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    • Describe your role in helping staff members differentiate between developmentally expected, concerning, and unsafe behaviors.
    • Identify coaching strategies that promote positive relationships and prevent concerning behavior.
    • Describe your role in developing behavior support plans and supporting the staff’s implementation of them through modeling, observation, and feedback.
    • Model respectful conversations about behavior with staff and families.




    Coaches are the first line of support when staff members are concerned about a child’s or youth’s behavior. Because of the professional relationships you have built with staff, they feel comfortable coming to you with concerns and see you as a source of support and ideas. At times, however, you may find yourself unsure of how best to support a staff member: Are their concerns valid? Are the environments and curricular experiences appropriate? Have they built a healthy relationship with the child’s or youth’s family? Do the staff members have the skills they need to support the child or youth? This lesson helps you learn to distinguish between the answers to these questions and design plans that meet the needs of children, youth, and staff. You can find additional information on your role in supporting behavior concerns, specifically how you can support staff in responding to problematic sexual behavior in Lesson 8 of the Focused Topics course Sexual Development & Behavior of Children and Youth.

    Trainers and coaches often find themselves facing several common scenarios related to behavior. You may think about this as understanding staff development alongside child and youth development.

    Coach's Roles



    A staff member requests individualized support for a child’s behavior, but when you observe you realize the issue is really much more foundational. You expect that the child’s experience would be improved by paying careful attention to relationships, environments, and routines rather than individualized supports.

    Coach's Role

    The coach must sensitively help staff recognize the importance of foundational and environmental supports. A systematic observation process can make this easier for coaches. Whenever there is a concern, always look for foundational and environmental adjustments before planning individual supports. During conversations, be prepared to help the staff member work through defensiveness. When they are concerned about a child’s behavior, it can be easy to assume the problem is with the child. When you ask staff to adjust their practices, they may feel like you are saying the problem is with them. Avoid pointing fingers or blame. Instead focus on how refreshing foundational supports benefits everyone, including staff members.


    A staff member regularly requests your support for what appears to be typical or expected behaviors. During your observation, you notice the staff member seems overwhelmed, overly strict, or unaware of typical child development.

    Coach's Role

    The coach’s role here is to help the staff member increase their knowledge of typical child development while still feeling supported in day-to-day concerns. Coaches should consider whether cultural values or temperaments influence the staff member’s expectations or responses to children’s behavior. Open and honest conversations about the program’s philosophy of behavior can be helpful. Review resources from the Positive Guidance course and the earlier lessons in this course. Provide activities in which the staff member distinguishes between expected and concerning behaviors; help set shared understandings around frequency and intensity of behavior concerns. If your program has closed-circuit video, this can be a useful tool to watch with the staff member and talk together about the behaviors they find concerning. Spend time modeling in the classroom, so the staff member sees that children respond to typical child guidance procedures. The staff member may also be experiencing a great deal of stress, so a coach may encourage mindfulness and make sure the staff member has scheduled breaks, supportive teammates, and opportunities to ask questions. See the Social Emotional Learning for Teachers course for more information about helping teachers improve their well-being.


    A staff member spends all coaching time complaining about a child’s behavior but cannot produce any clear observational evidence that challenging behavior has occurred. When you observe, you do not see any issues.

    Coach's Role

    The coach has an opportunity to teach about the importance of data-based decision-making. Provide simple tools for collecting information on the frequency of behaviors or ask the staff member to collect simple A-B-C data for a short period of time. You may also look for opportunities to shift the staff member’s focus off this particular child. Encourage the staff member to spend time observing a child with whom there are no concerns—what are typical behaviors in this age group? What emotional buttons does the original child push that other children do not push?


    A staff member seems disinterested in putting individualized supports into place. The staff member sees these supports as a specialist’s responsibility, or the staff member calls you to work directly with the child when the child begins to act out.

    Coach's Role

    A coach should reemphasize the importance of the classroom or program team. They spend the most time with the child and know the child best. Also emphasize the importance of community: what does it say to the child about their place in the program if strangers are regularly called in to work with or take them out of the room? This may also be an opportunity to remind the staff member about the possible extra attention the child gets when this occurs or the fact that a child may get out of undesired routines with the group—such decisions may actually make it more likely for challenging behavior to occur in the future. Spend time modeling with the staff member while they observe. As soon as you try a strategy, invite the staff member to step in and try it right away. Observe and provide immediate feedback and encouragement. Celebrate each success between the child and staff member.


    A staff member has been working incredibly hard to put a child’s behavior support plan in place over the past two weeks. The child had a difficult day, and the staff member is ready to throw the whole plan away. The staff member comes to you frustrated, disappointed, and with self-doubt.

    Coach's Role

    Spend time connecting with this staff member and build their confidence back up. This is a good opportunity to share data that shows the child’s progress—despite one difficult day. Remind the staff member that it often takes at least a month to see long-term effects of the plan, and there will still be difficult days. Hard work pays off, but it is a long-term investment in the child’s well-being. Offer to observe how the plan is being implemented and talk with the staff member about small changes that could make it easier. Also ensure this staff member gets scheduled breaks, that other staff are trained to implement the plan, and that the staff member has time to step away from their intense responsibilities. It is also important for coaches to recognize that highly skilled staff members often get “rewarded” by having more children with behavioral concerns in their classrooms. Talk with management to make sure staffing is adequate and all staff members get the support they need.

    Recently, it has become clear that bias plays a role in how adults understand, observe, interpret, and respond to behavior. A 2016 Yale University study found that preschool teachers of all races were more likely to focus on the behavior of boys—and African American boys in particular—when they were asked to watch a video that contained challenging behavior. Adults have internalized messages about who is likely to misbehave, and this affects the care children receive.

    Who are you watching?

    Research Credit: Yale University.

    You can help staff members reflect on their own ideas, values, and assumptions about behavior and who “misbehaves.” Then you can help them challenge their thinking and reflect on whether they are making fair decisions.

    • Whose behavior do they stop right away and whose behavior is not seen as quite so problematic?
    • What kinds of roles and responsibilities do they give children or youth? And how are these roles and responsibilities associated with race, gender, or ability?
    • Whose families are regularly involved in the classroom or program, and are there race, gender, or economic patterns in who feels welcome?
    • Does the staff member encourage certain children or youth to explore independently more than others? Who is asked to hold the adult’s hand? Who gets called on to answer questions? Who is praised or encouraged?

    In the Apply section of this lesson, you will have a chance to use the Pyramid Model Equity Coaching Guide to reflect on questions like these at each level of the behavior support pyramid. Use it as a tool to support your own professional learning and that of the staff you support.

    Observing Children, Youth, and Programs

    There are a variety of times you will be called upon to observe behavior. Always check with your program administrator to make sure procedures are followed and staff are supported. A coach should expect to observe:

    • When a behavior has occurred that risked immediate harm:

      You may be asked to review closed-circuit video footage of the event with your administrator or the staff member involved. You will be asked to determine the possible antecedent (trigger) for the behavior, the observable action that took place (behavior), how adults responded to the behavior (consequence), and how the child or youth recovered from the incident.

    • Prior to developing the formal behavior support plan:

      You will be asked to observe the child or youth in their program setting. Look for the foundational and environmental supports already in place, evidence of relationships between the youth and peers or staff, the youth’s interactions with materials or the environment, and behaviors directly observed. You should use forms provided by your program for this observation and document observations according to policy. Help staff come to understand and plan for common triggers while plans are being developed. You may find it helpful to use the questions on this form from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) to guide your conversations with staff: The following are common triggers identified in the Army Child and Youth Programs’ Operational Guidance for Challenging Behavior (p. 5–11):

      Most Common Triggers
      Early childhood

      When children are not sure what is going to happen:

      • Transitions
      • Change in schedule or routine
      • Inconsistent caregivers or expectations

      When children feel inferior/left-out:

      • Challenging or demanding tasks/activities
      • Being left out of a group
      • Feeling like something is unfair
      Middle school/teens

      Changes in mood, energy, and thinking:

      • Strong personalities in the group
      • Too much or too little unstructured time
      • Internal stress or anxiety
    • While staff implement the behavior support plan:

      Observe regularly while staff put a new plan in place. Collect data on plan implementation to make sure all elements of the agreed upon plan are in place. Also collect data on the child’s progress and share it with the staff. Provide feedback and modeling until the plan is implemented as planned.

    Your Role in Developing and Implementing Behavior Support Plans

    You are a member of the behavior support team. This means you will participate fully in observing, generating ideas, partnering with families, developing the plan, putting the plan in place, and evaluating its effectiveness. You will also provide staff with the professional development they need to implement the plan well. You may be called upon to connect the staff with the many resources available to them and the other sources cited throughout this course.PUBLIC Coaches play an important role in ensuring that the behavior support plan is reviewed, understood, and implemented by all staff members working with the child or youth.

    One of the biggest sources of stress for staff can be talking with families about their concerns. Program administrators will also support staff as they open conversations with families, but you can help staff members prepare for these important conversations too. Help them gather the information they need and practice with you (see Explore activity in Lesson Six). You can teach staff members about sharing objective information with families and including positive information about the child or youth.


    Model Being Fully Present to Coach

    When faced with concerning behaviors, staff members, may feel overwhelmed or doubt themselves. You can help a staff member “quiet the static” around themselves and be fully present with the child or with you (see Coaching with Powerful Interactions in the Resource List for more details on this approach). Take a few moments before every coaching interaction to ask yourself:

    • What am I bringing to this interaction? What is going on for me personally and professionally that I’m bringing into this space?
    • What do I know about this other person right now? What do I know about myself right now?
    • What do I need to do to be able to listen fully?

    Model Respectful Conversations about Behavior

    It is common for staff members to feel some frustration around behavior, and it is also common for them to talk about this frustration with you or with one another. It is important that staff have a private place to share their concerns, but sharing should not evolve into complaining, venting, or gossiping. Model respectful ways of talking about behavior:

    • If you hear:

      She is out of control all of the time.

      Then say:

      It sounds like she had a difficult time with the group today. What did that look like?

    • If you hear:

      I'm the only one who can handle his behavior. Everybody else in the room just steps back and expects me to get hit and bit.

      Then say:

      I'm hearing you say that your teaming doesn't seem fair. Is that accurate? Why do you think everyone defers to you? How can I help your team increase their confidence?

    • If you hear:

      She has no idea how to get along with other kids.

      Then say:

      It sounds like she's still learning how to be with the group. What skill do you think would help her the most right now?

    You can also model how to have positive relationships with families. Review Lesson Six for examples of strong family-centered conversations. Role play with staff until they feel comfortable talking to families about their concerns in supportive ways. You also can make sure families know who you are in the building. It can be uncomfortable if you are seen as someone who is only called in when there are problems. Model family-centered practices by:

    • Greeting families by name in the hallways or program spaces.
    • Attending or leading family events at the program.
    • Maintaining a family information board and resource library.
    • Listening to family stories and sharing your own.

    Model Targeted and Intensive Supports

    When a behavior support plan is written, staff may be unfamiliar with the new strategies they are being asked to try. You should feel comfortable going into classrooms and modeling these strategies with children or youth while staff observe. To make sure modeling is effective, follow these guidelines (Rush and Shelden, 2011):

    • Make sure the staff member can actually observe you. This means that there is adequate staff in the room, and the staff member is not responsible for actively supervising other children during the time you are working together.
    • Give the staff member something specific to look for. For example, you might say, “I’m going to wait 5 seconds before I give a reminder. Count to make sure I do that every time” or “Watch how the child responds when I praise him. I’m curious whether he likes praise or not.”
    • Offer an opportunity to practice right away. Make sure the staff member can immediately try what they just watched you do. Observe and provide feedback.
    • Use “team time outs” as needed. Feel free to call a “time out” while you are modeling. Ask the staff member what they think you should try next, or take a moment to describe why you took the action you did. Then jump back into the action. This strategy can be challenging or distracting with older youth, but it is very effective in early childhood and early elementary years.


    While you are a key person in your program for children with challenging behaviors, your primary responsibility is to ensure that direct care staff carry out recommendations created by multi-disciplinary teams. Reflect on the skills and practices you implement that guide staff to best support children with challenging behaviors.

    Self-Reflection for Coaches

    Listen to Rosemarie Allen, Ph.D. speak about the importance of self-reflection for coaches.



    Recall in Lesson Four we followed several examples of targeted supports for a child named Brady. Let’s return to this child’s scenario. First, read the attached Observation Notes written by a coach. Next, answer the Reflection questions in the corresponding handout. 



    There are many resources available to help you reflect on your coaching. One of the best for reflecting on positive behavior support coaching is the Pyramid Model Equity Coaching Guide. Review this resource and consider how you can use it to support staff.




    Keisha, an experienced coach, models strategies to help teacher Tina implement a behavior support plan for 2-year-old Dawson. Which practice does not help Tina support Dawson?


    True or false? When seeking to improve challenging behavior, foundational or environmental adjustments should be examined before planning individual supports.


    Consuela has asked Keisha, a coach, for support with 18-month-old Jerome’s biting and hitting. Select which reflective question does not help Keisha coach Consuela to support Jerome.

    References & Resources

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Dunlap, G., Wilson, K., Strain, P., & Lee, J. (2013). Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children. Baltimore, MD: Paul. H. Brookes.

    Dunlap, G., Iovannone, R., Kincaid, D., Wilson, K., Christiansen, K., Strain, P., & English, C. (2010). Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support. Baltimore, MD: Paul. H. Brookes.

    Jablon, J., Dombro, A. L., & Johnsen, S. (2016). Coaching with Powerful Interactions: A guide for partnering with early childhood teachers. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    Kids Included Together (KIT). (2019). Retrieved from

    Lentini, R., Vaughn, B. J., & Fox, L. (2008). Creating Teaching Tools for Young Children with Challenging Behavior [CD-ROM], Tampa, FL: University of South Florida, Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children.

    Military One Source: About EFMP. (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Military One Source: About FAP. (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Military One Source: About MFLC. (n.d.). Retrieved from

    National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Pyramid Model Consortium. (2016). (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Rush, D. D., & Shelden, M. L. L. (2011). The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook. Baltimore, MD: Paul. H. Brookes.

    Simonsen, B., Freeman, J., Goodman, S., Mitchell, B., Swain-Bradway, J., et al. (2015). Supporting and Responding to Behavior: Evidence-Based Classroom Strategies for Teachers. Retrieved from

    U.S. Army, Child, Youth and School Services. (n.d.). Operational Guidance for Behavior Support.