It all depends on the environment

When would it be ok to scream and yell at the top of your voice, and jump up and down while waving your hands in the air? Well, I can think of plenty of places, such as a football stadium when your favourite team scores a goal, or when you receive amazingly good news like winning the lottery! But you wouldn’t expect screaming and yelling at the top of your voice, jumping up and down and waving your hands in the air  to be ok in a supermarket or walking down the street – unless you were a toddler having a tantrum. 

Most behaviours are appropriate in the right setting

One of the most fascinating things I notice about behaviour is that most behaviours are appropriate in the right setting. What is also fascinating is that there are expectations about what are appropriate behaviours in different settings. But those expectations are often unspoken and hardly ever communicated.That’s ok if you were lucky enough to work this out by yourself through observation, or experience through trial and error. But not all of us get those opportunities, for all sorts of reasons. 

So if we want people to behave in the way we expect, we need to tell them what that expectation is. 

The 40 year old girl 

I was in a supermarket one day and there was a woman in her 40s, dressed in lots of pink with copious beads around her neck and flowers in her hair. She was waving her hands in the air, jumping up and down slightly and yelling in excitement at a toy she had spotted on the supermarket shelves. She was behaving like a little girl. This is because she had an intellectual disability with the capabilities of a young child. 

People walked past with frowns of disapproval on their faces, and her carer tried desperately to get her to settle down. Now, if we had seen the same behaviour in a little girl a tenth of her age, would people have reacted the same way? Would those frowns of disapproval have been replaced by indulgent smiles and an understanding of that’s how little girls are? The behaviour itself was not problematic, it just didn’t fit with most people’s expectations of how a woman in her 40s should behave. 

So how do we manage this?


Yelling and calling out is a common behaviour when managing children of all ages, and sometimes when managing adults as well.By teaching different voice levels in different settings you make it clear about your expectations in different environments. For example with our lady in the supermarket, we could teach her that we use a talking voice in a supermarket, and the yelling voice is ok when we are at home in the backyard. We could also teach that there are different voice levels for different times of the day. It’s ok to yell in the backyard in the daytime, but we use a talking voice in the backyard at night. 

Jumping up and down 

We could also teach when jumping up and down is appropriate. It’s perfectly ok to jump up and down on a trampoline or in a jumping castle. So we could teach the lady with the intellectual disability that when she is in the supermarket she can walk, or stand with both feet on the ground. When she wants to jump up and down, she can do that on a trampoline at home. 

Teaching when behaviour is appropriate

Teaching when behaviour is appropriate is more effective than dismissing a behaviour as inappropriate simply because it is taking place in the wrong setting. This can even apply to really challenging behaviours such as hitting. 


Hitting other people is unacceptable behaviour in almost all settings – except the boxing ring, or MMA fighting. If you have to manage someone hitting another person there are two ways you can handle this.The first is to figure out what they have gain by hitting the other person and then teach a replacement behaviour that gets the same result. The person doing the hitting may have learned that hitting is how to get another person to go away and stop bothering them. If you teach them a replacement behaviour such as how to tell the person to go away, then you have managed the behaviour

The second way is to teach them the appropriate environment for hitting, such as training in a gym, in a boxing ring or preparing for an MMA fight. You don’t have to teach the person to box, just that hitting is ok in the right setting. 

Why justify the behaviour?

Managing behaviour is more effective when you maintain a distinction between the behaviour and the person doing the behaviour. Telling someone their behaviour is inappropriate sounds like a judgement about them and that is more likely to make them defensive. You are better off someone their behaviour is not ok in the current situation. Using an example of where it would be appropriate, gives you the opportunity to teach a replacement behaviour instead.