Language of Behaviors


When children misbehave they are actually using their behavior as a language to tell us something about how they are feeling or what they want from their environment.There are 6 different main reasons why students behave as they do:

1.     Revenge

2.     Escape/Avoidance

3.     Attention

4.     Power

5.     Self-regulation

6.     Play


If you analyze the childís behavior through what you know about the child, through your observations and through trying different interventions to see if they work, you can determine what it is that the child wants.Then you can try to give them that in more positive, constructive ways.Letís look at each of these reasons for behaviors.


Material and ideas taken from Topper, K., Williams, W., Leo, K., Hamilton, R., Fox, T. (1994) A positive approach to understanding and addressing challenging behaviors UAP of Vermont Center for DEvelopmental Disabilities, Burlington, VT.

Attention - The person is trying to gain attention from others through their behavior. "Heh, what about me?"

Positive: Student is interested in relationships with adults and peers
             Student is asking for attention

Reasons for behavior


Getting Something - The person is trying to get some "thing" (e.g., toy, food, object) through their behavior. "I'm hungry! Bring me a cookie."

Escape/Avoidance - The person is trying to get out of doing something, or get away from an undesirable task/activity through their behavior. "Let me out of here!"

Positive: Student may want to succeed if he can be assured of not making mistakes and of achieving some status

Reasons for behaviors


Play - The use of the behavior is entertaining to the person, sometimes because of the response of others. "Want to play?"

Positive: Student enjoys life, is able to amuse herself, wants friends

Possible reasons for behavior


Self-regualtion/Coping - The person uses the behavior to affect their emotional or physical state of being (e.g., the behavior calms them down, or picks them up). "Ah! That feels better!"

Positive: Behaviors may work to reduce anxiety

Attempts to reduce stimulation

Attempts to increase stimulation

Possible reasons for behavior


Physiological - The behavior is part of a physiological condition that the person cannot control. "Sorry, I can't help it!"

Control - the behavior serves the need to be in control of events/life

Positive: Student exhibits leadership potential, assertiveness and independent thinking

Possible reasons for behavior


Revenge - behavior serves the need to punish others for something that was done to the student.

Positive student is trying to protect self from further hurt

Possible reasons for behavior