ABA Tips for Parents Alternative Behavior Strategies

Written by Alana George, BS Clinical Psychology, RBT Student Analyst

What are alternative behavior strategies?

In applied behavioral analysis treatment, your child will receive many evidence-based interventions to increase their independence and ability to function in their environment meaningfully. The intervention of teaching alternative behaviors is looking at the skills and behaviors your child already possesses and shaping them into a new behavior that is socially significant to their success. With alternative behavior strategies, the goal and intention are to replace challenging behaviors with functional behaviors (Capella University, 2020).

Why is teaching alternative behaviors important?

Teaching alternative behaviors is super important for your child to learn how to interact with their environment appropriately, safely, and meaningfully. Research has shown that when your child engages in challenging behaviors, it may result from a lack of play skills or a basic understanding of function. We know the four main functions of behavior are escape, gaining access to attention or tangibles, and automatic sensory processing. When teaching alternative behaviors, it is also very important to identify why your child is engaging in the challenging behavior and then teach your child a more appropriate way to create the result they seek (Webster, 2019). When we can identify the function of the problem behavior and teach an alternative way, your child is learning appropriate and socially significant behavior. It is very important to note that the alternative behavior you teach your child, must be highly reinforced when practice.

Parent Training Tips Alternative Behavior Strategies

Examples of teaching alternative behavior

  • If your child is engaging in the problem behavior, climbing, to obtain desired snacks or toys. The function of the climbing behavior is tangible. We can teach the child a form of communication-based on their level of ability- verbal communication, picture exchange communication, pointing. Teaching a form of communication allows your child the opportunity to request desired items in replacement for climbing.
  • If your child is engaging in the problem behavior, climbing, and jumping to promote self-stimulation. The display of the climbing behavior may look the same as the example provided above, but this behavior’s function differs. The function of this behavior is seeking sensory input. To decrease the behavior of climbing and jumping we can teach an appropriate alternative behavior such as, riding a bike or swinging depending on their level of ability. Teaching your child how to appropriately seek sensory input will result in a decrease in unsafe behaviors.
  • If your child is engaging in the problem behavior, elopement, which is any instance where your child escapes or attempts to escape the designated area. This behavior can look like running away or crawling under tables. In the instance where your child has engaged in escape function-based behavior, we can teach alternative behaviors that are more socially appropriate such as using a form of communication to request a break. Teaching your child how to functional express their wants and needs decreases their engagement in problem behavior.


Webster, J. (2019). Replacement behavior as a positive approach to problem behaviors. Retrieved May 04, 2021, from https:www.thoughtco.com/replacement-behavior-definition-3110874

Capella University (2020).

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