Teaching Replacement Behaviors

Why is this behavior happening?

Child covering face

In order to understand replacement behaviors, we must first understand why behavior occurs. All behavior happens for a reason! Maladaptive or problem behaviors usually occur for one of the following reasons: to gain attention, to avoid or escape a task demand, to gain access to something, or to receive sensory stimulation. To determine the function of a behavior, either yourself or those working with your child will observe them while these behaviors occur. In ABA, we use something called ABC data. This tells us what happened right before the behavior, what the behavior looks like, and what happened right after the behavior occurs. Once enough data is taken, we can usually determine why this behavior is occurring.

What are replacement behaviors?

Child raising handReplacement behaviors are used to teach the child an appropriate response to replace the problem behavior. Replacement behaviors should always serve the same purpose as the problem behavior. For example, if a child engages in problem behavior to avoid work/tasks, we could teach them to ask for a break appropriately or ask for help. Replacement behaviors should be paired with reinforcement to ensure the behavior increases in the future. In the previous example, one should use reinforcement each time the child completes the work or appropriately asks for a break. With this, the child is still gaining access to a break and receiving reinforcement.


So, how do I use replacement behaviors?

Replacement behaviors

1. The first step to using a replacement behavior is to determine the function of the behavior. You do not want to teach a replacement that does not serve the same purpose as the problem behavior. For instance, a child could yell and scream to gain attention or yell and scream to escape a task demand. Knowing the reason why will help you choose an appropriate replacement behavior. To learn more about the functions of behavior, click here.

2. The second step to using a replacement behavior is to figure out what to teach! When choosing a replacement behavior, we want to ensure it is easier than the behavior of concern. It’s likely the child will not use the replacement behavior if it requires more effort than the problem behavior.

3. The last step, and the most important step, is to teach the replacement behavior. In ABA, we like to use strategies like modeling, visual cues, or other forms of least intrusive prompting. For example, when teaching a child to request a break we could use a break card or verbally tell them to ask for a break. Eventually, we want them to independently ask for a break. In this step of the process, it’s helpful to practice, practice, practice! The more times the child learns that using the replacement behavior is easier and provides them access to reinforcement, the more likely they are to continue using the behavior.

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