Coaches Corner: The First Step to Behavior Reduction

Coaches Corner: The First Step to Behavior Reduction

One of the critical areas of interest in behavior analysis is tackling the reduction of challenging behaviors. Most people seek interventions when they’ve identified a need to change or improve behaviors in themselves or others.  For instance, wanting to reduce one’s behaviors of “Eating Junk food,” or “behaviors related to procrastination such as watching TV instead of washing dishes,” or reducing a child’s “tantrums” when they do not get what they want, etc.  

‘Challenging behaviors’ are identified as behaviors that might impede one’s ability to progress or adapt in different settings, environments, or facets of life. The first step to tackle behavior reduction requires one to understand “why” behavior(s) occur from the perspective of the person engaging in the behavior.  

People engage in different behaviors to get their needs met; these behaviors may be simple and may result in direct access to needs, such as walking to a cookie Jar to get a cookie when hungry or getting into bed when tired. These behaviors may also be complex and may result in indirect access to needs- such as an infant crying or a child asking for food when hungry or engaging in a series of behaviors at work that allows one to earn a salary to buy food for oneself. 

Inappropriate and challenging behaviors occur when a person does not possess the skill(s) to get their needs met directly (e.g., being unable to open a locked jar of food or not having the language skills to communicate their needs to others to effectively access them). As a result, encouraging them to engage in any behavior (e.g., crying, tantrums, yelling, hitting, etc.) that gets them the desired outcomes of accessing items/events/people they want or escaping ones they do not want. 

It is important to note that regardless of how unacceptable these behaviors are to others, they usually have a purpose to occur and serve very specific functions, whether apparent or not. They occur more reliably because these behaviors in the past resulted in the desired outcomes and become the preferred mode of communication for the individual. For example, throwing a tantrum at a store resulted in mom buying a favorite toy- this historically worked, thus increasing the likelihood of doing it again. 

To drive behavior reduction it becomes important to understand the common functions of behavior. The field of behavior analysis identifies the following functions of behavior (i.e. most behaviors occur to serve one of the following functions): 

To address any inappropriate behaviors, it becomes vital to understand, observe and identify these behavior functions. As a result, this helps create opportunities for the individual to identify and learn alternate and more appropriate ways to serve these functions or learn how to tolerate undesirable situations. So, if you have identified a challenging behavior you want to modify or change, in that case, you are encouraged to begin with the first step, i.e., determines what function the behavior you want to change serves you or the person of interest.