The first step in creating a culture that supports behavior is to prepare. The work of behavior support must be rooted in safety. This section first outlines the connection between safety and behavior, and helpful resources to review before getting started. You will then be ready to develop a deeper understanding of what behavior support means, and how to move forward.

Key Terms
  • Behavior is an observable action and form of communication.
  • Behavior support is a process of understanding what youth are communicating with their actions and using that information to adjust their environment and teach skills that promote positive behavior.
  • For deeper context, refer to the 5 Guiding Principles of Behavior Support.

Before You Begin

Behavior support begins with safety. When people do not feel physically and emotionally safe they may react to experiences from a place of survival rather than logic. Often this can lead them to make reactive decisions that are motivated by strong emotions, rather than behavior choices that are safe, healthy, and build relationships.

A component of safety is reducing or eliminating potentially re-traumatizing experiences for youth.  The approach outlined in this toolkit is grounded in trauma-informed concepts and values with the goal of creating safe and supportive interactions with youth to build skills.  To learn more about Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s trauma-informed approach, visit

For example, imagine you are walking to your car at night and a loud noise startles you. Immediately, your brain decides if you should run away, fight off the danger, or freeze in fear. In this instant, your brain is not deciding what to do based on what the most logical choice is, but instead is reacting from a place of survival. This same thing holds true for youth. When youth do not feel physically or emotionally safe, they are unable to make decisions about their behavior choices that are within the rules and expectations of your Club or Youth Center.

Before you begin your work in creating a culture that supports behavior, it is important to make sure that your Club or Youth Center is up to date on all safety related trainings, assessments, and policies. Review the safety resources below to get started:

What is Behavior?

Behavior is an observable action and form of communication.

  • Behavior is an action you can see or hear. For example, behavior could include things like words, facial expressions, tone, posture, and other body movements.
  • Behavior is rooted in our culture. Our background, and how our parents/caregivers reacted to our behavior has shaped our ideas of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” behavior.   For example, in some cultures making eye contact with adults is viewed as disrespectful, and others it is considered a sign of respect.
  • Behavior is shaped by our experiences.  Every experience – good or bad – teaches us about the world around us and how to interact with it.  For example, a young person who grows up in a safe home with consistent access to the resource and support they need learns that the world is safe place, and people can be trust.  This shapes the way they interact with the world.
  • Behavior is communication. Youth and adults communicate the way they think, feel, and how they experience the environment through their behavior. For example, you may observe a youth walking away with their head down. These observable actions tell you that the youth may need support.
  • All behavior makes sense in context.  Widening our lens to view the surrounding context around behavior helps to understand what the behavior is telling us.  It helps us to get at the root cause of the behavior and shape our response to it.

What is Behavior Support?

Behavior support is a process of understanding what youth are communicating with their actions and using that information to adjust their environment and teach skills that promote positive behavior.

  • Behavior support involves understanding what youth are communicating through their behavior. For example, if a youth raises their voice and leaves the room following an interaction with a peer, you may interpret that to mean their interaction with their peer upset them.
  • Behavior support involves using what we understand about the youth’s behavior to shape how we respond to it. For example, this may mean checking in with a youth to see what kind of support they need and adjusting your behavior and expectations based on their needs.

The 5 Guiding Principles of Behavior Support

  • 1
    All behavior is communication.
  • 2
    All youth are in the process are learning about their own behavior. As youth learn to meet expectations they will often act in ways that are challenging or concerning.
  • 3
    People interpret behavior based on culture, upbringing and experience. 
  • 4
    Behavior is an opportunity to learn how youth respond to their environments, and the skills they are working on in those spaces.
  • 5
    Behavior support is a team approach that should include parents, mentors, elders, or other caregivers, and supportive adults in the youth’s life.

Getting Started

The Behavior Support Toolkit follows the steps of Assess, Plan and Do. Creating a culture that supports behavior requires consistent engagement in this process to reflect on, plan for, and continuously improve your current ways of understanding, and responding to behavior.

  • Prepare: Begin your behavior support journey by building foundational knowledge.
  • Assess: Examine your Club or Youth Center’s current behavior support policies, practices, and programs.  Identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Plan: Define your approach to understanding and responding to behavior.
  • Do: Use familiar, and new tools and resources to implement effective practices and programs that support behavior.

Because the toolkit is designed and organized to support a process – Assess, Plan, Do – you will see the best results if you work through it in that order. You may find the process outlined here helpful as part of your Club’s Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) work.

Head over to Assess from here to determine which resources and tools will be most helpful to you.