What Is Behavior Management?

Behavior management, also called behavior modification, attempts to guide and motivate individuals to change their actions or interactions in certain settings 2. For example, teachers use behavior management at a classroom level to introduce rules against interrupting other students. Teachers also use behavior management with individual students to alter bad habits and poor choices, such as getting up out of their seats when they should be seated. Parents, therapists, medical professionals and employers can use behavior management approaches.


Behavior management includes identification of the problem or negative behavior, education about replacement behaviors, alterations to the individual’s environment to reduce the negative behavior, positive reinforcement to encourage the new behavior and negative reinforcement to discourage the inappropriate action. Behavior management planning may include behavioral analysis and data collection, education and role playing, along with the institution of contractual agreements.


If applied correctly, state N. Mather and Sam Goldstein in their article “Behavior Modification in the Classroom” at LDOnline, behavior modification techniques never fail 2. When applied inefficiently or inconsistently, however, the result is less than desired change. With the implementation of all aspects of a behavioral modification plan, an individual is encouraged by correct choices and discouraged from the negative behavior 2.

In “Discipline in the Secondary Classroom: A Positive Approach to Behavior Management,” Randall S. Sprick reminds readers that behavior management takes time 12. He describes a motivational sports coach who outlines behavioral expectations on day one of the season and then spends the whole season teaching those techniques and pushing the team to practice those behaviors.


Teachers, parents, employers and others who implement behavior management techniques often place an overemphasis on implementation of the negative consequences. While negative consequences are necessary, they should be instituted in combination with all other aspects of a behavior modification plan 2. Educational Psychology Interactive suggests that punishment alone may increase hostility and should be used infrequently and in combination with positive reinforcement 3.


Behavior modification techniques or approaches are often incorrectly thought of as a list of disciplinary measures, such as added chores for a teenager displaying disrespectful behavior or pay reduction for employees who repeatedly arrive late to work. While disciplinary measures and negative consequences are a necessary component of behavior modification, they are only one aspect.

Expert Insight

Behavior management works even for particularly egregious behaviors, including defiant, non-compliant children and physically aggressive teenagers. “For several of my families,” states Dr. Katherine Reiter, owner of Creative Case Management in Asheville, North Carolina, "I recommend a parent coach to help them with their child’s challenging behaviors 5. The parent coach encourages families to look at all aspects of helping their child change, not just discipline.”

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