Michael is a four-year old boy in the preschool classroom. During outdoor playtime, Michael usually plays with a ball or goes on the slide. The teachers have noticed that he frequently pushes and hits other children who are engaged in play. The other children often get upset and move off to play in another area or tell the teacher what happened.
Does the story about Michael at the playground sound familiar to you – perhaps you have a child like Michael in your classroom?
If so, then you’ve actually taken the first step of identifying a problem behaviour that may be putting a child at risk. In this case, Michael’s problem behaviour is also interfering with his social, emotional and intellectual development.
Deciding what to do next may be difficult. Here’s the 3-step approach we followed in Understanding and Changing Behaviour.
Step 1: Decide Where to Start
We’ve identified a problem behaviour. Let’s take a moment to describe what we see or hear. Describing the behaviour will help us to be consistent when gathering information a bit later.
Michael pushes and hits other children with an open hand or clenched fist.
Michael moved into our preschool classroom just two weeks ago. In order to better understand his behaviour, we’re going to use the Functional Assessment Interview by O’Neill. This functional assessment tool will help us to record our observations of Michael’s behaviour, and gather information from his parents and previous teachers.
Now let’s move on to the next step.
Step 2: Gather and Analyze
Here is some information we gathered from the Functional Assessment Interview which includes: what happens before the behaviour; the setting and time when the behaviour occurs; and what happens afterwards.
- There are no medical concerns or changes in medication.
- Michael’s eating and sleeping patterns have not changed.
- The behaviour happens more often in the playground and indoors less frequently.
- The time of day was usually in the morning during outdoor play. Michael does not attend child care in the afternoon.
- The behaviour occurs with peers, and happens at home with children of extended family members.
- The behaviour does not happen with adults, siblings, or while he was in his previous classroom.
- The behaviour is most likely to happen when other children are engaged in gross motor activities or in the block/transportation area.
- When Michael hits or pushes a child he stays very close to them and does not run or move away.
- We also noticed that Michael is removed from the situation after the behaviour occurs which leads to him screaming “no”. He often approaches the same child again even after being removed.
- Sometimes children run away from Michael after he hits or pushes them.
We also considered Michael’s communication skills and noted that he speaks in two to three word sentences and uses gestures to make requests.
The results from the Functional Assessment Interview suggest that the function of the problem behaviour is to obtain attention. The problem behaviour serves a communicative function: Michael is using the behaviour to express his desire to join other children in play.
Now it’s time to move onto the next step and plan for change.
Step 3: Plan for Change
Planning for change involves making the behaviour irrelevant, inefficient and finally ineffective.
Making the Behaviour Irrelevant
We can make the behaviour irrelevant by preventing or controlling the things in the environment that happen before the behaviour.
Let’s take a look at some ways to prevent the behaviour from happening by promoting social interaction through group activities, and setting clear rules.
During outdoor play time, we will lead group activities and games like, “Duck, duck goose”, “Mr. Wolf” and “Red light, green light”. We will encourage Michael to participate and become acquainted with the other children in the class.
We will facilitate play between Michael and another child with games or toys that he is most interested in. For example, playing “catch” with the large bouncing ball in the playground or playing with the car ramp but using only one car.
Setting clear rules
We will also create a rules board that emphasizes positive ways to interact with others including all the “good” things we can do with our hands (e.g., pat on the back, shake hands). We can discuss these rules at circle time every day and reward children when we see them following the rules. Keeping class rules very clear and simple will assist Michael to understand what is expected of him.
Making the Behaviour Inefficient
To make behaviour inefficient, we might choose to teach specific adaptive, educational and social behaviours. By teaching these types of behaviours, we eliminate the need for the problem behaviour.
At other times, we may teach an alternative behaviour. An alternative behaviour serves the same function as the behaviour being replaced but is seen to be more appropriate by other children, adults and the general public. To be successful, it requires equal or less physical effort and complexity but results in the same type of pay-off for the child.
In this case, we are going to teach Michael how to “ask a friend to play”. We will create a social script that describes what Michael can do to ask a friend to play.
For more details on the strategies and teaching techniques we used to help Michael learn how to “ask a friend to play” visit our “Teaching New Skills” section.
Making the Behaviour Ineffective
The last step is to make problem behaviour ineffective, meaning that it no longer works for the child. Keeping in mind that the behaviour may not change right away – we are aware that it is very common for problem behaviour to increase before it decreases when implementing changes. The key is to be consistent with our plan.
Since this behaviour is really a request for peer attention, we have decided that when Michael hits or punches another child, all teachers will physically redirect him to a new activity without paying any attention to the behaviour.
Another important factor in making the behaviour ineffective in our environment means changing a behaviour in all the places a child finds himself including at home. Our partnership with parents is the key to success.
Throughout this process we spoke to Michael’s parents about our concerns, and shared our strategies. Michael also had some difficulty with social interaction at home, so we provided the family with the same strategies we are using and created a social script to use at home. Changing a problem behaviour that continues to be rewarded in other settings is confusing to the child and frustrating for everyone.
If the problem behaviour persists then we will have to re-assess but it is important for us to give our plan time to work. Be patient! Some behaviours can take a couple of weeks to change.