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The Behavior Code

The Harried Parent's Book Club Review

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The Behavior Code
Cover image courtesy of Harvard Education Press

50-Word Review

In a book intended for teachers but of interest to parents who've been told their children can't possibly be accommodated, a behavior analyst and a psychiatrist explain to schools that it's not so impossible to handle kids with over-the-top behavior -- there are practical ways to understand, adapt, and accommodate. Really.

250-Word Review

The question of what to do about kids whose behavior is so extreme as to be scary and disruptive is a hard one for parents and teachers both. No one wants to endanger or traumatize other students ... yet particularly in special education, parents rightly expect that professionals will have some tricks up their sleeve for dealing with disability-related behavioral upheaval. Too often, though, teachers are untrained in extreme behavior management, and fall back on ineffective techniques that work on most kids but spectacularly not on these.

In The Behavior Code, a behavior analyst and a psychiatrist step in to provide strategies that do have a hope of helping students with oppositional, anxious, withdrawn, or sexualized behavior. They propose a FAIR Plan for these students, one that starts with Functional Hypothesis and Antecedent Analysis; moves on to Accommodations to prevent bad behavior or avoid rewarding it; and adds Interaction Strategies and Response Strategies to teach kids the skills they need to act more appropriately.

It's a humane and hopeful way of looking at students who are often seen as pathological or pathetic. One idea I particularly liked was alternative lunch and recess for kids who struggle with those busy unstructured times -- creating small groups around a particular interest that will include the troubled child and a couple of peers. Wish somebody'd thought of that a few times during my kids' school careers. Read this book and pass it on so that maybe these ideas can do your child some good.

Is This Book for You?

It's definitely for you if: you're a teacher or aide for a student whose behavior is baffling and scary ... you're the parent of that child and are looking for techniques to suggest ... you work with children in a non-school environment and want to find out what strategies you can adapt to your church group or team or camp.

It may be for you if: you're in need of strategies to handle your child's behavior at home ... there's a behavior-challenged child in your child's classroom and you're wondering why teachers are handling it the way they are ... you're generally interested in books about school and behavior, particularly ones that are well-written and practical, offer lots of forms and tools, and have really well-designed covers.

It may not be for you if: you're a parent and only want to read books written for parents ... behavior issues aren't your child's thing, and you kind of resent the time teachers spend on them ... you feel that it's the professionals' job to figure this stuff out, not yours.

It's definitely not for you if: you have rigid notions of appropriate ways to handle children's behavior ... you think teachers should focus on the kids who are being successful, and the unsuccessful ones should be removed ... you'd worry about strategies that involve teachers spending private one-to-one with students over lunch or outside-of-school activities.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Breaking the Code: What Teachers Need to Know About Behavior
  • Chapter 2: The FAIR Plan: Putting the FAIR Plan Into Practice
  • Chapter 3: "Get Away From Me!": The Student With Anxiety-Related Behavior
  • Chapter 4: "You're Not the Boss of Me!": The Student With Oppositional Behavior
  • Chapter 5: "I Don't Care": The Student With Withdrawn Behavior
  • Chapter 6: ""I Didn't Mean To ...": The Student With Sexualized Behavior
  • Chapter 7: Commonly Asked Questions
  • Appendix A: Sample Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequences (ABC) Data Sheet
  • Appendix B: Curriculum Resources
  • Appendix C: Lunch Buddies Permission Form
  • Appendix D: Technology Resources
  • Appendix E: Calming Activities
  • Appendix F: Self-Monitoring Sheet
  • Appendix G: Taking Responsibility for Choices Worksheet
  • Appendix H: FAIR Plan Implementation Worksheet

Try This Now

The kind of behavior analysis that's part of the F in the FAIR Plan is useful for parents, too. The idea is to observe your child's behavior for a week or two, making an entry for each troubling incident. You'll note what was going on in general that day, what happened right before the action, and what the consequence was for the child. In short, the ABCs -- Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. Next, you'll look for patterns. Does your child tend to misbehave at a particular time or after a particular activity? Is it possible that the consequence you're delivering is in some way giving your child what he wants? For example, if fussing during church gets the child removed from church ... that's a pretty appealing cause and effect for the kid who doesn't want to be in church in the first place. You're inadvertently teaching your child that the way to get what he wants is to fuss -- just as, as The Behavior Code points out, a teacher who sends a child to the principal every time he shouts during math is teaching that child how to avoid a frustrating subject. Figuring this stuff out can make your child's behavior a lot less mysterious, and help you make changes in antecedents and consequences that can greatly improve your child's behavior. Read my article "Why Does My Child DO That?" for ideas on what to look for. The Behavior Code authors also have an an article on the subject on the Harvard Education Press site that can give you a preview of their point of view and writing style.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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