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Is Behavior Developmentally Appropriate?

There are certain behaviors that are typical for an age and stage but are inappropriate in most situations; there are behaviors that are atypical and very inappropriate. How we deal with each of these is very different. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one explanation of what is considered to be a “normal” developmental process. What happens if development is abnormal, as in the case of children who grow up in ecologies of neglect, abuse, and/or trauma? Trauma can have an enormous impact on the development and behavior of young people. Dr. Mary Wood (2007) believes that the current social, emotional, and behavioral status of any young person needs to be taken into consideration so that behavior management strategies are appropriate for their developmental stage, not just their chronological age. If development is delayed due to particular life experiences, young people may be displaying cognitive or socio-emotional behavior that is not typical or appropriate for their chronological age. And we all know uncharacteristic age-inappropriate behavior is never well received either by the adults or the peers of that young person. In fact, if inappropriate behaviors continue to persist over time, the problems of that young person will compound dramatically.

Basic Assumptions about Behavior


While you will read about these assumptions in greater detail in the chapters that follow, here are a few things to think about before you read further:

Behavior Meets Needs: If a young person continues to engage in a particular behavior, it is meeting their needs—even if they are continually getting into trouble for it. This is very powerful. The behavior may seem counterintuitive to you, but it doesn’t to them. In fact, it may be very functional.

Never Assume: The assumptions you make about the causes or reasons for behavior will directly impact how you choose to deal with it. If you think it is a personal attack or the young person is doing it on purpose, you will respond in a counter-aggressive manner. If you assume they are “old enough to know better,” you will likely resort to punishment of some kind instead of focusing on teaching adaptive replacement behaviors.

Personal Viewpoint: Your own personal experiences and even your training will influence your assumptions about why young people behave the way they do. This is normal. These assumptions may be conscious or unconscious, but they are there. Maintaining an open mind is critical to seeing things differently and to creating change.

Work Hard or Work Smart: We spend a great deal of time trying to get young people to stop doing the things we don’t like rather than on teaching them new and better skills and replacement behaviors. We need to change our focus first.  This isn’t easy because it is very tough to see beyond the challenging behavior.

Brain Development: Our brains are dependent on and develop through interactions with others. We can reduce conflict and develop more positive ways of connecting to these troubled young people. We believe the key to this connection is found in the power of both our brains and relationships—what we call a “NeuroRelational” approach.

Stress, Trauma, and Chaos Make It Tougher: Chronic stress, chaos in the home and/or environment, repeated negative experiences, and/or traumatic events will affect brain development profoundly, and consequently will affect behavior.

One Size Does Not Fit All: One size does not fit all when it comes to behavior support. Everyone’s experiences are different as are their individual needs. Everyone needs to feel safe, significant, respected, and related. When we are able to connect with young people and help them meet their needs appropriately, there will be better behavior.




Do you agree with the following statements? Circle your choice and briefly explain your reasons.

1) All behavior, even challenging behavior, serves needs. (Agree/Disagree)



2) Our responses to behavior do not need to be positive to reinforce it. (Agree/Disagree)



3) Every behavior that violates a program rule should have a consequence. (Agree/Disagree)



4) Making instructional and/or environmental accommodations for young people with behavior problems is not fair to others around them. (Agree/Disagree)


5) Punishment teaches new behaviors. (Agree/Disagree)



6) The quality of the relationship of the young person and adult impacts student behavior. (Agree/Disagree)