Program with Behavior Modification – Customized Planning

by | Feb 8, 2023

Does your child have behavioral problems at home or at school? Do you often find yourself in power struggles with your child? You’ve likely tried different punishments to control the behavior, but it keeps happening. What now?

The first step is to have grace and compassion with yourself. You are doing the best you can with a difficult situation! It is also important to remember that even though it may seem like your child aims to make you angry, every child, at the end of the day, craves positive attention from others — especially their parents. If they don’t yet have the skills to get that positive attention, they will settle for any kind of attention at all. This often means acting out in ways that drive you up the wall!

The next step is to reach out for help. You don’t have to handle this alone. At Killebrew Psychological Services and Essential Touchstones we will work with you to develop a customized behavioral modification plan. This plan will be tailor-made to your child and your home situation.

Children engage in the behaviors they do because those behaviors produce positive outcomes. The positive outcomes will be different for each child and may include things like escape from a task or situation that the child doesn’t like, attention from parents, siblings, or peers, or the satisfying feeling of empowerment that comes from behaving aggressively. For example, a child may have frequent meltdowns when they feel overwhelmed in school because they achieve the positive outcome of being sent out of the room and getting out of doing classwork. Your clinician can work with you to identify the specific positive outcomes that your child gets when they engage in a problem behavior.

Next, your clinician can help you design alternative, healthier ways for your child to achieve those positive outcomes. For example, a child could be permitted to take a short break when they raise a colored card on their desk. This would achieve the same outcome as having a meltdown (allowing them a brief escape from classwork), and they would also be praised for using the healthy coping strategy (positive attention). A child who acts out to achieve attention should be praised frequently anytime they are seen behaving calmly, playing nicely, or listening and obeying. This praise should happen immediately when the parent sees the positive behavior and should be specific (for instance, “great job folding laundry,” or “I love how you just shared a piece of apple with your sister!”).

Kids who behave aggressively because they experience strong anger or because they like the feeling of empowerment can be taught to recognize the early signs of anger in their bodies, and to use cool-down strategies. They can also be taught healthier ways of building self-esteem.

Behavior is much more easily changed by rewards than by punishments. This principle was discovered as far back as the early 1900s by researchers and it has been shown time and again in research ever since.

As a way of making good behavior even more appealing, your clinician can help you come up with a token economy – a system where your child is rewarded with tokens such as stickers or pennies when they engage in good behavior. The tokens can be traded for prizes that the child wants, such as time and attention from parents (getting to play a game or read a book together, or getting to help with a favorite job such as washing the dog or baking bread), extra screen time, getting to choose dinner, or small gifts.