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How Can Circumstances Perpetuate Behaviors?

get support Jul 05, 2022

 Many people look at behaviors and wonder why? Why is this child having such a hard time? I know when my son was 4 years old he was removed from school due to behaviors. He was home schooled for 2 months while we looked for a more appropriate out-of-district setting. What were his behaviors? Spitting on adults. Whatever the behavior you may be dealing with, let’s begin to take a look at the role circumstances play in a child’s behaviors.


When my son was 4 years old, he was in the hospital for two weeks due to a seizure disorder. He hated haircuts but the EEG electrodes cemented to his head were absolutely intolerable. He would pull the electrodes off along with his IVs and other medical equipment. For a short time, they had to restrain his hands. As a result, instead of hitting everyone and pulling out equipment, he started to spit. It was a behavior he adopted in order to try to protect himself. It was a prime example of how an environment can cause a behavior that otherwise would not have happened.

People in the Vicinity

After he was discharge from the hospital, my son returned to school. He left the hospital behind but not his spitting. When adults at school tried to take things from him or move him against his wishes, he spit on them. He was not spitting at home or at any of the children in his classroom. He had generalized his new found behavior and began to control other environments and circumstances, not just the hospital. He had also learned he could elicit reactions in people. The more reactions he got from the adults around him, the more his spitting compounded

Emotions and Energy

After a few weeks, the energy and the emotions in the classroom escalated. The adults, rightfully so, put on hospital gowns and masks to protect them from Jacob’s spitting. Seeing hospital gowns and feeling the increase in frustration made matters worse. It was now a vicious cycle.  It was not long before I got a phone call that Jacob had to go. I understood this, but instead of reinforcing a negative consequence for spitting, they reinforced a positive one.  His understanding became,"If I spit, I get to go home with mom." Once again, this made matters even worse.

To make a long story short you can see how circumstances such as environment, people, and emotional reactions toward behavior can worsen a bad situation that quickly evolves into a cycle that is very difficult to break. The school district in the next town over, after two months of homeschooling, took Jacob into their special education program. I worked heavily with his new placement. Jacob was very happy there. He never required a behavior plan or spit again. 

There are so many things that can cause behaviors. Look behind the scenes at the environment, people, and emotional energy and you might find some answers that can break a cycle. Sometimes too much focus is placed upon the behavior itself, not what is causing it. The moral of the story is to get at the root of the problem! The behavior is only a symptom of the underlying cause.

Share below how you have seen environments, people and emotions perpetuate behaviors.


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