Debriefing Strategies

What is Debriefing?

A picture of an adult debriefing with a student.

Debriefing is a strategy that can be used to increase the proactive and preventative benefits following incidents of challenging behavior; however, debriefing also can and should occur after displays of appropriate behavior. For example, in situations where students engage in desired alternative behaviors, functionally equivalent replacement behaviors (FERBs), engage in coping skills, or calming activities instead of challenging behavior.

Educators generally use debriefing activities to help students display more acceptable and appropriate behaviors in the future and to successfully re-enter normal classroom routines and activities. Debriefing also provides an opportunity for the educator to reconnect with the student following negative consequences (real or perceived) and any disciplinary actions, in an attempt to repair any harm caused by the situation and restore a positive relationship.

Debriefing can be a dialogue, a written process, or a behavior practice session (behavioral rehearsal or role play). Debriefing with a student following an episode of challenging behavior allows staff to review with the student:

  1. What happened,
  2. Practice the replacement behavior, and
  3. Plan what to do next time.

While debriefing can be beneficial to some students in avoiding future occurrences of challenging behavior, it may not be beneficial or appropriate for others depending on their developmental and/or learner profile. Additionally, some response strategies (like debriefing) may escalate challenging behavior in students with a history of anxiety or who display perseverative behavior. Assessment and development of response strategy should be based on the individual needs of the student and their profile (i.e., what type of response strategies are appropriate?) and evidence-based practices.

Given that debriefing relies on the ability to take perspective, engage in verbal problem solving and logical reasoning, it will not be an appropriate strategy for very young students and those with developmental disabilities who have not yet acquired these developmental reasoning skills and abilities. Rather it is recommended for educators to engage in alternate activities.

These activities can include:

  • A session to model replacement behavior/FERB, or
  • Guided practice with the student of how to use the FERB, or
  • A review of a picture sequence depicting alternative behavior steps, or
  • Other teaching procedures designed to achieve alternative behavior skill fluency, if that is in question, after the behavior episode


Thinking About My Inappropriate Behavior (DOCX)

Understanding How Feelings Affect My Behavior (DOCX)