How to Employ Intervention Techniques for Reducing Problem Behavior

Step 1.  REINFORCING THE ABSENCE OF A NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR

1.  Clearly define the negative behavior and begin the assessment process to determine the function, frequency, duration, antecedents and consequences, etc.

2.  When you observe the child doing anything but the negative behavior, provide additional attention, tangible objects, stimulation, or escape from tasks or environments.  Use specific phrases to signal the appropriate behavior (e.g., “Good sitting.”)

3.  When you observe the child exhibiting the negative behavior, try to make an immediate judgment about the function and try not to let the behavior be reinforced.  For example:

  • If you think the child behaved to get attention, ignore him/her;
  • If you think he/she behaved this way to get a specific toy, make sure he/she doesn’t get the toy;
  • If you think the negative behavior is stimulatory or fun to the child, try to redirect it;
  • If you think the child is using the behavior to escape a situation, do not allow him/her to escape.

4.  When in doubt as to the function of the behavior, simply continue doing what you were doing and do not let the child’s behavior change your behavior.

5.  Actively look for the next moment when the child is not exhibiting the negative behavior and reinforce him or her at that time.

Step 2.  REINFORCING APPROPRIATE INCOMPATIBLE BEHAVIORS

1.  Once you have observed the undesired behavior, and identified the function (i.e., what need does the behavior meet for the child), identify an adaptive behavior which will meet the same need for the child.  This adaptive behavior will be most effective if it is physically incompatible with the undesired behavior (i.e. if it is physically impossible to simultaneously perform both the desired and the undesired behavior; for example, keeping hand on fork is incompatible with throwing food.)

2.  Find opportunities to catch the child performing the adaptive behavior and reward him/her immediately and consistently.

3.  Whenever the child begins to perform the undesired behavior, immediately guide him/her physically to perform the desired behavior.  Reinforce him/her immediately and consistently.

4.  Try to make sure that you never reinforce the negative behavior.

Step 3.  IGNORING A BEHAVIOR

Note:   There are two methods of ignoring behaviors:  (A) ignoring the behavior, but not the child; and (B) ignoring the child while the behavior is occurring.  In most instances, you should begin with method (A).  If, after two weeks, the undesired behavior is not greatly reduced, try method (B).

(A)  Ignoring the behavior, but not the child

1.  Continue to attend to the child, but do not react in any way to the undesired behavior.  Try to make sure you do not alter your facial expression, voice tone, and physical proximity.

2.  Focus your attention on the appropriate behaviors the child is using and provide immediate reinforcement for those behaviors.

3.  The more persistent the child becomes, the more resolved you need to be not to react.

4.  Engage the child in an activity to distract him/her from performing this undesired behavior. 

5.  Continue praising appropriate behaviors at very high rates (e.g., 3x/minute).

(B)  Ignoring the child while the behavior is occurring

1.  Immediately after observing the behavior, turn away from the child to avoid eye contact.  Do not speak or attend to the child.  Sometimes it will be appropriate to walk away from the child.  If possible, attend to other children who are behaving appropriately.

3.  Indirectly continue to observe the child.  As soon as you notice that the undesired behavior has ceased, move closer to the child and attend to him/her with great enthusiasm.  Provide additional attention to the child for behaving appropriately.

4.  Ignoring is most effective if it is done briefly and consistently (every time the undesired behavior occurs).  It is very important to restore your attention as soon as the undesired behavior stops.  Through this approach, you are teaching the child that good behavior gets good attention, bad behavior gets no attention.

Step 4.  VERBAL CORRECTION / REDIRECTION

1.  Catch the behavior as soon as possible.

2.  In a firm, neutral voice, say "No" and/or present the sign/gesture for "no" or “stop”.

3.  Gently, but firmly, physically stop the child from performing the behavior.

4.  Remove anything which is rewarding to the child (e.g. briefly remove toy).

5.  If possible, physically guide the child to behave in a desirable way.

6.  Once the child is behaving well, praise and reward him/her by returning the items you removed:  Be extremely positive and reinforcing! Remain near the child so that you can reward the continuation of appropriate behavior.

Step 5.  TIME-OUT FROM ATTENTION

1.  Verbally pinpoint the behavior in a firm, neutral voice (e.g. "No throwing").

2.  Silently guide the child to a designated area, located in a place that he/she does not do anything else in (e.g., avoid using the child’s work area or the circle time area) and which is visually distinct from other parts of the room (e.g., a specific chair, a mat on the floor).

3.  Do not verbally interact with the child after the initial pinpointing until the time out is over.

4.  Once the child is in the time-out area set an oven timer for a short period of time (30 seconds to two minutes).

5.  Maintain the child in the time-out area with as little involvement with him/her as possible.  Attend to the child as little as possible, but certainly be sure that he/she is safe.

6.  Establish the behavioral criteria for time-out.  Some adults insist that the child be quiet during time-out, others accept crying/distress but do not accept physically acting out behaviors, such as trying to turn over a chair.  If the child exhibits a behavior you find unacceptable (e.g., throws, screams), start the timer over again.  Be careful in establishing this behavioral criteria because you want to avoid unduly long time-out periods.

7.  Once the child has maintained appropriate behavior for the time period you have chosen, the timer will sound and you should praise your child "Good being quiet" and guide him/her to leave the time-out area.

8.  Return the child to a structured activity of some kind, if possible, the same activity he/she was in before time-out.  Be very positive and attentive to his/her good behavior.

6.  TIME-OUT FROM AN ACTIVITY

1.  Verbally pinpoint the behavior in a firm, neutral voice (e.g., "No throwing").

2.  Depending on the situation, either remove the activity from the child, or the child from the activity.

3.  Guide the child to behave appropriately by providing some other form of stimulation or some activity to focus on.

4.  Set a timer for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

5.  If the child exhibits a behavior you find unacceptable, reset the timer.

6.  Once the child has maintained appropriate behavior for the time period you have chosen, the timer will sound and you should praise the child and return him/her to the original activity.

Step 7.  PHYSICAL GUIDANCE TO COMPLETE PART OF AN ACTIVITY

1.  Before introducing a demand, an activity, or a transition to your child, mentally break the experience into smaller segments.  For example, if you are transitioning from a car to the classroom, a smaller segment is getting from the car to the door of the school.

2.  If, during the course of the activity/transition, the child behaves poorly to try to escape the situation, reduce your expectations to a small portion of the overall goal.

3.  Physically guide the child through that portion of the activity, ensuring success by redirecting him/her, praising good behavior as it occurs, and not allowing the bad behavior to work as an escape route.  For example, if the child had a tantrum while transitioning to the classroom, you would hold his hand and help him to walk there.  It would not be appropriate to pick up and carry the child, because then he or she is not performing the appropriate behavior, you are.

4.  Once he/she completed the portion of the task/activity you have chosen, prompt the child to communicate "All done" and allow him/her to take a break.

5.   When you come back to the task or activity in the future, set your expectations on the next small component and work at the goal in small steps.  Provide breaks and rewards upon completion of every step.  Give larger rewards for total cooperation.