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by Jessica Hardy, Ph.D.

Families and teachers often identify challenging behavior as a significant problem in the home and school/childcare settings.  Challenging behavior is defined as

Image of the quote “any repeated pattern of behavior…that interferes with or is at risk of interfering with the child’s optimal learning or engagement in pro-social interactions with peers and adults.” (Smith & Fox, 2003, p. 6)

If challenging behavior is not addressed, it can lead to problems later in life, such as lower academic achievement, lack of friendships, and mental health disorders.

When adults are unsure about how to address challenging behavior, they might use punitive practices, such as reprimands, threats, or corporal punishment.  In some settings, caregivers might exclude, suspend, or expel children from the classroom or program.  However, this does not teach the child the needed skills.  Instead, it keeps the child from accessing education and harms the relationship with the family. Luckily, there are practices teachers and families can use not only to prevent and address young children’s challenging behavior but also to promote positive behavior.

image of a triangle with leveled tiers

Such proactive approaches focus on understanding why a child engages in challenging behavior and helping children develop the skills required to get their needs met in more appropriate ways.  These assessment and teaching activities exist in multi-tiered systems of support.  In the first tier, all children are provided with high-quality environments and instruction.  Children who need more targeted support receive tier two instruction and more frequent assessment.  Children who have persistent and ongoing challenging behavior that does not respond to typical teaching practices receive tier three support.

With a systematic approach to preventing and addressing challenging behavior, adults can build positive relationships with all children and teach all children the necessary skills for success in school and life, such as problem-solving, friendship skills, and emotional literacy.

In our OneOp 2020 series on behavior, Intentional Design: Promoting Positive Behavior, Dr. Hardy explores these ideas and more.