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Happy, Relaxed, And Engaged

Parenting is arguably the most challenging occupation any adult will ever acquire. Raising children (biological or not) requires a great deal of attentiveness, responsibility, and patients. Each and every child is entirely its own, and as my mother always says “they don’t come with a manual.” So we are faced with the ALL the tough questions – How do we know how to parent? How do we correct things that are not going “right”? How do we teach skills as they grow and change? Many of these questions are universal; however, some parents have to consider an even more challenging set of questions… How do I parent a child who experiences mental health challenges? What do I do if my child is aggressive? How do I stop my child from injuring itself? How can I address things that prohibit my child from living safely or independently?

Behaviorism is the branch of psychology that aims to address the aforementioned questions with parents, caregivers, and individuals who experience these wide array of behaviors. As the science of behaviorism develops, it recognizes that interventions, consequences, and over correction used to treat problem behaviors are ineffective when we don’t know the answer to the most important question: WHY?

When we have an understanding of why people do what they do, we can intervene more effectively. In behaviorism we work to determine what function a behavior serves. Does the behavior give the individual access to attention? Does the behavior allow the individual to escape from an undesired activity or demand? Does the behavior result in access to tangible items? Or does the behavior meet a sensory need? Behaviorists hypothesize that if you can find a functionally equivalent replacement that meets the same need, you can eliminate the individuals need to engage in problem behavior. This has become known as Functional Analysis.

Through the application of Practical Functional Analysis, Dr. Gregory Hanley, Ph.D., BCBA-D has become well known for his innovative methods of creating comprehensive, effective and parent-validated treatments for individuals exhibiting even the most severe problem behaviors. Simply put, Dr. Hanley’s theory is that parents and teachers can best instruct children who are Happy, Relaxed, and Engaged. Hanley observes to see when children are in those states, how they get there and how they stay there. By observing the individual in their environment and tracking how often they are in a happy, relaxed, or engaged (HRE) state vs. how often they are in a state of problem behavior, we can be more proactive in trying to keep a child in HRE and better know how to get them back there when they begin to stray into problem behavior.

Hanley works to determine what function the behavior serves for the individual so he can meet that need through different means and in other areas of life. In evidence-based studies, these function based treatments developed using Practical Functional Assessments resulted in socially valid reductions in problem behaviors such as self-injury, aggression, and property damage.

When using this technique I like to personally reflect on the concept of HRE. How often and I happy, relaxed, or engaged? What puts me to be in these positive states? What takes me out of these positive states? If I find that I am not in HRE very often or that I am finding it difficult to reach the HRE state, I ask myself, what do I need to get back there? I like to make a list of these things and adjust my life accordingly to try to increase my HRE status.

I think it goes without saying that we all would like to spend more time in a happy, relaxed, and engaged state.

With that said, maybe the next time you’re feeling some negative thoughts or emotions or if your child exhibits behaviors that may be indicating that they have unmet needs reframe your approach to consider HRE and Functional assessment to improve the conditions that bring about our emotional status.

For more information on, Dr. Gregory Hanley, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Practical Functional Assessment please visit practicalfunctionalassessment.com.

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