How to Create an Effective Behavior Management Plan

Whether your child has been hitting someone at school lately or they have been refusing to brush their teeth, you need a solid plan to address behavior problems. A good behavior management plan will ensure that you and all of your child's other caregivers respond to behavior problems in a consistent manner.

A behavior plan also can help you find more effective consequences and better incentives that will motivate your child to change. Here are five steps that will help you create a behavior management plan that will change your child's behavior.

Identify Problem Behaviors

Create a behavior plan to eliminate misbehavior.
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Before you start addressing your child’s behavioral problems, it's important to clearly identify which behaviors are the most problematic. Be sure to describe the specific behavior you want to change. For example, a problem behavior might be, "Johnny screams whenever he's told to do something he doesn't want to do."

Your child may exhibit more than one problem behavior that you want to address. If this is the case, start by choosing two or three that you want to modify first.

You might pick the ones that are the most disruptive or the ones that are causing the biggest problems. For example, if your 2-year-old bites, whines, throws temper tantrums, refuses to pick up their toys, and gets out of bed repeatedly, you might decide to start with biting, getting out of bed, and temper tantrums, because those behaviors affect other people the most.

Pick Effective Discipline Tools

Decide on the best discipline strategies for your child.
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There are many different discipline strategies that can be used to address the same behavior. The type of discipline strategy that will be most effective depends on your circumstances. While one child may respond well to getting their favorite toy taken away for the day, another child may respond best to a time-out.

Consider your child's temperament and the strategies that you're most likely able to follow through with on a consistent basis.

It's also important to implement positive reinforcement for good behavior. Praise, a sticker chart, or a token economy system may motivate your child to follow the rules. Catch your child being good and provide consistent positive reinforcement. This step is sometimes just as effective at modifying behavior as disciplining your child for inappropriate behaviors.

Write Down the Plan

Write down your child's behavior management plan.
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Writing down your plan will increase the chances that you'll follow through. It also will ensure that you're prepared to deal with behavior problems when they arise. Outline how you'll reinforce good behavior.

For example, your plan might be to praise your child's healthy choices every time they play nicely with their friend. Then, decide how you'll respond when they exhibit the problem behavior you're working on, such as using a brief time-out each time they kick or hit.

Next, explain the plan to your child in terms they can understand.

Say something like, "From now on, if you bite anyone, you'll have to sit in the hallway for a time-out." If a time-out is new for your child, you can further explain what time-out entails.

Review the Plan With Caregivers

Talk to other caregivers about your child's behavior management plan.
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When all of a child's caregivers follow the same discipline plan, behavior change is likely to occur much faster. Try to get teachers, daycare providers, grandparents, non-custodial parents, and any other adults who play a large role in your child's life on board.

When all the adults use similar language, that also can be effective. For example, if all the caregivers say, "Teeth are for chewing," as a reminder when your child bites, the message will sink in faster.

Give copies of the written plan to the other caregivers. If they're willing to weigh in on what works and what doesn't work, be open to changing the plan as needed. Communicate with one another about how your child is doing. Talk about any changes you're seeing and discuss how your discipline strategies are working.

Consistency can be the key to a good behavior plan. If everyone can follow through with consequences each and every time your child misbehaves, your child's behavior problems are likely to improve.

Revisit the plan as needed. When your child's behavior improves, you may want to pick another behavior to address.

If your child's behavior isn't responding well to the plan, change your strategy. Try different consequences or work on teaching your child new skills. A fresh approach may help put an end to stubborn misbehavior.

Anticipate Positive Results

mom talking with her daughter

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When implementing a behavior modification plan, make sure to keep a positive attitude and to anticipate being successful. While it's inevitable that you will need to fine tune and adjust the plan as you go along, it's important that you expect to see the results you hope for.

Remember, a positive attitude goes a long way in being successful.

If you start to feel overwhelmed or if you're ready to give up on the plan, seek outside support. Talk to your child's pediatrician, a therapist, or get a parent coach or mentor to help you through the rough patches. But try to stick with the plan, and remember that change takes time. Believe in yourself and in your child's ability to change.

A Word From Verywell

Changing a child's behavior can be a challenging process, especially if your child has developmental issues or a disability. But try not to give up on the process. By being consistent with your approach, recognizing positive behaviors, and being aware of your child's temperament and needs, you will be successful.

Sometimes change will happen quickly, and other times it may take longer than you originally anticipated. Be patient, and before you know it, those problem behaviors will be a thing of the past.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Scott HK, Jain A, Cogburn M. Behavior modification. In:StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2020. PMID:29083709

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.