10 Tips for Challenging Behavior

Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a Behavior Intervention Specialist to create a song to help various school professionals, including new staff, remember tips to dealing with challenging behaviors. It is always helpful to review how to handle behaviors and use the resources of other professionals that are working with our clients. In brainstorming, we wanted a song that people would know and could easily be remembered. We opted to go with doing a piggyback of Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. The tips are outlined then a bit of additional information is given about each tip to round out each verse.
The first five tips are things to do to limit behaviors. The second five tips are what to do if students continue to display challenging behaviors.

10 Tips for Challenging Behaviors


  1. Positive Reinforcement
    Positive reinforcement of good behaviors should be immediately after it occurs.  It can be tangible or verbal.  Make sure to vary your reinforcement. Have a built in reinforcement system to praise the student on an ongoing basis.
  2. Build Rapport
    It is important to know your student.  Build trust.  Know your student’s likes and dislikes and how best they respond. What is highly preferred for your student?
  3. Be Prepared
    Make sure that you have your reinforcers readily available, all materials for supporting the students’ needs including sensory toys, worksheets, visual schedules, communication systems.  Make sure that you have what is needed to transition to the next activity.
  4. Be Clear and Concise
    Let your student know what is expected but don’t be too wordy.  Keep it simple.
  5. Use First, Then Statements
    Tell your student what you expect them to do and then what they will get in return.  First answer question, then break.  Providing visuals can assist in the student understanding the expectations.


  1. Focus On Positive Behavior
    What is your student doing right?  Focus on the the positive thing that they are engaging in, not the negative behavior.
  2. Tell Them What You WANT Them To Do
    Be specific in what you want them to do, don’t focus on what you don’t want them to do.  Sit down rather than don’t run away.
  3. Set Limits
    Keep instructional control and don’t get in a power struggle. Give choices with consequences, not making threats or giving ultimatums.
  4. Look For Triggers
    After a behavior is observed, look at what the triggers are in the environment.  A student’s behavior is often due to a reaction to a stimulus in their environment.
  5. Behavior Is Communication
    Challenging behaviors have a function.  What is the student trying to tell you with the behavior?  There are four functions of behavior: sensory/automatic, escape/avoidance, attention, and tangibles/activities.