Consequences for Student Escape Behavior

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

This lesson could benefit anyone looking for information on student escape behavior, its consequences, and possible interventions teachers can use in collaboration with school counselors.

Student Escape Behavior

We all have ways in which we respond to situations that are determined by our behavior. Research studies show that we all behave in one of four ways.

  1. We can choose to escape situations that are unpleasant.
  2. Some of us reach for an object that we can use to resolve an issue.
  3. Others decide to get attention to work situations to their benefit.
  4. We also can choose to use one of our senses to relieve the issues that plague us.

When teachers and school counselors understand the ways in which their students behave, they can also understand why students respond the way they do to certain situations and know how to intervene. Student escape behavior is a behavior disorder teachers and school counselors should be aware of to understand the students who suffer from the condition.

When students engage in escape behaviors, they attempt to avoid tasks asked of them by teachers and/or administrators by changing the situation or by making demands. Student escape behavior happens when a student is anxious about a pending activity and seeks a way to get out of or avoid performing the activity. Behaviors such as temper tantrums, crying, complaining, running away, and aggression are all typical among students with escape-motivated behaviors.

Let's consider a first grade student with escape behaviors who is asked to solve a math question in class he does not know how to answer. He may attempt to leave class without permission to avoid answering the question. Teachers and school counselors should be aware of the real consequences to this type of behavior.


Students with escape behaviors may face the common consequences of escape conditioning and avoidance conditioning as conflict resolutions to gain relief from difficult situations. Teachers and school counselors should help their students with escape maintained behaviors recognize and address these consequences in their behaviors because both can become perpetual responses to negative situations and interactions.

Escape conditioning is a consequence students with escape behaviors may experience when they adopt the attitude of always leaving and removing themselves from negative situations instead of dealing with the situation proactively. Escape conditioning permeates those who lean toward it as a means of coping with negative situations because of the instant relief that it can provide. Simply leaving situations one does not want to deal with can become a theme among students with inclinations to escape.

If students continue to use escape conditioning, the behavior can lead to avoidance conditioning. Avoidance conditioning occurs when the positive reinforcement gained from escaping a similar negative situation in the past leads a student to avoid any similarities to that negative situation in the present and the future.

Take, for example, the same first grade student who was asked to solve a math question in class he did not know the answer to and chose to leave class without permission to escape the situation. If the teacher did not positively intervene with the student, and his reward for leaving class without permission was to not have to answer the question when he returned, he could use this method of escape next time as well as in other subjects that school year, and in second grade as well.


Learning how to intervene when students show escape behaviors is important to teachers and school counselors because the wrong intervention technique may result in reinforcing negative behaviors. Teachers may find the ordinary methods of redirecting negative behavior will not work with students with escape behaviors. Teachers are inclined to lecture or to reprimand students verbally when they misbehave. For students with escape behaviors, this type of intervention would reinforce negative escape behavior.

For example, if the above mentioned first grade student left class without permission to avoid answering the math question, sending that student to the principal's office would not be the correct method of intervention. Sending the student to the principal's office would grant the student's desire to leave class and reinforce the idea that his method of escape would be rewarded with his desired outcome.

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