Behavior Management: Why it Works


This is a series of seven blogs to help teachers, parents and therapists bring students under instructional control so that teaching can occur. The components of the series are

  1. Behavior Management: An Overview
  2. Behavior Management: Bribes or Rewards – The Fundamental Question
  3. Behavior Management: Praise and Encouragement
  4. Behavior Management: Activities as Reinforcers
  5. Behavior Management: Point Systems
  6. Behavior Management: Behavior Contracts
  7. Behavior Management: Why it works


For approximately 100 years now, psychologists have studied the behavior of a wide range of species, including human beings themselves. There are literally hundreds of thousands of published studies describing the various behaviors of humans. At least three major truths have been sifted from this vast amount of data:

  1. There are no random behaviors; All behaviors are goal-oriented.
  2. All behaviors are directed at increasing pleasure or escaping or avoiding pain.
  3. All organisms seek rewards and avoid punishers to accomplish their goals.

Behavioral psychologists understand that arranging the environment, and arranging the consequences allows them to change the behavior in many cases. It’s all about the reinforcers and finding the ones that work in this particular situation.

Many behaviors have antecedents, some trigger which makes them more likely to used. All behaviors have consequences. To the extent that we can understand the antecedents and manage the consequences, we are able to better control the particular behavior under consideration.

Creating the Best Educational Environment

For a student learning a new skill, such as learning to read, the arranging of the environment is critical. A powerful instruction program, a helpful tutor, and an appropriate workspace, provides a greater likelihood of success. Highly effective teaching, swift and sure error correction, praise and encouragement, and success on outcome measures are all reinforcing consequences that strengthen the repertoire of skills being learned. The sense of accomplishment and the feedback provided keep the student on track to learn more.

By learning a new skill, such as how to read, a student eliminates the pain of being uncomfortable in a classroom. The new skills allow the student more control, more participation, more “fitting in”, less of being an outsider and feeling inferior, all of which are positively reinforcing. Reinforcers, in their many forms, are the bridges that allow the student to move forward until the reward comes from the ability to read itself.


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