Replacement Behaviors

UDL 6.2

Replacement Behaviors is a strategy where the teacher positively reinforces a student for using a desired behavior (e.g. raising a hand) instead of a non-desired behavior (e.g. shouting out in class). When first teaching a replacement behavior the teacher determines the function of the non-desired behavior (i.e., why the student is responding using the non-desired behavior). Functions of behavior can including attempting to gain access to something or someone or to avoid/escape a non-desired situation, environment, or person. Then the teacher identifies an appropriate replacement behavior to meet the same need. For example, a student that walks out of class in order to avoid doing their classwork can be given the option to request a break instead. The replacement behaviors are explicitly taught and modeled to the student and the teacher provides many, repeated opportunities for practice. Reinforcement is provided immediately when the student uses the replacement behavior. This is an effective strategy for creating long-term behavior changes because the strategy does not rely on punishment and teaches the student appropriate behaviors that can be generalized across environments.

Implementation Tips

Determining the Function of a Behavior
Determine why a student is engaging in a non-desired behavior before selecting and teaching an equivalent replacement. For example, a student putting their head down because they are frustrated by math assignments might require a much different replacement behavior than a student who may be engaging in the exact same behavior because they are physically under-stimulated. A teacher might teach the former to ask for help while teaching the latter to use a standing desk when in need. Use these tools to help determine the function of a behavior:
[[|Motivation Assessment Scale]]
[[|Ecological Interview]]
[[|Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Chart]]
Choose Effective Replacement Behaviors
Select a replacement behavior that directly meets the same need that the non-desired behavior was achieving. It would be more effective to teach a student to raise a hand rather than to use deep breaths when needing help. The replacement behavior should be as effective or more effective than the negative behavior at getting the student’s needs met. Choose behaviors that can get the student’s needs met more quickly or with less effort than the non-desired behavior.
Consistent Responses for Using Replacement Behaviors
Honor a student's request if the desired replacement behavior was used. For example, a student is taught to ask for a break instead of walking out of class without permission. If the teacher does not allow the student to take a break immediately upon asking, it could inadvertently increase the frequency (i.e., how often) and intensity (i.e., how strong) of the non-desired behavior. If a student is engaging in non-desired behaviors with a function that is difficult to meet, try to identify different, more realistic ways a student's need can be met.
One Behavior at a Time
Target one specific non-desired behavior at a time. When too many replacement behaviors are introduced at once, the student can become easily confused. For the teacher, it can be challenging to maintain consistent positive feedback and reinforcement. When a student begins to use a replacement behavior with consistent frequency and the non-desired behavior as been nearly eliminated, teachers can introduce a new replacement behavior for another target, if needed.
How to Increase Use of Replacement Behaviors
Motivate students to use replacement behaviors by providing reinforcers/rewards in addition to fulfilling the need that originally motivated the non-desired behavior. When students are not internally motivated to use the desired behavior because the non-desired behavior already effectively meets their needs, using reinforcers will increase the likelihood that the student will use the replacement behavior again.
Determining Reinforcers/Rewards
Have students be part of the process for selecting reinforcers or rewards. The students will be more motivated and engaged in the Replacement Behavior process. Reinforcers can be social (e.g. high-fives, "Good job!"), tokens (e.g., stickers that can be traded for other items), activities (e.g., breaks, computer time), tangibles (e.g., toys, books), or edibles (e.g., various snacks). The strongest reinforcement is allowing the student to access to the person, object, or activity that was initially motivating them to use the non-desired behavior.
How and When to Reinforce Replacement Behaviors
Give small but frequent rewards immediately after the student uses appropriate behaviors. Additionally, be sure to frequently assess whether a reward continues to be motivating to the student. Periodically change rewards, even if they continue to be motivating, so as to reduce the chance of satiating. Always pair physical rewards with social praise; once the student uses the replacement behavior consistently, gradually fade the use of physical rewards but continue to use positive feedback. Doing so will increase the likelihood of instilling intrinsic motivation for using the behavior.
Recruit Parents and Staff
Inform and train other adults that may encounter the replacement behavior to respond to the student with the identified reward. Use informal and formal meetings, trainings, newsletters, and memos to give information to other adults about the general strategy, specific replacement behaviors to watch for, and the plan for reinforcing them.


Use Role Playing When Teaching
Teachers can use role playing activities to teach students how and when to use replacement behaviors as well as to give opportunities to practice. For example, a student who is working on replacing the behavior of fighting with getting help from an adult can be instructed to model the behavior during a classroom discussion about how to respond to bullying. Activities such as pretend play, fishbowl discussions, and charades provide great opportunities for roleplaying. The student and teacher may also reflect on the consequences of engaging in the replacement behavior.
Use Student Conferences When Planning
When appropriate, students can be included in identifying replacement behaviors and planning to use them. During the conference, the student and teacher discuss the non-desired behavior and then identifies replacement behaviors that can be used instead. They can also discuss the benefits of using the new behavior as well as a reward system, if appropriate. The new behaviors can also be modeled and practiced during the conference. It can be helpful to use student contracts or goal setting graphic organizers during the student conference to record goals, replacement behaviors, and rewards.
Replacement Behaviors for Groups
Replacement Behaviors can be implemented within small groups, classrooms, or school communities when an inappropriate behavior is displayed across the group. For example, if many students frequently disrespect classmates during group discussions, the teacher can teach the class to positively state how they feel by using sentences that starts with "I" (i.e. use I-messages) instead. The teacher first identifies the problem behavior as well as the students’ motivation for using it. Then the teacher conducts lesson(s) to explicitly teach the group to replace the problem behavior with the identified appropriate behaviors. Reward systems can be used to encourage the students to adopt the new skills.

Related Strategies