Coping Strategies to Improve Behavior

A common reason that coping strategies don’t improve behavior is that they were not optimally developed or practiced. Affective coping strategies for children with complex behavioral challenges are based on their Sensory Profile, a preference assessment, and if needed a functional behavioral assessment such as the QABF (Questions About Behavior Form). First, come up with a behavioral goal that will most improve the student’s functioning. The goal is listed as the positive opposite of their most problematic behavior.

Second, develop with the youth and team several coping strategies that the student likes that can be used in a variety of settings. It is important to consider the student’s sensory processing, behavioral needs and environment. A helpful method is to develop a coping card. A coping card is constructed using a laminated index card listing the goal, student’s preferred interest, coping strategies that are consistently available (from the FAB Trigger & Coping Strategies Form), and on the back of the card list their reinforcement schedule.



The coping card can be useful in a regular preschool or kindergarten class for students who are not yet diagnosed and in a large class. It is also helpful for special needs students who have many professionals working with them to assure every team member is consistent (OT, ST, PT, regular teacher, special education teacher, art teacher, music teacher). The coping card is a laminated index card that uses the FAB Trigger & Coping Forms pictures to depict the coping strategies. INSERT

A second art project to practice coping strategies is to have the student develop daily and emergency coping strategies. Daily coping strategies help the student maintain an optimal quiet alert state and emotion regulation and are done at least once daily embedded in the daily routine. The dysregulation or emergency coping strategies are done when the student or teachers notices they are beginning to show environmental or body triggers. They can be glued or drawn on the top and bottom of a paper or front and back of an index card.

Daily&Dysreg Coping Skills1Daily&Dysreg Coping Skills2

Coping strategies are taught by the therapist and teacher and practiced regularly. Once they are learned the student is reinforced for using the coping strategies when slightly upset. Gradually the coping strategies are practiced and the student is reinforced for using them to respond to gradually increased levels of stress. Through this assessment based and gradually taught as well as reinforced method coping strategies can be useful in improving behavior.



  1. I use the book “When I’m Bombaloo” to get students (pre-K and up) to draw a picture of when they are “Bombaloo” and discuss /draw pictures of what makes them “Bombaloo”. Then we draw or take pictures of when they are not and what strategies/tools they can use to get them there.

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