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What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan and When Do I Need One?

As a parent or teacher, have you ever asked, “What is a behavioral intervention plan and when do I need one?” Whether at home or in the classroom, our little ones’ behavior can be challenging at times. Our fantastic lead contributor, Claire Law, is here to guide us along the way of identifying problem behavior, creating a behavioral intervention plan, and learning to stay calm during the process.

mother feeling frustrated with child, What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan and When Do I Need One?

What is behavior?

Behavior is the word we use to describe our actions in the world – the way we move, what we choose and how we interact and react with other people and with the physical environment. Behavior allows us to exercise power and control over our environment. For young children, behavior is a way to practice the important drive towards independence and to learn what is and is not acceptable. It’s impossible to not display behavior. Even sitting in silence can be considered an act, or a choice.

Behavior is a way we communicate. It’s often said that “all behavior is communication”. When it comes to preschoolers, that’s certainly true – young children are still developing vocabulary and emotional regulation. Rather than use words to say what they want, like, need or how they feel, they may express this through their behavior or their actions.

Anyone who spends time with preschoolers will soon recognize what’s often termed a “temper tantrum”. That act of banging fists onto the floor, and wailing and screaming is a form of behavior communicating something of that child’s experience. We might alternatively call a tantrum “frustration behavior”. It’s our job as a caregiver to support a child towards learning other, more socially appropriate ways to express emotions, wants and needs.

What do we mean by “negative behaviors” in preschoolers?

To function as a society, we label some behaviors as positive. For example, taking turns and helping someone who is injured are both behaviors that we tend to describe as “positive”. These are prosocial behaviors that support positive relationships and wellbeing, helping preschoolers to get along with others and to form friendships.

In contrast, hitting or biting other children or smashing toys against the wall are behaviors that we tend to describe as “negative”, or “challenging” behaviors, in that they hurt others and damage objects. Context is important, of course. Kicking a ball in a game of football is celebrated. That behavior supports team play and physical development and is unlikely to cause harm. However, that same kicking action directed at another child leads to pain and suffering, and damaged relationships.

preschool upset

Broadly speaking, when it comes to preschoolers, negative or challenging behaviors are those that lead to harm to self or harm to others, or to the environment.

Examples include:
• Spitting towards others.
• Hitting, punching, biting, pinching or kicking other people, or self.
• Deliberately damaging the environment or things within that environment.
• Running away from safety and towards danger.
• Ignoring instructions designed to support safety.

If a preschooler regularly exhibits these types of behaviors, a Behavioral Intervention Plan can be helpful in supporting both the child themselves, as well as caregivers and other children involved with them.

What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan?

A Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) is a document providing information and strategies for caregivers to use with a child with the intention of decreasing challenging behaviors and increasing positive ones. The BIP is a tailored and person-centered document, written with a particular child in mind – placing them at the heart of the BIP. The BIP is created following a period of assessment when a child’s challenging behaviors are observed in context.

The BIP will include strategies that support a child towards positive behaviors throughout their daily activities and routines, as well as supporting the caregivers interacting with the child. Sometimes, BIPs are referred to as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

When are Behavioral Intervention Plans useful?

Schools make regular use of BIPs with older children when a child displays persistent challenging behavior that prevents him/her or other children in the classroom from learning or from forming relationships with peers. And, for children that are homeschooled, home educators can use BIPs as part of their support for preschoolers.

preschooler having a tantrum

Research has shown that BIPs can also reduce problem behavior and increase alternative behavior within daily routines and activities of younger children and preschoolers (Sears et al., 2013). BIPs are part of a strategy used within preschool settings to respond to challenging behavior. It’s estimated that a staggering 70,000 preschoolers are suspended or expelled in the United States every year (Malik, 2017). These children can be supported to reengage with learning and their social development using a BIP.

Many schools and preschool settings utilize BIPs for children with additional learning needs or learning disabilities. However, BIPs can be useful for supporting children with or without special educational needs. In short, BIPs are useful when a child would benefit from support to develop skills or behaviors (replacement behaviors) to use instead of challenging behavior.

What needs to happen before a BIP is created?

BIPs are developed after observation and assessment of challenging behaviors a child exhibits over a period. We can call this observation a “Functional Behavior Assessment” or FBA. FBAs allow for an individual child’s behaviors to be observed in context, to understand the meaning or the function of the behavior for the individual child.

This observation hopes to establish the variables influencing challenging behavior—what seems to be a prompt to challenging behavior? What happens before this challenging behavior is observed? What is a child communicating through this behavior? And how do people around this child react? How are caregivers reinforcing this challenging behavior? What do they do that seems to promote positive behavior for this child? These questions are addressed through the Functional Behavior Assessment.

Once the function of behavior has been understood, then a BIP can be created using this information. A Functional Behavior Assessment is sometimes referred to using the “ABC” acronym.

Here, ABC stands for:
A – Antecedent: What happens to prompt or trigger challenging behavior.
B – Behavior: What is the nature of the behavior itself?
C – Consequence: What happens as a result?

mother and son dealing with behavior issues, What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan and When Do I Need One?

Key features of Behavioral Intervention Plans for preschoolers:

BIPs for preschool children have a range of headings that help to make clear how caregivers can best support a particular child towards desired behavioral outcomes.

Typical features of a BIP for preschoolers include:
• A summary statement of problem behavior(s),
• Hypothesized Function,
• Target behavior(s),
• Proactive strategies for reducing problem behaviors,
• Data collection methods,
• Consequence interventions

Let’s look at a sample BIP for a preschooler who has been observed running away from a place of safety and towards danger on multiple occasions.

Name of Child: Simeon Greaves*

DOB and age of child: 05/04/2021 – 3 years old.

Summary statement of problem behavior(s):

Simeon runs out of the learning space towards the door leading to an unsupervised space. He then lays with his stomach on the ground flat on the floor. He responds to verbal prompts calling him to return to the learning space by shouting and screaming.

Hypothesized Function:

It is hypothesized that Simeon escapes from adult demands by running away from the learning space. Then, the behavior is maintained by the attention provided by adults after he leaves the space. The attention is often provided when as adult stands next to him and provides a vocal-verbal demand to return or picks up and carries Simeon back to the space.
It has been noted that an reoccurring antecedent to Simeon running out of the classroom is when he is issued with a demand by an adult.

Target behavior(s):

• A reduction in the frequency of times that Simeon runs out of the learning space each week.
• Simeon asks to leave the learning space when he needs time away from other children.
• Simeon responding to verbal instructions from adults designed to support Simeon’s safety.
Proactive strategies for reducing problem behaviors: • Increase access to positive 1:1 adult attention.
• Replace demands with “choice” language: offer Simeon a choice between two suitable options rather than issuing demands.
• Rearrange the furniture in the room to slow access to the door.
• Utilize a communication method for Simeon to use when he recognizes a need to have space away from other children. Have an appropriate place Simeon can then access space away from other children.
• Offer praise and recognition when Simeon uses communication methods to express his choices.
• Allow free access to the outdoor supervised play area.
• Avoid giving attention to unwanted behaviors.

Data collection methods:

• Tally chart on the number of times per day Simeon runs out of the learning space.
• Tally chart of times per day Simeon communicates a need to have space.
• Tally chart of times per day Simeon uses communication methods to express his choices.
Consequence interventions: • If Simeon runs off, an adult will calmly follow at a distance to ensure safety – remaining silent and avoiding eye contact with Simeon.
• In a neutral tone provide a directive to go back into the learning space (“Time to go in”) one time every minute.

*To protect anonymity, this is a fictionalized case study – based on an example within Higgins at al., (2023)

From this example, we can see that the BIP is tailored to Simeon – and factors in the observations gained from an assessment of his challenging behaviors over a period of time. There’s been consideration given to the ways that adults and caregivers have been, inadvertently, reinforcing this behavior – and attention given to what can be done to better meet Simeon’s needs, including how replacement or positive behaviors can be reinforced. Caregivers are supported through this BIP with clear strategies of what interventions they can take as part of a coherent plan.

How to reward positive behavior?

BIPs include a focus on reinforcing positive behavior. Rewarding positive behavior can be as simple as giving your attention and affection towards your child when you see them displaying behaviors you’d like to see more of. This is often expressed through the maxim of “catch them doing good”. Aim to notice and comment upon the positive behaviors your child exhibits, to avoid them only being given recognition and attention when they display challenging behavior.

You can use sticker charts to recognize and acknowledge such positive behaviors. You can also reward your child with activities that they particularly enjoy – reading their favorite book, or completing a puzzle together, for example. Don’t underestimate the impact of your warm, responsive and communicative attention towards your child. This is a powerful reward in itself.

father with son praising good behavior, What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan and When Do I Need One?

How to stay calm in the face of challenging behavior when implementing a BIP?

Creating and then implementing a BIP can be challenging. Staying calm in the face of problematic behavior in a preschooler can be an uphill struggle. Yet, if you can model emotional regulation and use of appropriate communication, you will be supporting your preschooler to learn these important pro-social skills for themselves.
Aim to build in activities you need to help you manage stress. It’s okay, and necessary, to take time away from being 1:1 with your preschooler – can you share childcare with others, at all? Family, friends, and professional childcare support are all options.

And then, in the face of any tantrum or challenging behavior, aim to get a sense of what your child is trying to communicate through their behavior. Stay calm by attending to your breathing, and taking your time to work out what function your preschooler’s behavior has in that moment? Use the ABC model as needed. When children and young people express big emotions, we need to listen first, and then repeat back how they are feeling using empathetic non-verbal communication. This will help them to feel heard and become calmer and help us to stay calm and confident in our abilities to support our preschooler.

The Takeaway:

So, we’ve explored some of the key questions associated with a Behavioral Intervention Plan. BIPs are tailored and child-centered, produced after the function of challenging behavior has been considered. Rather than being punishment focused, BIPs use positive reinforcement of replacement behaviors. Whilst it can be challenging dealing with behavioral issues in preschoolers, a BIP can be a way forward in helping you and your preschooler. I hope this article helps you to consider what you and your child need in the quest for their healthy growth, development, and socialization.

Higgins, Johanna P.; Riggleman, Samantha; and Lohmann, Marla J. (2023) “A Practical Guide to Writing Behavior Intervention Plans for Young Children,” The Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship: Vol. 12: No. 1, Article 7.

Malik, R. (2017). New data reveal 250 preschoolers are suspended or expelled every day. news/2017/11/06/442280/new-data-reveal-250-preschoolerssuspended-expelledevery-day

Sears, K., Blair, K.-S., Iovannone, R., & Crosland, K. (2013). Using the Prevent-Teach-Reinforce model with families of young children with ASD. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 43(5), 1005–1016.

We hope you enjoyed What Is A Behavioral Intervention Plan and When Do I Need One? Be sure to check out more of Claire’s articles including The Best Self-Esteem Activities for Preschoolers and The Best Social and Emotional Activities for Preschoolers.

Our Lead Contributor, Claire Law has a background of almost 20 years of teaching experience. She now works as a relational psychotherapist, writer and trainer. Claire is passionate about supporting children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

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