Addressing Behavior with a Christian Spirit of Love: Universal Behavioral Supports

Thursday, February 23, 2017

It’s helpful to have a basic understanding of how behavior works, whether it’s desirable behavior or undesirable behavior. All behavior that is repeated serves a purpose for that person; it meets a need. Behavior ultimately allows the person to get something, get away from something, or both. Often the person who does the behavior may not realize the outcome of the behavior. Behavior that works is likely to be repeated, regardless of whether or not it’s desirable to others. Behaviors that do not work will eventually discontinue. 

Unfortunately, people often think they are supposed to address undesirable behavior with punishment or unpleasant consequences. The good news is that you no longer need to do this! Behavioral scientists have proven that in the long run, behavior responds better to positive consequences; punishment is not necessary to improve behavior. State-of-the-art behavioral supports should always include treating people with unconditional love and using sound behavioral techniques. The top four techniques will be introduced in this article.

There are some universal behavioral supports that truly are universal; these techniques can be used with everyone.

The first technique is to not react directly to undesirable behavior. People should act as if the undesirable behavior did not happen. We want to prevent reinforcing the undesirable behavior by accident and we want to prevent an interaction that might make the person feel worse. People who observe an undesirable behavior should not say anything about the behavior. The person who had the undesirable behavior may still need attention, but it should not include attention concerning the undesirable behavior 

The second technique is to avoid using coercion. This sounds obvious, but most of us use coercion by accident without realizing it, even when we have good intentions.  Coercive interactions typically result in making someone feel worse. Correcting someone, reprimanding someone, reacting to undesirable behavior, telling someone to “stop,” are common examples of coercive interactions that we think we are supposed to do. Coercion has bad side effects like anger, thoughts of retribution, and trying to escape. These bad side effects make it likely that someone experiencing coercion will use more undesirable behavior. Coercion damages our relationships. When we avoid using coercion we are striving to be Christ-like in our behavior by treating others with unconditional love.

The third technique is to give people lots of good, high quality attention. To make the attention high quality one should use the first two techniques: not react directly to undesirable behavior and avoid using coercion. High quality attention involves asking open ended questions about something the person likes to discuss and using empathy statements. Short moments of high quality attention can be very valuable and do tremendous things to improve relationships.

The fourth technique is to use reinforcement often. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the best way to change behavior is to provide positive consequences for desirable behavior. This is what the expression “catch them being good” means. When one has a good relationship with someone, praise is likely to be very reinforcing. Sometimes people need reinforcement to be more effective than praise. When teaching or encouraging new, desirable behaviors be sure to do this away from the occurrence of undesirable behavior to avoid using coercion. Use lots of reinforcement when the desirable behavior happens. Ultimately when we reinforce desirable behavior we are using the best technique to change behavior.

In addition to these four techniques, the environment is extremely important in influencing behavior. Look for ways to modify the environment to make desirable behavior easier. If one is trying to not eat too many sweets, it is helpful if there are not too many sweets in the environment.

There is so much more to say about behavior! Hopefully this introduction to universal behavioral support techniques will give you some usable suggestions. People in Rejoicing Spirits congregations are welcome to contact me at for more information on behavioral supports.