What Is a Positive Behavior Plan?

Intervention at the early stages of chronic behavior problems offers a child with ADHD the chance for success in the school setting. There could be far fewer referrals to juvenile authorities if parents and schools utilized early interventions, taking a positive approach to behavior issues rather than just punishment.

Positive supports initiated before behaviors become seriously disruptive can often eliminate the need for a manifestation hearing that decides whether a child should be removed from his or her present educational setting to an alternative setting. A positive behavior plan and possibly an alternative discipline plan are proven strategies for addressing chronic behavior problems. They should be utilized as a proactive tool, not just a reactive tool.

The law stresses the use of positive interventions. Punishment does not teach a child to new behaviors. Punishment may stop the behavior temporarily, but it resumes once the child is over the fear factor. That is why traditional in-school suspensions, discipline slips to the office, and bad report cards do not change behavior for the better. These strategies just do not teach to new, more appropriate behaviors. If they were successful we would not see a repetitive pattern of their use for a number of children.

When writing such a plan, the team should not overlook identifying the child's strengths and interests. This is just as important as identifying the function of the problem behavior. It is amazing what can happen when the focus shifts from poor behavior expectations to building on a youngster's strengths. This strength does not have to be in the area of academics. Such a strength could be in any number of areas, including art, dance, photography, animals, pottery, mechanical, automotive, etc. Recognition in front of peers of a child's particular hobby or an area of interest, can be a very powerful reward. A mentor in the community, with a common area of interest, can be a very positive force in such a child's life. Even one hour or two a week can make a dramatic difference in the life of the child. I believe this should be a one-on-one activity to help the child build self-esteem. How empowering for a child to know one individual has taken a personal interest and wants to help build on his or her unique strengths!

A Successful Behavior Plan Requires Teamwork and a Positive Approach

A successful behavior plan involves responsibility, accountability, and communication on the part of staff, parents, and child. Progress should be expected in small steps, not necessarily leaps and bounds. Just writing down what is expected of "Johnny" will not change "Johnny's" behavior. Positive reinforcers should be carefully chosen as they must be meaningful to that particular child. Each team member must be ready to implement the plan as part of the team, using the same positive interventions, the same positive reinforcers, and understanding the behavior triggers and what is necessary to reduce those triggers. They must communicate frequently to assess the success of the plan and to make changes as necessary.

A successful behavior plan requires positive effort and communication between staff, family, as well as the child.

Tips on Writing Effective Behavior and Discipline Plans

As a parent and parent advocate, I can only offer some ideas that have worked for children for whom I have advocated. You can explore the law at Wright's Law and other sites on the web listed on my links page.

If a child is truly violent, the options are few. If a child is not a danger to himself or others, (and the law is very explicit on what constitutes such a "danger"), then he/she needs to be with appropriate peer role models as much as possible.

As parents of a child with ADHD, you must know what constitutes a legally defined "danger to self or others." Check out the law and the regulations. For example, one true danger is bringing a firearm to school. However, an example of abuse of the law, falls in the category of a small child bringing Ora-Gel to school and getting in trouble for violating drug laws. So know what the law really says. There's a lot of activity in Congress regarding discipline sections of Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) and attempts abound to rewrite the law. This remains a very volatile issue.

An effective way to build in safeguards and protection for your child is to have a POSITIVE behavior plan and a possible alternative discipline plan in place. I would look first and foremost at identifying your child's strengths and interests. It's amazing what can happen when the focus shifts from expecting poor behavior to building on a youngster's strengths. This doesn't necessarily have to be in the area of academics; although it's wonderful if there is an academic strength. Sometimes a mentor in the community for such an interest, say in pottery, music, or art, can be a very positive force in a child's life. Even spending an hour or two a week on this interest can make a dramatic difference in a child's life. I believe this should be a one-on-one activity to help the child build self-esteem and to let your child know that one person wants to help him build on his or her unique strengths.

In developing the behavior and discipline plans, it's extremely helpful if you have access to a child psychologist's expertise to help write those goals and interventions. Unfortunately, depending on your particular situation, school staff may or may not be looking out for your child's best interests. Perhaps they don't want to rock the boat. Again, the focus can end up not on education, but on other influences. If that happens, your child is the one who suffers.

On the other hand, I have seen a really great behavior plan, written and endorsed by the team, help a child improve by leaps and bounds. A good plan identifies:

  • rewards that are truly meaningful to that particular child

  • puts in contingency plans (i.e., what to do if a substitute teacher doesn't know about plan)

  • is totally directed toward teaching the child new, more positive and acceptable behaviors

A behavior plan is not something that is rewarding and convenient for the district, (i.e. throw him in an empty room and call it time out). If punitive measures have been used before, you can point out that obviously, that method didn't work, now let's use something that will actually teach to new behaviors.

A good behavior plan always addresses 3 things, called the ABC's of behavior.

  1. The antecedent (what was going on just before the behavior)

  2. The behavior itself

  3. The consequence (what happens as a result of the behavior)

What schools usually skip is identifying the antecedent, or what triggered the behavior. No one looked at what was going on that lead to the behavior. Invariably something happened during a time of transition (change). For instance, maybe the teacher was attending to something other than the class, or the child has become the class scapegoat and the teacher enables the class to continue this behavior. Perhaps the child is tactile sensitive, and becomes overheated in a physical education class, or overwhelmed and over-stimulated by large crowds.

I.D.E.A. makes it clear, if there are behavior issues in school, there needs to be a professional behavior assessment. ALL interventions must be documented on paper, which ones worked and which ones were not successful. This is the approach that will pinpoint a lot of problems and can start a child on the road to competency in the area of behaviors.

While on that subject, here's a favorite area for throwing around the word "responsibility". A child who lacks competency in the area of social behavior is told to "act responsibly." Remember, the district must also shoulder "responsibility" to properly identify the child's needs and draw up a logical, well-thought-out, positive approach to changing the behavior. The team must act responsibly by staying in close communication and problem solving before there are any serious problems.

The law also stresses the use of positive interventions, not punitive interventions or punishment. Punishment does not teach a child new behaviors. It manages to stop the behavior, but only temporarily. The key is to replace the unacceptable behavior with positive behavior.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2003, August 7). What Is a Positive Behavior Plan?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Last Updated: August 13, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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