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Understanding Behaviors



In order to begin understanding behavior, we need to properly define it. Behavior is typically the actions a person does whether observable or unobservable. It includes talking, thinking, playing with others, making decisions, and more! Appropriate behaviors are usually determined by societal expectations and standards, and inappropriate or challenging behaviors occur when a person is doing something that is not socially acceptable or demonstrating behaviors that could potentially cause harm to themselves or someone else. Listed below are some tips to help guide caregivers in redirecting and managing challenging behaviors.

  • For long term effects, intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic motivation.

  • Intrinsic motivation is self-initiated and a personal drive to action where the reward is the activity itself.

  • Extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards like money, praise, toys, etc.

  • If your child struggles with transitions, using a timer or a visual schedule may help.

  • Try to deal with behavioral issues before they happen. Plan both your activities and transitions.

  • Provide an environment that promotes successful engagement; creating boundaries is so important!

  • Try to provide activities that both facilitate free choice behavior and focused attention.


And don’t forget, behavior isn’t always psychosocial, keep your child’s needs in mind along with the time of the day. Are they hungry? Tired? In these cases, a child could be having challenging behaviors because of a physical need.

O'Brien, J. C. & Kuhaneck, H. (Eds.). (2020). Case-Smith's occupational therapy for children and adolescents (8th ed.). Elsevier.


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