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Better Behavior Positively!

About This Book


This book is for anyone living with or working with young people. It can be a challenging job and some days it is downright difficult! No two days are ever the same and it can certainly keep you on your toes. But when everything is running smoothly, it can be fulfilling, rewarding, and even exciting. Using the latest in neuroscience and relational theory, this book will help guide you to understand why young people behave the way they do and provide suggestions to help you deal more positively and effectively in transforming this challenging behavior.

This book provides a variety of ways to implement positive behavioral support. It should be used actively, not just read through. Along with exercises, we have provided opportunities to answer posed questions and to record your thoughts. The goal is to challenge your thinking and your perceptions. All the exercises are suitable for use by individuals, teams, or groups.

Throughout the book you will see three icons indicating three different types of exercises:

Think Bubble

 Self-Reflection Sheets: There are 16 throughout the book. Each one will ask you to engage in reflective thinking about a concept you have just encountered in the book and how it might apply to you and the young people with whom you work.

Light Bulb

Strategy Sheets: Here you will find an abundance of supportive suggestions for dealing with different types of challenging behavior. As we will say more than once in the book itself, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for encouraging better behavior.


Activity Sheets: These sheets either provide case-oriented scenarios or real-life structured situations to allow you to plan and practice.


Chapter 1 introduces you to our NeuroRelational approach, a strengths-based approach that we believe can set the stage for better behavior. You will also find a list of our basic assumptions about behavior.

In Chapter 2, the need for social connections and relationships will be explored. You will find out why relationships really do matter and how to create sustainable relationships through the suggested strategies.

The four core NeuroRelational attributes—safe, significant, respected, and related—are introduced in Chapter 3. How the brain can influence behavior is discussed in more detail.

Chapter 4 focuses on the impact of chaos, stress, and trauma. It presents suggestions of ways that you can successfully work towards better self-regulation with these young people.

The neuroscience behind the NeuroRelational approach presented in this book is found in Chapter 5. This chapter gives you concrete strategies for helping young people whose brains and body development are not in sync.

Conflict management versus crisis support is discussed in Chapter 6. The focus of this chapter is momentary management: what do you do, right there, in the moment, to stop conflict from becoming a crisis situation. We explore  ways that you can intervene using brain-based support strategies to meet a young person’s unmet developmental needs.

In each of these chapters, you will find: story examples (of course, the names and some situational details have been changed); self-reflection questions to consider; activities to reinforce the concepts; and strategy sheets to add “tools to your behavior toolbox.”




Chapter 1: The NeuroRelational Solution for Challenging Behavior



I am a part of all that I have met. Lord Tennyson

Hope for Challenging Behavior


Are you struggling with a young person’s challenging behavior? Well, there is hope! Today’s professionals are faced with ever increasing demands to meet a greater diversity of needs of young people. Within this book, evidence will be presented that demonstrates the importance of what modern brain research, combined with years of relational practice, is now showing. All behavior is needs driven. Troubled young people express their needs in a variety of ways. They can “act out” in a physical or aggressive manner or they can “act in” by withdrawing. These challenging behaviors often occur when the young people we work with do not have the skills to meet those needs or the ability to communicate to us that they need help meeting those needs. Everyone needs to feel safe, significant, respected, and they need to relate to and with at least one other person.

Behaviors can, and will, change when trained adults are therapeutically connected with challenging young people, allowing them to better understand their needs. A multitude of scientific disciplines is now proving that, when provided with appropriate knowledge and targeted strategies, adults become extremely powerful agents of transformation, even in the most serious of cases. This is very encouraging news! Research also tells us that without such training we will spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what to do to stop challenging behavior.


Behavioral Change Is Not Complex


Behavioral change does not need to be complex. In fact, the primary goal of this book is to help simplify the behavioral change process, making it less threatening and more approachable by everyone, no matter the educational background or years of experience of the professional. To begin this process, it is important to introduce an innovative approach known as the NeuroRelational approach. The NeuroRelational approach is a powerful, positive, strengths-based approach designed to promote core principles and practices that help caring adults connect with young people to promote behavioral transformation. It is believed that when this transformation happens, the lives of troubled young people are changed for the better. Trained, caring professionals are the pivotal part of this process!

Understanding how the various systems within the brain function provides professionals with the basic knowledge to increase the effectiveness and strength of relationships and of behavioral support. This knowledge can be used to transform challenging behavior into more functional and successful outcomes. In addition to knowledge, we become relationally empowered to understand how to interact with others more efficiently and effectively. Over time, these interactions will form therapeutic relationships. These relationships encourage natural strengths to surface within young people, helping them to overcome adversity. They involve transactions that continually impact experience and development throughout their lives. This, in turn, will lead to increased motivation, more resilient personal skills, and, finally, successful behavioral outcomes!


Pulling It All Together


Transformation is an integrative process. Part of simplifying the transformative process is in understanding the unique history of each young person. It focuses on the various biological, regulatory, relational, ecological, cultural, and academic needs that may be lacking or missing from their history. Empowered with this knowledge, therapeutic adults and challenging young people will partner together to understand how new people and ecologies in their life can assist with “reimbursing “ them with needed skills and experiences to become resilient.

Young people formulate beliefs and behaviors based on their prior experiences. From their perspective, they might feel, from previous interactions, that people called “teacher” or “youth worker” or “foster parent” have always meant a “negative experience” for them. So if your role is one of these, the assumption is that any interaction they have with you must automatically be negative. While their view of you may seem unusual, particularly if you see yourself as a caring individual, “the way that we make meaning very much influences, and perhaps even determines, how we respond” (Garfat, 2002) to different people and situations. Everybody “makes meaning” based on their previous experiences combined with the “here and now” because all learning is based on prior bits of learning. The goal of the NeuroRelational approach is to stretch or push challenging young people beyond the boundaries within which they normally think and feel. This change, or transformation, provides a new mindset allowing ‘our’ young people (that is, those with whom we in the field work daily) to take different actions than they may have taken in the past, leading to empowerment, growth, and strength.

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