How to Teach Expected and Unexpected Behaviors

An expected behavior is a behavior that keeps others calm in situations. This could be being quiet during circle time, sitting at the table during snack, or standing in line with the class. An unexpected behavior is a behavior that other people might find stressful or could make someone feel uncomfortable in the situation. Unexpected behaviors could be a child talking loudly during circle time, running around during snack, or having a tantrum in line with the class. These unexpected behaviors can affect how others perceive the child and could lead to being in trouble with the teacher or other adults. To increase expected behaviors, reinforce these behaviors when you see children engaging in them. Here are three things to remember when teaching clients or students about expected and unexpected behaviors. 

  1. Do not skip over the thoughts and feelings. Perspective taking and interacting with others starts with children understanding their own thoughts and feelings. They need to recognize that with their thoughts and feelings, that other people have thoughts and feelings as well. If children do not understand this, then “expected” and “unexpected” has no meaning to them. 
  2. Make your expectations clear. Let your children know the plan, so they understand what is expected of them. If you do not give them your expectations, it will set them up for failure and lead to unexpected behaviors. 
  3. Listening to your body is important. The body is the part of communication that is often forgotten about. You use your whole body to move closer to people to indicate you want to communicate or join the group. If a child is not aware of what his or her body, then it makes it difficult to show his or her intentions to the group. This could increase unexpected behaviors, but the child is unaware of this. 

Expected behaviors are the socially aware behaviors that occur in everyday life like walking quietly in line or sitting for circle time. Unexpected behaviors can be considered tantrum behaviors or lead to tantrums for children. Instead of focusing all your attention on a child’s unexpected behaviors, pay attention to the expected behaviors. When teaching your clients or students it is important to include learning about the thoughts and feelings of others, listening to your body, and make your expectations for the child clear. What we do and how we act affects how others think about us, increase your child’s expected behaviors and watch them grow socially. 



Reinking, R. (2017, September 27). Social Thinking Articles. Retrieved July 2, 2020,