Information on this page about the interventions is based on the book, Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support, Second Edition by G. Dunlap, R. Iovannone, D. Kincaid, K. Wilson, K. Christiansen, and P. S. Strain. 

What is the strategy? Why does it work?

Setting events are distal environmental antecedent events or conditions that occur further away in time from the onset of challenging behavior but, when present, increase the likelihood that an immediate antecedent will trigger the challenging behavior. Setting events temporarily alter the value or effectiveness of responses to desired or undesired behaviors. When the setting event is in place, reinforcers typically used to reward desired behavior cannot compete with the functional reinforcement of the challenging behavior (e.g., escape, attention). Setting events differ from immediate antecedent events in that setting events have a temporal delay of hours or even days before the challenging behavior occurs. As a result, it can be more challenging to identify and intervene in setting events, as they may occur before the student even comes to school (e.g., lack of sleep or food, altercation on school bus, or argument with parent). Identifying setting events and developing interventions to eliminate or neutralize their impact can be a powerful way of preventing challenging behavior, even when factors outside of the school environment are contributing to the challenges.

Setting event modification includes the implementation of supportive strategies in the school environment to mitigate or diminish the effect of distal events that set the stage for challenging behavior (i.e., setting events).

There are four primary categories of setting event modification strategies:

  • (a) minimizing or eliminating the setting event
  • (b) neutralizing the setting event
  • (c) temporarily increasing the power of reinforcers
  • (d) teaching alternative skills.

When setting events have been identified as triggers to challenging behavior occurrence, developing intervention strategies to be implemented when setting events are present can be a powerful way of preventing occurrences of challenging behavior throughout the day. Most likely, if an intervention plan is developed that does not provide a strategy to implement when the setting event is present, the behavior plan may not be effective in reducing challenging behaviors and increasing desired behaviors.

Functions and antecedents the setting event modification intervention works for

If the challenging behavior occurs…

  • More predictably when a setting event has occurred

Steps for Implementation

  1. Determine specific situations, events, activities, people, or times of day in which the student demonstrates challenging behavior.
    • Consider if any of the following events make it more likely for the challenging behavior to occur: feeling fatigued or ill, problems at home, hunger, schedule change, medicinal side effects or not taking medication, lack of sleep, peer conflict
    • Often, this requires collaborating with other school staff, as well as family members (especially if setting event occurs outside of school) and/or the student.
  2. Identify the features of the setting event and the category of intervention that will best prevent challenging behavior when the setting event has occurred.
    • If possible, collaborate with parent/guardian in developing and implementing strategies to address the specific setting event.
      • Ex: if student regularly falls asleep in class, becomes extremely upset when disturbed, and reports that he/she is not getting enough sleep, assist the parent/guardian in designing a bedtime routine and schedule.
  3. Describe how to best identify if the setting event has occurred.
    • This can be via communicating with caregivers (if setting event occurs outside of school hours) and/or communicating with the student. The description should include when to do this (e.g., as soon as the student arrives at school, calling family prior to student arriving).
  4. Describe the strategy including when the intervention will be implemented (upon arrival at school, immediately prior to an immediate antecedent, during specific contexts in which the challenging behavior is more likely to occur), and what specifically will be provided as the intervention (e.g., a verbal choice, prompting to use a coping strategy, medical intervention, opportunity to eat).
    • The description can should have the specific sequence of behaviors that the adult (teacher or other educator) will perform in implementing the strategy.
    • For example, initially, the teacher may need to provide additional prompts or models to teach the student how the setting event modification will work.
  5. Provide on-going support to the parent/guardian and/or school staff as needed.

Important Considerations

  • The most important feature of this strategy is to appropriately identify the setting event.
    • Setting events can be confusing. Often, FBAs will identify medication or conflicts at homes as setting events but will not further describe how these factors set up a pattern of triggering challenging behaviors on the days they are present. Upon confirmation that a setting event is an antecedent, it should be included in the hypothesis, specifically if a strategy is necessary to decrease the challenging behavior and increase the replacement behavior.
  • Establishing a system for knowing when the setting event has occurred is crucial for implementing any setting event modification.
  • Collaborate with parent/guardian in developing and implementing reinforcement system to support the intervention plan.
    • If collaboration with parent/guardian is not possible, or intervention implementation is limited or inconsistent, work with other school personnel to determine strategies that can be implemented within the school environment to address out-of-school setting events. 

How to implement this strategy in multiple ways (examples & resources)

Setting Event Checklists

What You Need to Know About Setting Events Podcast

Setting event examples linked to possible intervention strategies, from Robertson & Coy (2019)


  • Develop a consistent communication system between home and school (or student and school) to identify if the setting event has occurred.

Minimize or eliminate the setting event

  • Use wraparound supports to identify and provide resources to support treatment for medical conditions that are not present each day and serve as setting events.
    • Ex: migraine headaches, seasonal or situational allergies
  • Provide a plan for having medication available at the school with the school nurse to be administered in proper dosages when the medical condition is present.
  • Change the schedule or the context so that the setting event is no longer in play.
    • Ex: Joey displayed more predictable and intensive behavior challenges on days his parents took a specific route to school that resulted in stopping and starting more than 20 times. In this case, taking a preferred route that involved less stopping and starting would eliminate the setting event. Alternatively, providing Joey with headphones to watch his favorite TV or movie or listen to favorite music can minimize the setting event if no other route to school is available.
  • Provide breakfast or food to the student upon arrival at school when the setting event of not having dinner the previous evening or breakfast prior to arriving at school is present. For students who arrive late at school resulting in missing the school-provided breakfast, provide them with a breakfast and a location to eat it regardless of arrival time.
  • For students whose setting event is not completing homework assigned the previous night, give the student an option of completing the homework at a specified time during the school day.
  • Examples of setting events and strategies to mitigate from PBIS Missouri


Setting Event Strategies to Mitigate Impact
Incomplete work Check in with adult to provide assistance with organization and work completion
Physical Need Schedule regular routine to meet with the student to address physical needs (e.g. provide snack, exercise, etc.)
Argument with peer or family member before school Schedule regular routine to meet with the student to de-escalate, set goals and practice calming strategies

Neutralize the setting event

  • Provide time to talk with a preferred adult in the mornings upon arriving to school when the setting event has occurred.
    • Ex: Toni, who lives with her maternal grandmother, displays more calling-out behaviors on Mondays if her mother does not show up for a visit over the weekend as promised. On Monday mornings, the teachers call Toni’s grandmother to ask if the setting event has occurred. If so, upon arrival at school, Toni is asked if she wants time to visit with the counselor for 15 minutes.
  • Provide a place and time to “nap” upon arrival at school or prior to the immediate trigger if fatigue or a night of not sleeping well predict challenging behaviors.
    • Alternatively, the student could be provided an activity that may enhance alertness such as taking a walk around the school with a preferred adult or doing 15 minutes of hands-on activities at the beginning of the day or during times in which the fatigue will promote challenging behaviors.

Temporarily increase the power of reinforcers

  • Provide a higher rate of reinforcement on days the setting event has occurred.
    • Ex: Provide more opportunities for escape or attention, increasing the quantity of time spent in escape or attention, or making it easier for the student to earn the reinforcers.

Teach alternative skills/behaviors

  • Teach the student to inform the teacher when a setting event has occurred and identify a replacement behavior to minimize the event.
    • Ex: Upon arrival, Tanisha informs the teacher that she had a fight with her mother that morning and that she will be using her replacement behavior of signaling a “thumbs up” to the teacher when she needs a break from work that day.
  • Teach coping strategies or techniques to use when a setting event is present.
    • Ex: Joanne engages in psychosomatic complaints when she knows she must speak in front of the class (e.g., giving a report, participating in a debate). She is taught to recognize the signs that she is becoming anxious and to repeat positive statements to herself (“I can give this talk”, “I will do a good job”). She can also be taught deep-breathing techniques or other self-calming strategies.
  • For more information and resources on teaching alternative skills, see Alternative Skills page

Fidelity rubric example from Roberts & Coy (2019)

Supporting Research

Chan, P. E. (2016) Controlling setting events in the classroom. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education For Children And Youth, 60(2), 87–93,

Iovannone, R., Anderson, C., & Scott, T. (2017). Understanding setting events: What they are and how to identify them. Beyond Behavior, 26(3), 105–112.

Magito McLaughlin, D., & Carr, E. G. (2005). Quality of rapport as a setting event for problem behavior: Assessment and intervention. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 7(2), 68–91.

McGill, P., Teer, K., Rye, L., & Hughes, D. (2005). Staff reports of setting events associated with challenging behavior. Behavior Modification, 29(4), 599–615.

Robertson, R. E., & Coy, J. N. (2019). Your student is hungry, tired, angry—Now what? Addressing distal setting events in the classroom. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 51(5), 361–371.

Smith, C. E., Carr, E. G., & Moskowitz, L. J. (2016). Fatigue as a biological setting event for severe problem behavior in autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 23, 131–144.

Stichter, J. P., Hudson, S., & Sasso, G. M. (2005). The use of structural analysis to identify setting events in applied settings for students with emotional/behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 30(4), 403–420.