Pick your battles! Hierarchy of Behaviors

dad arguing with kid

If you aren't sure which battles to pick with your students/children/clients here is an easy way to make that decision (Ive heard these before, so nothing new here, just condensed information).

These are ranked from MOST important to intervene in first, to least important. Once you have the first ones accomplished, solved, controlled, managed, etc then move down the list!

  1. Dangerous behaviors - anything UNSAFE, like running off (eloping) down the street, not holding mom/dads hand in parking lot, threatening or actually hurting people, weapons, aggression (kicking, biting, hitting, etc), suicidal, homicidal, etc
  2. Destructive behaviors - destroying property, throwing things, climbing on things, ruining other people's belongings, hurting furniture/walls, somewhat lower level aggression than above, etc.
  3. Disruptive behaviors - interrupts class at school, causes major turmoil/problem in the home- behaviors like screaming, yelling, threatening, running around, calling out at school (sometimes), loudness/volume of voice, some stimming behaviors in autistic kids, not getting along with other children/social skills problems, etc...
  4. Disturbing behaviors - annoying behaviors like talking disrespectfully, biting nails, eating boogers, scripting (autistic kids), stimming (sometimes), whining, teasing, etc
    (PLEASE NOTE- These should definitely be addressed!! However first work on the above problems if the child has all of these types of behaviors, the unsafe ones are the most concerning and need to be addressed FIRST).

Example: Child screams, tantrums, kicks, throws things, talks disrespectfully, and calls out in class. He doesn't have any friends.
What do you work on first?

  • First address his aggression like tantrums, kicking, throwing things in the classroom
  • Then target the screaming, and other disruptive behaviors
  • Next work on calling out
  • Last work on him making friends/getting along with peers

Does that make sense?
Often you can work on all the behaviors simultaneously, but some children have so many behaviors and needs that its impossible to target all at once, so this gives you an outline of the hierarchy of behaviors. I hope it helps!