Talk the Talk: Don’t Just Sit There…Do Something! Replacement Behaviors

Talk the Talk: Don’t Just Sit There…Do Something! Replacement Behaviors

Hey crew, happy to have you back as we continue to explore the ABA terminology! Today we’ll be discussing replacement behaviors. 

Replacement Behavior: A response that is taught to replace or substitute another behavior in a learner’s repertoire. Usually taught as a safer, more appropriate, or more effective alternative the learner can engage in to achieve the same or similar consequence. 

It may make a bit more sense if we see how this actually plays out in real life, so let’s take a look at some examples. 



Julian loves to play video games. When his dad tells him it’s time to pause to eat dinner, Julian screams and begins to throw items in the room. His dad assumes he wants more time, and so to avoid any further escalation, tells him he can have a few more minutes before he must come to the table. 

Behavior: Screaming and throwing items 

Function: Access to more time with video games 

Functionally Equivalent Replacement Behavior: Manding (requesting) for 5 more minutes of game time



Carla is working on her homework. When she is given her math worksheets to complete, Carla tears up the paper. When Carla tears her worksheets, her mother often gives her a break and lets her watch TV for a few minutes before coming back to finish the homework.

Behavior: Tearing up worksheets

Function: Escape from homework/access to break time activities

Functionally Equivalent Replacement Behavior: Manding (requesting) for a break 



When josh is playing on the playground outside, he often gets too hot and wants desperately to cool off. Josh usually attempts to take off his shirt and pants, but is stopped by the school staff, which often leads to a larger and more upsetting tantrum. 

Behavior: Disrobing in public 

Function: Escape from hot clothes 

Functionally Equivalent Replacement Behavior: Manding (requesting) to wear shorts instead of pants OR standing in the shade and drinking cold water 


The 3 examples above illustrate how for many challenging or inappropriate behaviors, there is often a replacement behavior we can teach that will give the learner a similar result. 

**Note this is key here: Replacement behaviors should result in the same or similar consequences as the behavior we’re looking to reduce! 

If we teach a replacement that doesn’t yield the same consequence as the behavior we’ve set out to reduce, it’s not going to be a very socially valid response for the learner and they may be less likely to engage in it. To avoid this, be sure that the replacement behavior you’re teaching is a functionally equivalent replacement, meaning it serves the same function as the behavior you’re looking to decrease. 

Once we’ve identified the replacement behavior we want the learner to engage in, teaching it is just like teaching any other skill! Identify how your learner best learns, contrive opportunities to engage in the skill, prompt as is appropriate, and reinforce using the consequence the challenging behavior typically results in (e.g., if it’s an escape-maintained behavior, the reinforcer should be escape). 

We hope this post has helped you learn a bit more about replacement behaviors! Want to learn about more ABA terms? Check out our other Talk the Talk posts here! 


All the best, 

The Reinforcers 

Lauren Chase, M.S., BCBA  and Bre Jump, M.A., BCBA