Function of Behavior
Understanding the function of behavior is central to PBIS. All behavior, whether compliant or non-compliant, serves a function for the child. The behavior continues because it works to fill the child's needs in some way. Almost all problem behavior occurs because the child is trying to get something (an object, adult attention, peer attention, a privilege, etc.) or avoid something (chores, challenging work, embarrassment, a threat to physical or emotional safety, etc.)
Understanding function when trying to change problem behavior is crucial for two primary reasons. First, some consequences imposed without understanding function may inadvertently reward the problem behavior. For instance, if a child misbehaves during math class, a teacher might send the student into the hallway or to the office. If the function of the behavior is to avoid math where the child feels inadequate to the task, then the consequence has actually provided what the child needed, thus reinforcing the behavior.
Second, new, more desirable behaviors can be introduced and taught, but these are likely to fail if the function of behavior is not understood. The child's needs must still be met. In the above example, for instance, the teacher and the student may work out an appropriate signal that alerts the teacher to fear, frustration or anxiety in the student. The signal might result in individualized help or a short break from the material. In this scenario, the student communicates in an appropriate way, the class is not disrupted and the student's needs are still met.