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What is Behavior Management?

By Donn Saylor
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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Behavior management is a type of behavior therapy that aims to control negative actions by preserving a level of order and direction. This approach to dealing with behavior change is largely practiced by those working in the field of education, specifically those who work with special needs children. Behavior management is employed to better help individuals or groups make positive, healthy behavioral choices.

There are similarities between behavior management and behavior modification, two styles of behavior engineering that endeavor to teach behavioral improvement through positive and negative reinforcement. But while behavior modification is a direct and constant approach, behavior management tends to be more relaxed. The principles of the two styles are nearly identical, but those practicing behavior management adopt a far less rigorous style. Since it is predominantly used in classroom settings, many have found behavior management to be more effective with groups, while behavior modification is better suited to one-on-one applications.

Positive and negative reinforcements are the foundation of both behavior management and behavior modification. Simply put, this means rewarding good behavior and punishing bad. In behavior management, the practice is usually less intense than in behavior management. For instance, a positive reinforcement in a classroom may be a simple pat on the back and a negative reinforcement may be a five-minute time-out; in behavior modification, a positive reinforcement might be a tangible reward and a negative reinforcement might involve the assigning of an undesirable chore. Both achieve the same ends, but behavior management could be considered the less severe of the two.

A student learning behavior management skills discovers how to stay focused and directed when his or her behavior wants to spiral out of control. One way this is accomplished is by the drawing-up of teacher-student contracts, in which both parties set boundaries and definitions of what constitutes appropriate behavior. This contract can then be referred to as necessary to manage the student's behavior. Techniques that teach self-awareness and self-control are also highly effective forms of behavior management.

Token systems are another commonly utilized method of behavior management. With a token system, a student is rewarded with a token when positive behavior is exhibited. When negative behavior is evident, a token is taken away. The student collects the tokens, which can be redeemed later for special rights, privileges, and treats. This type of behavior management is generally well-understood among students and requires little confrontation, making it an ideal technique for the classroom.

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Discussion Comments
By anon146366 — On Jan 26, 2011

Hey, guys. Thanks for taking on this topic. Behavior management methods are quite useful in education, so it's good to discuss them. Also, though, it's important to cover them accurately, and I fear you have some misinformation here. One very important example: Negative reinforcement is equivalent to punishment. That is, time out or a chore would not be negative reinforcement. --JohnL

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