Techniques for Reducing Problem Behaviors

I.  GENERAL INTERVENTION GUIDELINES

1.  Always try these techniques at home first, where you have greater control over your environment.

2.  Be prepared for your child's behavior to get worse before it gets better.

3.  These techniques become more effective over repeated, consistent use.

4.  The best way to judge whether the intervention is working is whether or not the behavior improves over time.

5.  The amount of time required for behaviors to significantly improve differs from child to child and from behavior to behavior.  Two weeks is a good amount of time to devote to any new intervention before deciding if it is effective.

6.  It is very important to ensure success for your child; therefore, keep your expectations very reasonable.  For example, time-out periods for preschool children should not exceed 30 seconds to two minutes.  (see below)

7.  Once the intervention for the inappropriate behavior is completed,  be sure to resume praising and rewarding appropriate behavior as soon as possible.

8.  Try to determine the motivation underlying your child's behavior.  If he/she is acting out to get attention, do not give him/her attention.  If your child is acting out to escape demands, people, or changes; don't allow him/her to escape.  The idea is to make the negative behaviors useless:  don't let your child's bad behaviors function to get him/her what he/she wants.

 

II.  SPECIFIC INTERVENTION GUIDELINES

                The interventions are listed in order from least to most restrictive.

1.  MAKING ACTIVITIES PREDICTABLE

Definition:  Providing visual cues, advanced notice, and positive routines to assist your child in understanding what is happening around him

When to Use:

If your child has difficulty managing transitions and changes

If your child's auditory attention is inconsistent

If your child initiates and adheres to structured routines

If your child's receptive language skills are delayed

When Not to Use:

If your child's receptive listening skills are age-appropriate and your child does not have difficulty managing transitions or changes

How You Can Tell If It's Working:

If your child develops a routine for checking the visual cues

If your child initiates the positive routines you have created

If your child's behavior improves following advance preparation

2.  IGNORING A BEHAVIOR

Definition:  Continuing to attend normally and naturally to the child without responding to an inappropriate behavior - or not attending to the child while the behavior is occurring

When to Use: 

If the child is behaving poorly and wants you to respond to his/her behavior

If the behaviors are harmless, but irritating

When Not to Use:

If the behavior poses a risk to the child's or another person's safety or well-being

How You Can Tell If It's Working:

If your child continues to watch for your reaction to the behavior

3.  REINFORCING APPROPRIATE INCOMPATIBLE BEHAVIORS

Definition:  Reinforcing desired behaviors which are impossible to perform while displaying the undesired behavior (e.g. rewarding appropriate sitting in order to decrease running away, rewarding keeping hands on toys in order to reduce hand-flapping)

When to Use: 

If you can provide an appropriate alternative behavior which is physically incompatible with the undesired behavior

When Not to Use:

Cannot use this technique alone if the undesired behavior threatens the safety of the child (In these instances, redirect the behavior too)

How You Can Tell If It's Working:

If the child begins to perform the appropriate behavior you are trying to teach him/her across situations

4.  VERBAL CORRECTION / REDIRECTION

Definition:  Saying "No" in a firm voice and physically stopping the behavior

When to Use: 

Useful with behaviors which can be physically stopped and have a clear beginning and an end (i.e. hitting self, throwing toys, hitting sibling)

When Not to Use: 

If the behaviors cannot be physically stopped without putting the child at risk (for example, it should not be used for behaviors such as screaming.)

How You Can Tell If It's Working:

If the child eventually learns to stop the behavior when you say no, eliminating the need for you to physically prompt him/her

5.  TIME-OUT FROM ATTENTION

Definition:  Removing the child from an interpersonal situation and placing him/her in a quiet area for a brief, predetermined period of time where the child receives no attention

When to Use: 

When the child is behaving badly to get your attention

When Not to Use:

If the child is acting out in order to avoid people, changes, transitions, or demands of any kind

How You Can Tell If It's Working:

If your child is initially upset by going to time-out

If your child is pleased when time-out is over

6.  TIME-OUT FROM AN ACTIVITY

Definition:  Removing an activity from the child - or removing the child from an ongoing activity -  for a brief, predetermined period of time

When to Use: 

If your child is behaving poorly because he/she is very excited if your child is behaving poorly in an effort to get more of an item/activity

When Not to Use:

If the child is acting out in an effort to stop an activity

How You Can Tell If It's Working:

If your child initially resists removal of the activity

If your child is happy to return to the activity

7.  PHYSICAL GUIDANCE TO COMPLETE PART OF AN ACTIVITY

Definition:  Physically prompting or guiding the child through a small segment of the activity after an inappropriate behavior has occurred during the activity.  "Activities" are broadly defined to include:  tasks, play experiences, community experiences, transitions, etc.  This is an important strategy for teaching children that they cannot use negative behaviors to escape from difficult situations.  This technique must always be accompanied by teaching alternative ways of escaping situations (e.g. saying "no", signing "finished", touching your arm to request help.)

When to Use: 

If the child is behaving poorly to escape a demand, transition, or activity

If the task/activity can be broken into smaller components or shorter segments

When Not to Use:

If the child is behaving poorly to get attention

If the activity is impossible to break down into smaller segments

If the behavior is so intense that you will be unable to safely guide the child through completing even part of the activity

How You Can Tell If It's Working:

If the child is able to complete more tasks, activities, and transitions without behaving poorly

 

How to Employ Techniques for Reducing Inappropriate Behavior

1.  MAKING ACTIVITIES PREDICTABLE

General Principles:

1.  Before any change or transition is going to occur, show your child a picture/object representing that event, or make a booklet describing the sequence of events.

2.  When you are participating in the event/activity, touch the picture/object to help connect the representation with the activity.

3.  Guide your child to touch pictures and then immediately provide or do what they represent.  Practice matching pictures to objects as much as possible.

4.  Keep the visual schedules visible and accessible to the child at all times.

5.  Continually expand the visual materials to reflect the child's changing world.

2.  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 occuring.  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.

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

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

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

5.  Continue praising appropriate behaviors at very high rates (i.e. 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.

2.  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 your child that good behavior gets good attention, bad behavior gets no attention.

3.  REINFORCING APPROPRIATE INCOMPATIBLE BEHAVIORS

1.  Once you have observed the undesired behavior, choose an alternative behavior to teach your child.  This alternative behavior should be physically incompatible with the undesired behavior (i.e. it should be physically impossible to simultaneously perform both the desired and the undesired behavior; for example, keeping hand on fork is incompatible with throwing food.)

2.  Guide your child to perform the good behavior whenever possible 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.  VERBAL CORRECTION / REDIRECTION 

1.  Catch the behavior as soon as possible.

2.  In a firm voice, say "No" and/or present the sign for "no".

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

4.  Remove anything which is rewarding to the child.  (ex. turn off tv, take away toys, etc.)

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!

7.  Remain near the child so that you can reward the continuation of appropriate behavior.

5.  TIME-OUT FROM ATTENTION

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

2.  Silently guide your child to a designated area, located in a room he/she does not do anything else in (avoid using bedrooms, kitchens, etc; consider finding a place in a neutral, non-interesting place like a foyer).

3.  Do not verbally interact with your child at any time.

4.  Once your child is in the time-out area (which may be a chair, a place on the floor, etc.), set an oven timer for a short period of time (30 seconds to two minutes).  This time period can be lengthened over time, but when you are first teaching time-out, the duration should be very short.

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

6.  If your child exhibits a behavior you find unacceptable (i.e. throws, screams), start the timer over again.

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

8.  Return the child to a structured activity of some kind.  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:  (ex. "No throwing").

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

3.  Guide your 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 your child exhibits a behavior you find unacceptable, reset the timer.

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

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 requiring your child to help take his clothes off, a smaller segment might be removing his pants.  If you are transitioning from a car to the classroom, a smaller segment to focus on is getting from the car to the door of the school.

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

3.  Physically guide your 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 your child had a tantrum while trying to teach him to take off his own clothes, you would hold his hand in yours and guide his hand to remove his pants.) 

4.  Once he/she completed part of the task with you, you would remove your prompt, say "All done" and allow him/her to take a break.  You may also want to provide additional rewards at this time.

5.  When you come back to the task, 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 and appropriate behavior.