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3.1 Establish and implement a process for providing children with persistent challenging behavior with an assessment-based behavior support plan

Assessment-based behavior support icon

Challenging behavior can interfere with children’s learning and can even be harmful to the child and others. Working with children with challenging behaviors can be stressful for providers, teachers, and caregivers. Part of a multitiered system of support, Tier 3 includes practices for providing individualized, more intensive interventions to children with persistent challenging behaviors when other approaches have not been successful.

Tier 3 practices focus on performing a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and developing a behavior support plan.

Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is mandated by law and is a systematic process for collecting information about why a child’s challenging behavior occurs. FBA gives a clear description of the challenging behavior and its context, and helps explain why the child engages in that behavior.

The information gathered from an FBA is used to develop an individualized behavior support plan. Behavior support plans address what events or circumstances trigger the challenging behavior. Plans also include instruction on how to help the child learn more appropriate social and communication skills and strategies that caregivers can use for responding to the behavior so that it is not reinforced.

A team-based approach is key. It is important to remember that performing an FBA and developing a behavior support plan is most successful when using a team-based approach guided by a knowledgeable facilitator (e.g., behavior specialist, mental health consultant, social worker, trained staff member). Other potential team members may include the child’s parents, teachers, school administrators/directors, childcare providers, therapists, other caregivers, and other family members.

Functional Behavioral Assessments and Behavior Support Plans are complementary. Active participation and collaboration among team members is essential to understanding the purpose of a child’s challenging behavior and appropriately responding to it. The complementary process of conducting an FBA and using this information to develop a behavior support plan can promote children’s social and emotional skills and reduce challenging behaviors before they lead to suspensions or expulsions in early childhood settings.

How do I do this?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Discuss with your providers/teachers the importance of using a systematic process to understand how, why, and when a child’s challenging behavior occurs. This information can be used to develop an effective behavior support plan.

  • It is important to recognize what systems and practices are currently in place to address challenging behavior. Providers/teachers and staff should be supported as they reflect on their own practices. It may be helpful to ask questions.
  • It can also be helpful to discuss to what extent practices that are specifically relevant to FBA and behavior support plans may or may not be present. Providers/teachers may already be engaged in these steps but call it something else.

Step 2. Support providers/teachers in documenting the behavior.

  • The nature of the behavior. Provide a clear description of the behavior. What, specifically, does the child say or do? The behavior should be observable, measurable, and precise.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun’s disruptive behaviors include hitting, pinching, and kicking other children and adults.

    Vignette 2: Sophie’s disruptive behaviors include crying, lying on the floor, refusing to participate (e.g., saying, “no,”), and leaving the assigned area.

  • What happens just before the behavior? Write down the specific predictors and setting events leading up to a challenging behavior. This can help in understanding what triggers the behavior and under what conditions the behavior is likely to occur.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun is playing with the blocks and a dump truck, and another child reaches for a block. Shaun tends to exhibit challenging behavior in the block area or sandbox when another child tries to take a toy he’s playing with or a toy that is near him.

    Vignette 2: Sophie’s provider announces that it’s time to transition to circle time activities. Sophie tends to exhibit challenging behaviors during non-preferred activities like circle time.

  • What is the response to the challenging behavior? Observe the events that follow a challenging behavior. This can help providers/teachers and caregivers understand what is maintaining the challenging behavior.
  • Vignette 1: When Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches other children, they drop the toy and pick a new one.

    Vignette 2: When Sophie cries and leaves the carpet during circle time, her provider, Mr. Brown asks the aide to talk and work with Sophie quietly at a table.

  • Why the child might be exhibiting the behavior? It is important to understand the purpose or function of the child’s behavior. How is it “working” for the child, and what does the child get out of it?

The function of a child’s challenging behavior may not be obvious. In some cases, the function may change over time or serve multiple purposes. Continue to collect data to gather more information and discuss how to proceed with the behavior support team.

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Step 3. Use the information to develop a hypothesis. Information that is gathered and documented during a functional behavioral assessment is used to develop a behavior hypothesis statement. This is a “best guess” about why the child’s behavior is occurring.

Vignette 1: When another child tries to take a toy that Shaun is playing with or near, Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches the child. As a result, the other child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.

Vignette 2: When the provider announces it’s time to transition to circle time, Sophie cries and refuses to participate, either by lying on the ground or running away. As a result, the provider asks the aide to quietly work with Sophie at a table. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and obtain attention from an adult.

Step 4. Use the information from the functional behavioral assessment and behavior hypothesis statement to develop a behavior support plan. The behavior hypothesis statement provides an assumption about the function of a child’s challenging behavior. It is central to developing an individualized, assessment-based behavior support plan to address a child’s persistent challenging behavior. A behavior support plan is designed to do the following:

  • Provide prevention strategies. Prevention strategies are ways to make events and interactions that predict challenging behavior easier for the child to manage. When used, prevention strategies reduce the likelihood that a challenging behavior will occur. They may include environmental arrangements, personal support, changes in activities, new ways to prompt a child, or changes in expectations.

    Vignette 1: Ms. Flowers helps the behavior support team brainstorm strategies to prevent Shaun’s hitting, pinching, and kicking. Since Shaun engages in these behaviors to obtain preferred toys, the team decides to provide multiples of high-interest toys (e.g., blocks and dump trucks) at school.

    Vignette 2: As a prevention strategy, the behavior support team implements the use of a visual schedule with Sophie. On this visual schedule are pictures and text that depict a sequence of events. Adults use this tool with Sophie to help her see a visual representation of her day (e.g., breakfast, circle time, books, alphabet/numbers, recess, circle time, free play, nap time). The team agrees to provide clear expectations when using the visual schedule with Sophie to help with transitions between activities. They also give 2-minute warnings before the end of a preferred activity.

  • Teach the child replacement skills. Replacement skills are skills for the child to use instead of the challenging behavior. Teaching the child appropriate social, behavioral, and communication skills allows him/her to successfully participate in everyday activities and routines. Caregivers should provide the child with consistent positive reinforcement when used.
  • Provide consequence strategies. Consequence strategies provide guidelines for how the child’s caregivers should respond to the child’s challenging behavior. This is to ensure that the behavior is not maintained and the new replacement skill is learned. The team can discuss their actions and responses to the child across settings, and then brainstorm appropriate ways to respond.

Step 5. Identify training needs. Support your providers/teachers as they identify their professional development goals and training needs. They should feel prepared and comfortable conducting an FBA and developing and using a behavior support plan. Take into account if providers/teachers are unfamiliar with the process or if they have some experience. For providers/teachers who have not done this before, an in-person training led by a behavior specialist may be helpful.

If meeting in person is not feasible, additional support is available online. The Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) offers free, comprehensive online modules that address topics such as determining the meaning of challenging behavior (see Module 3a) and developing a behavior support plan (see Module 3b).

Have a conversation with providers/teachers about their strengths and challenges related to this process.

Vignette 1: Shaun’s teacher, Ms. Johnson, sees the value in collecting information on what predicts and maintains Shaun’s challenging behavior. However, she explains that she needs help recording this information. Her director, Ms. Holloway, helps Ms. Johnson develop the following goal: I will work with my team to gather and document in a systematic way information about what predicts and sustains Shaun’s challenging behavior.
Ms. Holloway and Ms. Johnson then discuss possible strategies to accomplish this goal. Ms. Holloway proposes that she can give Ms. Johnson forms to record the appropriate information about Shaun’s behavior. Ms. Johnson thinks this will help but also admits that she’s most likely to use these forms if there’s designated time for someone to go over the forms with her to ensure she’s using them properly.

Vignette 2: Mr. Brown describes how he and his team have completed different observation and interview forms documenting Sophie’s challenging behavior. However, he’s not sure how to make sense of all the information they’ve collected. His director, Ms. Anderson, and he jointly decide on the following goal: I will work with my team to analyze the information collected about Sophie’s challenging behavior to develop a behavior hypothesis statement.
They then brainstorm ways Mr. Brown can accomplish this goal. Ms. Anderson thinks that the school psychologist, Ms. Espinosa, can help Mr. Brown with analyzing the FBA data. Mr. Brown thinks the larger team he works with would also benefit from meeting with Ms. Espinosa.

Step 6. Plan course of action. After identifying professional development goals and needs, you should work with providers/teachers to identify action steps to help them accomplish their goals.

Vignette 1: The director, Ms. Holloway, reaches out to the program’s behavior specialist, Ms. Flowers, to arrange a time to hold a training session about how to use FBA tools (e.g., ABC (Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences) Form, Context Card Form, and Functional Assessment Interview Form) for Shaun’s teacher Ms. Johnson and the behavior support team members. Ms. Flowers leads a 1-hour training session with the entire team. They watch video clip vignettes and practice completing the FBA forms. Ms. Flowers also observes Shaun in the classroom during free play time and recess across two days, and works with Ms. Johnson to complete the ABC form. Ms. Flowers encourages Ms. Johnson to reach out to her with any further questions.
Ms. Flowers then instructs the team to use these FBA tools to collect data about Shaun’s behavior. This information will be used to design an individualized behavior support plan for Shaun. Using the ABC Form and Context Card Form, the team is instructed to record each instance of Shaun’s challenging behavior for the next 2 weeks. They then schedule a follow-up meeting to evaluate the data they’ve collected and come up with a behavior hypothesis statement: “When another child tries to take a toy that Shaun is playing with or near, Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches the child. As a result, the other child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.”
Ms. Holloway schedules 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: The school director, Ms. Anderson, asks Ms. Espinosa, the school psychologist, to join Sophie’s next behavior support team meeting to help the team analyze the data they collected last week. Ms. Espinosa and the team review the information collected on the scatter plot, which shows the frequency of Sophie’s challenging behaviors during which classroom routines. Ms. Espinosa facilitates a discussion about the data, and the team notices that Sophie’s challenging behaviors are most likely to occur during transitions to circle activities. They discuss how Sophie loses interest during songs and stories she doesn’t like. The group also reviews the Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences (ABC) form they completed to further examine what happens during circle time activities for Sophie. Collaboratively, the team uses the data to develop the following behavior hypothesis statement: “When the provider announces it’s time to transition to circle time, Sophie cries and refuses to participate, either by lying on the ground or running away. As a result, the provider asks the aide to quietly work with Sophie at a table. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and obtain attention from an adult.”
Ms. Espinosa reminds the team that it is crucial to consistently use Sophie’s visual schedule with her throughout the day at school and at home. With time, this will become more manageable, as Sophie learns to use the visual schedule 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 schedule together and writing reminder notes to ensure that they give Sophie 2-minute warnings before the end of each preferred activity. She also refers the team to the CSEFEL inventory of tools if they need more practice.

Step 7. Acknowledge progress. It is important to recognize the progress that providers/teachers and team members of the child’s behavior support team make. It is also encouraging for team members to acknowledge each other’s achievements.

  • Team members can acknowledge each other’s achievements through “shout outs” in regular emails, meetings, or newsletters.

    Vignette 1: “Congratulations to Ms. Johnson and her team for implementing an assessment-based behavior support plan for one of her children! The team’s time and dedication to this process are greatly appreciated!”

  • Program leaders can personally call or send handwritten notes to thank family members who are participating in the process.

    Vignette 1: Ms. Holloway writes a note to Shaun’s grandmother to thank her for coming in after school to answer interview questions about her grandson’s behavior at home. She also thanks her for her commitment to working with the teachers to support her grandson’s success at school and to implement his behavior support plan at home.

  • Program leaders can develop a system so parents or other caregivers at home can send handwritten thank you notes to providers/teachers and staff on the behavior support team.

    Vignette 2: Sophie’s mom sends a note to Sophie’s provider Mr. Brown that says, “Thank you for giving Sophie better strategies to use whenever she encounters an activity that she doesn’t like at school. We are using the same strategies with her at home, and it has been making things a lot easier!”

  • Team members can acknowledge one another during team meetings (e.g., gift card for a local coffee shop) with a few words thanking them for a specific task.

    Vignette 2: “Thanks, Mr. Brown and Ms. Peterson, for carefully recording information about Sophie’s behavior on the scatter plot form. It really helped us figure out during which classroom routines Sophie’s challenging behavior is most likely to happen.”

Step 8. Assess progress and new needs. It is important to remember that establishing and implementing an individualized intervention for children with persistent challenging behavior is an iterative process. It is one that should continually be assessed to understand what is and is not working well so that adjustments and refinements to the behavior support plan can be made.

One circumstance that illustrates the importance of monitoring progress and assessing for new needs is the chance that the behavior support team misinterprets the function of the challenging behavior. This could impose a consequence that actually reinforces the behavior instead of reducing it. For example, a behavior support team may initially hypothesize that the child is seeking attention. However, when the child’s behavior does not improve after the behavior support plan is implemented, the team may collect additional FBA information and reanalyze the data. They may find that the child is actually using the challenging behavior to avoid attention. This additional information can help the team revise the behavior hypothesis statement and adjust the behavior support plan to more effectively reduce the challenging behavior.

In order to make necessary adjustments to the behavior support plan and to offer continual support where needed, administrators should meet regularly with team members. Regular team meetings and check-ins allow team members to identify, share, and troubleshoot challenges.

Once a child’s behavior support plan is implemented, it could be valuable to hold a reflection session for the team 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 strategies for addressing deltas. Team members can learn from each other by meeting or creating 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 1: Mr. Brown expressed that he’s been struggling with recording the frequency of Shaun’s challenging behavior on the scatter plot form especially when he is busy instructing the class. He’s asked his aide, Ms. Peterson, to help with observing and documenting the information for Sophie’s scatter plot. He commented that Ms. Peterson was eager to help and has been a key player on their behavior support team.
Sophie’s behavior support team 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 aide 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. 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: Providers/teachers lack the time and expertise to conduct a functional behavior assessment and develop a behavior support plan.
Solution: It is important to remember that the process for establishing and implementing an assessment-based behavior support plan is most effective as a team-based process. Having a behavior specialist/consultant on the team may be a good idea to serve as a source of expertise and training for your providers/teachers so that they feel supported at every step. Parents and families are essential to this process and involving caregivers with whom the child interacts on a daily basis promotes the child’s success in learning replacement skills across all settings.

Potential Barrier: Engaging the family.
Solution: Time constraints and teaming can be a challenge for the whole team. However, because this is a team-based process, every effort should be made to involve all team members, especially the parents of the child. Effective collaboration depends on good leadership and building relationships, and successful teaming is achieved when team members are actively participating in the process and feel like their input is being valued.

Potential Barrier: Student absences are making it difficult to implement the behavior support plan.
Solution: Program leaders and providers/teachers should reach out to parents and/or other caregivers and explain that the behavior support plan is most effective when the child is taught replacement skills across settings. Responses to the child’s behavior should also be consistent across settings. This means that the child should receive positive reinforcement 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?

  • New Resource: For strategies that providers/teachers can use with individual children, see this brief tip sheet by the Pyramid Equity Project that includes eleven of the most effective strategies for responding to challenging behaviors.
  • To learn more about the reasons for challenging behavior and effective strategies for responding, watch this video by the Connecticut Office of Early Education.
  • For step-by-step guidance, tools, and examples specifically related to conducting a functional behavioral assessment and developing a behavior support plan, visit the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) and review the Complete Guide to Positive Behavior Support.
  • For training resources on FBA and behavior support plans visit the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundation in Early Learning (CSEFEL), which includes PowerPoint presentations, handouts, presenter scripts, and video clips (also available in Spanish):
  • For more information about practical strategies for helping young children with challenging behavior, visit the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation website on Creating Teaching Tools for Young Children with Challenging Behavior.
  • For scenarios and strategies to use in training and professional development with your staff related to behavior management, see the Early Childhood Behavior Management Case Study Unit by the IRIS Center Case Study Unit.
  • For additional examples and vignettes that illustrate how practical strategies might be used in a variety of early childhood settings and home environments, visit the What Works Briefs series on the CSEFEL website. These Briefs include short, easy-to-read “how to” information packets on a variety of evidence-based practices, strategies, and intervention procedures designed to help providers/teachers support young children’s social and emotional development.
  • References

    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.

    Conroy, M. A., Davis, C. A., Fox, J. J., & Brown, W. H. (2002). Functional assessment of behavior and effective supports for young children with challenging behaviors. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 27(4), 35-47.

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

    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.

    Fox, L., & Duda, M. A. (n.d.). Positive behavior support. Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children. Retrieved from challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs_docs/pbs_complete.doc

    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.

    Sugai, G., Horner, R. H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., Lewis, T. J., Nelson, C. M., Scott, T., Liaupsin, C., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., Wickham, D., Wilcox, B., & Ruef, M. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(3), 131-143.

    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

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3.1 functional behavior assessment

3.1: Provide teachers/providers with training and tools to conduct functional behavior assessment

FBA icon

Challenging behavior can interfere with a child’s own learning and that of the child’s classmates. It can also be stressful for teachers and caregivers at home and may even be harmful to the child or others. Tier 3 recommendations focus on establishing and implementing a process for providing children with persistent challenging behavior with an assessment-based behavior support plan.

Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a systematic process for collecting information about why a child’s challenging behavior occurs. The information gathered from the FBA is then used to develop an individualized behavior support plan. The process is most successful when it uses a team-based approach. This team may include the child’s parents, teachers, school administrators and directors, child care providers, behavior specialists, and other caregivers. An FBA gives a clear description of the challenging behavior and its context and helps the team understand why the child engages in that behavior.

The use of FBA is mandated by law and, if used appropriately, can stop or reduce challenging behaviors before they lead to suspensions and expulsions. The implementation of an assessment-based behavior support plan is most suitable for addressing challenging behaviors that are persistent and impede a child’s learning or that of others, when other appropriate approaches (at the universal or targeted level, for example) have not been successful. These interventions specifically target a child’s skills in order to help him or her succeed and participate in daily activities and routines.

How Do I Do This?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Discuss with your teachers the importance of using a systematic process to understand how, why, and when a child’s challenging behaviors occur, and how this information can be used to develop an effective behavior support plan.

It is also important to recognize what systems and practices are currently in place to address challenging behavior. Teachers and staff should be supported in reflecting on their own practices. It may be helpful to ask questions such as:

  • What do you currently do when there is a child in your classroom who engages in challenging behavior?
    • What strategies do you use to address the challenging behavior?
    • What’s working well when you use these strategies?
    • Have you encountered any challenges in using these strategies?
  • It can also be helpful to discuss to what extent practices that are specifically relevant to FBA may or may not be present. Teachers may already be engaged in the steps for conducting an FBA, but might call it something different. You may want to ask:
  • Do you have a process for collecting information about:
    • What predicts a student’s challenging behavior?
    • What happens right after the challenging behavior occurs?
    • When, or during which classroom routines, the behavior is most likely to happen?
  • Whom do you typically work with when trying to support a child with challenging behavior?
  • Do you have experience conducting an FBA?
    • Do you encounter any challenges?
    • Are there any supports you would want in the future to help you conduct an FBA?
  • When a challenging behavior occurs in your classroom, how is it being documented? Do you use specific tools or forms to describe the behavior and keep track of the frequency and intensity at which it is occurring?
  • 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?

Step 2. Support teachers and providers in documenting the behavior.

  • The nature of the behavior. The first step of the FBA process is to clearly describe the concerning behavior. What specifically does the child do or say? The behavior should be observable, measurable, and precise.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun’s disruptive behaviors include hitting, pinching, and kicking other children and adults.
    Vignette 2: Sophie’s disruptive behaviors include crying, lying on the floor, refusing to participate (e.g., saying, “no,”), and leaving the assigned area.
  • What happens just before the behavior. Writing down what events lead up to a challenging behavior can help teachers and caregivers understand what predicts or triggers the behavior.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun is playing with the blocks and a dump truck, and another child reaches for a block.
    Vignette 2: Sophie’s teacher announces that it’s time to transition to circle time activities.
  • Under what conditions is the behavior likely to occur. It’s important to understand what setting event (experience, physical or emotional state) increases the possibility that the challenging behavior will occur. Examples include unexpected loss or change in activity, absence of a person, or hunger.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun tends to exhibit challenging behavior in the block area or sandbox when another child tries to take a toy he’s playing with or a toy that is near him.
    Vignette 2: Sophie tends to exhibit challenging behaviors during non-preferred activities like circle time.
  • What adults and peers do when the problem behavior occurs. Observing what events happen right after a challenging behavior occurs can help teachers and caregivers understand what is maintaining the challenging behavior.
  • Vignette 1: After Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches other children, they drop the toy and pick a new one.
    Vignette 2: Sophie’s teacher, Mr. Brown, tries to convince Sophie to join the group on the carpet but eventually asks the teaching assistant to talk and work with Sophie quietly at a table.
  • Why the child might be exhibiting the behavior. It is important to understand the reason or function of the child’s behavior. How is it “working” for the child, and what does the child get out of it? There are two main functions of children’s behavior:
    • To obtain something (positive reinforcement), such as
      • A preferred activity (e.g., playing with a favorite toy)
      • Sensory input (e.g., interesting lights and sounds)
      • Attention (e.g., time with an adult or peer, physical contact)
    • To escape something (negative reinforcement), such as
      • A non-preferred activity (e.g., a difficult task, a boring group activity)
      • Sensory input (e.g., hunger, pain)

Step 3. Use the information to develop a hypothesis. The information from this documentation can then be used to develop a hypothesis statement, or “best guess,” about why the child’s behavior is occurring. It should describe when or under what circumstances the behavior occurs, a description of the challenging behavior, and a statement about the function of the behavior. For example:

Vignette 1: 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: 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. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and obtain attention from an adult.

Step 4. Identify training needs. Support your teachers as they identify their professional development goals and training needs so they feel prepared and comfortable conducting an FBA. Take into account if teachers are brand new to the process of conducting an FBA or if they have some experience. 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 determining the meaning of challenging behavior is available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website (see Module 3a).

  • Discuss with teachers what they see as their strengths in conducting FBAs, as well as what they might find more challenging. For example, do staff understand how to systematically record information about the challenging behavior? Or are they struggling to analyze and interpret the data? It’s also important to ensure that staff have adequate support (time and assistance) to conduct an FBA.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun’s teacher, Ms. Johnson, sees the value in collecting information about what predicts and maintains Shaun’s challenging behavior but explains that she needs help with how to record this information. Her director, Ms. Holloway, helps Ms. Johnson develop the following goal: I will work with my team to gather and document in a systematic way information about what predicts and sustains Shaun’s behavior.

    • Ms. Holloway and Ms. Johnson then discuss possible strategies to accomplish this goal. Ms. Holloway proposes that she can give Ms. Johnson forms to record the appropriate information about Shaun’s behavior. Ms. Johnson thinks this will help but also admits that she’s most likely to use these forms if there’s designated time for someone to go over the forms with her to ensure she’s using them properly.
    Vignette 2: Mr. Brown describes how he and his team have completed different observation and interview forms documenting Sophie’s challenging behavior but that he’s not sure how to make sense of all the information they’ve collected. His director, Ms. Anderson, and he jointly decide on the following goal: I will work with my team to analyze the information collected about Sophie’s challenging behavior to develop a hypothesis statement.

    • They then brainstorm ways Mr. Brown can accomplish this goal. Ms. Anderson thinks that the school psychologist, Ms. Espinosa, can help Mr. Brown with analyzing the FBA data. Mr. Brown thinks the larger team he works with would also benefit from meeting with Ms. Espinosa.

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: The director, Ms. Holloway, reaches out to the program’s behavior specialist, Ms. Flowers, to arrange a time to hold a training session about how to use FBA tools (e.g., ABC (Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences) Form, Context Card Form, and Functional Assessment Interview Form) for Ms. Johnson and her team members. Ms. Flowers leads a 1-hour training session with the entire team. They watch video clip vignettes and practice completing the FBA forms. Ms. Flowers also observes Shaun in the classroom during free play time and recess across two days, and works with Ms. Johnson to complete the ABC form. Ms. Flowers encourages Ms. Johnson to reach out to her with any further questions.

  • Ms. Flowers then instructs the team to use these FBA tools to collect data about Shaun’s behavior that will help them design an individualized intervention or behavior support plan for Shaun. Using the ABC Form and Context Card Form, the team is instructed to record each instance of Shaun’s challenging behavior for the next 2 weeks. They then schedule a follow-up meeting to evaluate the data they collect and come up with a behavior hypothesis statement: “When another child tries to take Shaun’s 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: Ms. Anderson asks Ms. Espinosa, the school psychologist, to join Mr. Brown’s next FBA team meeting focused on Sophie to help the team analyze the data they collected last week. Ms. Espinosa and the team review the information collected on the scatter plot, which shows how frequently Sophie exhibited any challenging behaviors and during which classroom routines. Ms. Espinosa facilitates a discussion about the data, and the team notices that Sophie’s challenging behaviors are most likely to occur during transitions to circle activities. They discuss how Sophie loses interest, especially during songs and stories she doesn’t like. The group also reviews the Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences (ABC) form they completed to further examine what happens during circle time activities for Sophie. Collaboratively, the team uses the data to develop the following behavior hypothesis statement: “When the teacher announces it’s time to transition to circle activities, Sophie lies on the ground and cries, and as a result, the teaching assistant calmly talks and works with Sophie at a table during circle time. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and acquire attention from an adult.

Step 6. Acknowledge progress. It is important to recognize teachers and members of the functional behavior assessment team as they make progress, as well as for team members to acknowledge one another’s achievements. For example:

  • In regular staff emails or newsletters, add a “shout out” section where administrators and other staff can submit a brief comment about the progress made in conducting an FBA for a given child (e.g., “Thanks Ms. Johnson for working diligently with the behavior specialist to complete an ABC Analysis for one of your children. Your time and dedication to this process are greatly appreciated!”).
  • Administrators can personally call or send handwritten notes to thank family members who are participating in the functional behavior assessment team. For example, Ms. Holloway could thank Shaun’s grandmother for coming in after school to answer interview questions about her grandson’s behavior at home, and for her commitment to working with the teachers to support her grandson’s success at school.
  • Administrators can develop a system so parents or other caregivers at home can send handwritten notes to teachers and staff on the behavioral assessment team thanking them for working with their child and family.
  • During functional behavior assessment team meetings, team members can also acknowledge one another by periodically presenting selected team members with a treat (e.g., gift card for a local coffee shop) and a few words thanking them for a specific task (e.g., “Thanks Mr. Brown and Ms. Peterson for carefully recording information about Sophie’s behavior on the scatter plot form. It really helped us figure out during which classroom routines Sophie’s challenging behavior is most likely to happen.”).

Step 7. Assess progress and new needs. It is important to remember that implementing the use of FBAs is an iterative process that should be continually assessed to understand what is and is not working well, and to make adjustments and refinements as needed. For example, the FBA team my misinterpret the function of the behavior (e.g., the team thinks that the child is seeking attention when in actuality the child is trying to avoid attention). This could impose a consequence that actually reinforces the behavior instead of reducing it. Administrators can regularly meet with FBA teams to hear about what’s working well and the challenges the team has faced. It may be helpful to have a midpoint check-in to identify and troubleshoot challenges. It is also valuable to hold a reflection session once the FBA 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 strategies for addressing deltas. FBA teams can also learn from each other by meeting or creating a document to share lessons learned and effective strategies.

Vignette 1: Ms. Johnson explained she’s really struggling with recording the frequency of Shaun’s challenging behavior on the scatter plot form because she’s too busy helping her other children.
Vignette 2: Mr. Brown shared that he’s encountered the same problem, and that he asked his teaching assistant, Ms. Peterson, to help with observing and documenting the information for Sophie’s scatter plot. Mr. Brown also commented that Ms. Peterson was eager to help and has been a key player on their functional behavior assessment team.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: Teachers lack the time and expertise to conduct a functional behavior assessment.
Solution: It is important to remember that the FBA process is most successful when conducted by a team. Team members may include the teacher and teaching assistant, family members (e.g., parents, grandparents, extended family caregivers), behavior specialist, other school- or clinic-based related service professional (e.g., occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist), and school administrators. If possible, teachers should be supported by a trained specialist when conducting FBAs.

  • Administrators can also communicate to teachers that conducting FBAs is a program priority. Teachers should be given enough time and support to collect and analyze the information for an FBA. Providing teachers with the right training and an easy-to-use, time efficient, and clear system is key.

Potential Barrier: It’s challenging to really engage the families and make sure they are on board with providing the same kinds of behavior supports at home.
Solution: Time constraints can be a challenge for the entire team. However, in order to accurately conduct a FBA, full participation from all team members is recommended.

  • Parents and family members can give insight to how, when, and why a child’s challenging behavior happens because they may observe it at home, on the playground, at a family member’s house, at the grocery store, with siblings, etc.
  • Administrators and directors can be more involved by attending periodic parent-teacher conferences and making the effort to learn more about the child and what’s going on at home. Communication is the first step to engaging families.
  • Another possibility is to integrate the functional behavior assessment process 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 FBA process.

Where Do I Go for More Resources?

References

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.

Conroy, M. A., Davis, C. A., Fox, J. J., & Brown, W. H. (2002). Functional assessment of behavior and effective supports for young children with challenging behaviors. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 27(4), 35-47.

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

Dunlap, G., & Carr, E. G. (2007). Positive behavior support and developmental disabilities: A summary and analysis of research. In S. Odom, R. Horner, & M. Snell (Eds.), Handbook of developmental disabilities (pp. 469-482). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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.

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.

O’Neill, R. E., Horner, R. H., Albin, R. W., Sprague, J. R., Storey, K., & Newton, J. S. (1997). Functional assessment and program development for problem behavior. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company as cited in The process for positive behavior support (PBS): Step four: Hypothesis development, Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children. Retrieved from http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs/step4.htm

Smith, B., & Fox, L. (2003). Systems of service delivery: A synthesis of evidence relevant to young children at risk of or who have challenging behavior. Tampa, Florida: University of South Florida, Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior.

Sugai, G., Horner, R. H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., Lewis, T. J., Nelson, C. M., Scott, T., Liaupsin, C., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., Wickham, D., Wilcox, B., & Ruef, M. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(3), 131-143.

Umbreit, J., Ferro, J. B., Liaupsin, C. J., & Lane, K. L. (2007). Functional behavioral assessment and function-based intervention. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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3.2 Behavior Support Plans

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

BSP icon

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.”
  • Includes prevention strategies. Prevention strategies are “ways to make events and interactions that predict challenging behavior easier for the child to manage.”
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.
  • Includes consequence strategies. Consequence strategies provide guidelines for how caregivers at home and school respond to challenging behavior to help ensure that the challenging behavior is not maintained and the new replacement skill is learned. The team can discuss their actions and responses to the child across different settings that may be maintaining the challenging behavior. They can then brainstorm alternative ways to respond to the challenging behavior so the behavior is not reinforced.
    • When the purpose of the challenging behavior is to obtain something (e.g., attention, object, activity), consequence strategies may include:
      • Redirecting the child to use an appropriate replacement skill
      • Offering choices
      • 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 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?

References

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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