All About the Replacement Behavior

Categories: Data | Interventions

The absolute, must-not-forget, essential step to eliminating any problem behavior is to teach and reinforce the appropriate way to access the consequence the problem behavior once delivered. And even if you are nodding your head along with mean, thinking “amen honey child” you might still be guilty of skipping this step or not completing this step fully. I am too. Don’t feel bad. No shame my friends. We get caught up in the my-intervention-is-so-badass mentality that we let the whole replacement behavior concept fall to the wayside. But I caution you with every ABA bone in my body to slow your roll and ensure that you are solidifying the replacement behaviors in a whole hearted manner.

When the problem behavior no longer results in a healthy dose of that sweet, sweet reinforcement – you need a replacement behavior to come to the rescue. When the replacement behavior results in reinforcement, your child will no longer have a need for the problem behavior. Teaching & reinforcing a replacement behavior will make your intervention more successful more quickly. 

The problem behavior used to be what resulted in something awesome. The problem behavior was reinforced by attention, avoid a work task, escaping a demand, or gaining access to an item. Once you work on removing that consequence (ie. the problem behavior won’t get your child those things anymore), you aren’t done.

You haven’t removed the want for that reinforcer. You child still wants attention or a break from work, etc. So now you need to give them an appropriate way to get that very same result – using the replacement behavior!

Every time that replacement behavior occurs – go wild with the reinforcement. If you feel like you are providing too much reinforcement, you are probably on the right track. Too much is better. You can fade it out later. The goal right now is getting the buy in. You want to show your student that this awesome replacement behavior you have taught them is immensely and amazingly better than the problem behavior that used to work for them.

A replacement behavior can be any type of positive and appropriate behavior that you teach your student that will give access to that same reinforcement.

The replacement behavior must be easier and more effective than the problem behavior!


Think about things like visuals, cue cards, and simple scripts to help make the replacement behavior something your child can readily do! And then load on that reinforcement like crazy. You want buy in. You can work on fading later.


  1. Hi! I have been reading as many of your posts on behavior as I can…for a student who becomes aggressive and or has a tantrum when presented with any work task…what would you suggest as a replacement behavior? The “break” card? If so, does he ever run out of “break” cards? Any thoughts would be appreciated!!

  2. Do you sell thole template for the choice board ?

  3. Is there a link for the make a choice template

  4. Do you sell the “make a choice” board? Not the sensory one mentioned in the comments but the one in the picture with a green and red arrow 🙂

  5. Oh never mind I found it in the “Behavior Contingency Maps” post!

  6. Perfect! Let me know if you have any questions about it!

  7. High school student hits staff when he doesn’t want to do what he is asked or corrected. What would be a replacement behavior for his actions. He will also say -“I hit you” when he wants to hit.
    thank you much appreciated. Attended your workshop in El Paso on July 23, it was so good, but so much info, I wish it was two days. Thank you for everything you do so selfishly.

  8. Thanks for following. I would look at function and see if there is an attention or escape component. You’ll want to make sure the replacement behavior accesses the same function!

  9. How do you turn flipping off and cursing into a positive?

  10. Identify the function behind the behavior and then identify an appropriate way to achieve the same result!

  11. Hi Sasha!

    Elementary student:

    Ok, question… I have a student who becomes physically aggressive when they want a desired item. Their current reinforcement interval is 15 minutes; this has been consistent all year, and it has been positive. They use a penny board/star chart to earn their reinforcer. This student has very minimal verbal language. We use first/then supports along with the star chart. Over the past two weeks, the physical aggression has increased, but no changes at home (no routine changes at school)– but, it is apparent something has changed.

    Thoughts on a replacement behavior: calming tool, belly breath (which they can & do, do with a cue) when they are upset. They have access to these options.

    The behavior is most commonly occurring when this student needs to wait for the reinforcer (i.e. First, work. Then, “x”). Or, when their timer goes off and reinforcement time is finished (i.e. transition between preferred & non-preferred). The student is pre-warned of this transition.

    Other than providing a social story, would you recommend some type of additional visual to help that transition between preferred & non-preferred items? If yes, do you have anything available?

    Thank you!!

  12. I can’t give advice specific to a student since I don’t know the whole situation. But remember a replacement behavior should give access to the reason we think the problem behavior is occurring. So if we think a problem behavior is occurring because a student doesn’t want to wait and wants more access to a toy or game – the replacement behavior should give more access to that toy or game. Hope that helps!


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