calling family members who participate.

  • For example, in staff emails or newsletters, there can be a “shout out” section where administrators and other staff can submit a brief comment about the progress made in using behavior support plans (e.g., “Congratulations to Ms. Johnson and her team for developing a behavior support plan for one of her children!”).
  • Administrators can also put a system in place so parents or other caregivers at home can send a handwritten note to teachers and staff thanking them for working with their child/family. For example, Sophie’s mom might send a note to Mr. Brown thanking him for taking the time to teach Sophie replacement strategies when she encounters activities she doesn’t like at school, noting that it’s also making things a lot easier at home.

Step 7. Assess progress and new needs. Designing and implementing behavior support plans is an ongoing process. Assess the process regularly to understand what is and is not working well. Make adjustments as needed. The behavior support plan team should monitor outcomes using simple and easy-to-use forms to document when and how often any challenging behaviors occur once the behavior support plan is in place. Teams can use these data to track whether the challenging behavior is happening less and can schedule regular team check-ins to assess progress. If the team is not seeing improvement in the child’s behavior, they may want to review the plan to make sure it’s being implemented properly.

  • A variety of example forms are available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website.
  • Administrators can also regularly meet with behavior support plan teams to hear about what’s working well in addition to the challenges the team has encountered. It may be helpful to have a midpoint check-in to identify and troubleshoot any challenges that arise while in the midst of designing and implementing a behavior support plan because new training needs may emerge.
  • It can also be valuable to hold a reflection session once the process for designing and implementing a behavior support plan is complete to compile a list of pluses (what worked well) and “deltas” (what the team would like to change in the future). Equally important is to brainstorm and identify strategies for addressing deltas.
  • Behavior support plan teams can also learn from each other by meeting or distributing a document to share lessons learned and strategies found to be effective.
Vignette 1: Ms. Johnson informs the team that things are going well at school for Shaun. After getting additional support from Ms. Flowers on consequence strategies, she has modified her responses to his challenging behavior and has even helped her teaching assistants provide appropriate reinforcement to other children. Shaun’s parents note that he is very responsive to using the choice board and is now requesting to play with other toys besides the dump truck and blocks. As a next step, the team decides to incorporate scripted stories about sharing and turn taking with the whole class during circle time.
Vignette 2: The behavior support team for Sophie looks at data tracking the frequency of her challenging behaviors. They had seen improvements when they first implemented the behavior support plan but are noticing that her challenging behaviors are starting to reappear in certain situations. After the team meeting, Mr. Brown notices that the new teaching assistant who started this week, Ms. Hunter, quietly works with Sophie one-on-one when she lies on the floor instead of first redirecting her to her visual schedule to request a break and then working alone with her. Mr. Brown asks Ms. Espinosa, the behavior specialist, to work with Ms. Hunter to ensure she receives appropriate training and is brought up to speed on Sophie’s plan. They also invite Ms. Hunter to participate in their team meetings.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: Teachers lack the time and expertise to develop a behavior support plan.
Solution: The behavior support plan is most effective as a team process. If possible, include a behavior specialist as part of the team. Involving caregivers whom the child interacts with on a daily basis in the process promotes the child’s success in learning replacement skills. Administrators can communicate to teachers that developing a behavior support plan is a program priority and that additional support is available. Be thoughtful when rolling out the process by providing appropriate training and developing an easy-to-use system (processes and tools to facilitate documentation and meetings) customized to your program.

Training resources are available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website.

Potential Barrier: Challenges engaging the family.
Solution: Time constraints can be a challenge for the whole team. However, because the development and implementation of a behavior support plan is a team-based process, every effort should be made to involve all team members, especially the parents and family members of the child. Administrators and directors can be more involved by attending periodic parent-teacher conferences to meet parents and make the effort to learn more about the child or what’s going on at home. Communication is the first step to engaging families. Another possibility is to integrate the behavior support plan into already existing IEP/IFSP meetings. One or both parents are required to attend IEP/IFSP meetings, so this will help ensure their participation in the process.

Potential Barrier: Student absences are making it difficult to implement the behavior support plan.
Solution: Administrators and teachers can reach out to parents or other caregivers, such as grandparents, and invite them to be part of a team that is working on supporting their child’s success. They can explain to parents that the behavior support plan is most effective when the child is taught replacement skills and reinforced for appropriate behavior not only at school but also at home. Repetition and consistency are key to reducing a child’s challenging behavior and thus can reduce the likelihood of suspension/expulsion.

Where Do I Go for More Resources?


Fox, L., Carta, J., Strain, P., Dunlap, G., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2010). Response to intervention and the pyramid model. Infants and Young Children, 23, 3 – 13.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Education, 2016. Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings.

Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (2011). The Process of Positive Behavior Support (PBS), Step Five: Behavior Support Plan Development. Retrieved from http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs/step5.htm

Artman-Meeker, K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2014). Functional assessment of challenging behaviors. In M. McLean, M. L. Hemmeter, & P. Snyder (Eds.), Essential elements for assessing infants and preschoolers with special needs (pp. 242-270). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. (2015). Recommended practices glossary. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/dec-recommended-practices

The vignette about Shaun is adapted from the “Dana” vignette from Module 3a: Individualized Interventions: Determining the Meaning of Challenging Behavior and from the “Keiko” vignette from Artman-Meeker, K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2014), Functional assessment of challenging behaviors In M. McLean, M. L. Hemmeter, & P. Snyder (Eds.), Essential elements for assessing infants and preschoolers with special needs (pp. 242-270). Boston, MA: Pearson.

This vignette is adapted from the “Mark” vignette presented in Wood, B. K., Ferro, J. B., Umbreit, J., & Liaupsin, C. J. (2011). Addressing challenging behavior of young children through systematic function-based intervention. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 30(4), 221-232.

Individualized Intensive Interventions: Developing a Behavior Support Plan [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/training_preschool.html#mod3b

McLaren, E. M., & Nelson, C. M. (2008). Using functional behavior assessment to develop behavior interventions for students in Head Start. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

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