Parent-Child Interaction: Behavior management

One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is managing bad behavior. Whether your child is refusing to eat their veggies or having a full-blown temper tantrum, parents need to react appropriately and effectively. Understanding what came before and after the behavior is essential. There are three aspects of a behavior: the ABC’s.

  • A - Antecedent: The antecedent is the trigger of the behavior. It is the event that occurs before the behavior. For example, if every time you talk to another adult your child acts out, the antecedent is the talking to the adult.
  • B - Behavior: The behavior is the observable action demonstrated by the child. Behaviors can be good or bad.
  • C - Consequence: The consequence is the natural or logical result of the behavior. It can reinforce or reduce the behavior. Consequences include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or avoidance.

How to control the Antecedent:  

We are all too familiar with the after-school battle between TV or homework time. In order to reduce the negative argument, create clear expectations and routines.

•   Give your child a choice: As children get older, they want more control in their decisions. If they need a break between school and homework, allow them to pick one activity. If that seems too broad, give three choices they can decide on.

•    Set a time limit. Transitions are difficult for children. Give plenty of warning when an activity is coming to an end. A kitchen timer can be a great way to avoid unanticipated transitions. If your child decides to watch TV before homework, set the timer for 30 minutes.

•   Make expectations clear. If you want your child to act a certain way, be sure to explain it thoroughly. Kids need specific and clear instructions with minimum distractions. In our given example, explain that you want them to finish their math and reading homework before dinnertime.

•   Be cognitive of your child’s needs. Many of us have experienced the cranky attitude developed from hunger. Emotional factors such as hunger, fatigue, or anxiety can cause children to react poorly in situations. If you notice your child is not feeling well, do not push them to do something they are not capable of at that time.

Deciding on the consequence:

Creating an appropriate and effective consequence for a behavior is very challenging. Often times we are trying to reduce a certain behavior such as hitting, yelling, not following directions, or talking back. Follow these strategies to effectively eliminate unwanted behaviors.

• Set up a reward system. Reward systems are a successful way to discourage unwanted behaviors and can be done in many different ways. When choosing a reward system, keep it simple and adaptable in all settings. A punch card is an easily accessible option because you can fit it in your wallet or purse. On a small card, write the behavior you are trying to avoid or encourage in the middle. If your child tends to argue with their siblings, you may write “played with ___ nicely all day”. If your child did not argue with their sibling for that day, they would either get their card hole-punched or a sticker. After X amount of days, they receive a predetermined prize such as movie night, treat, or toy. Establish the prize ahead of time, so the child is motivated to work towards the end goal.

• Manage Emotions. Discuss emotions such as anger, frustration, and jealousy with your child. Read books or watch movies to help them understand how to interpret and understand different emotions. After they are able to identify the emotions they are feeling, teach effective ways to deal with them. Role-play common scenarios that your child may encounter. Teach strategies to help them calm down when upset, such as counting to 10, taking deep breaths, or removing oneself from a situation.

• Set clear rules. Set up clear expectations for your home. If the rules and expectations are laid out for your children, they have no excuse to misbehave. If a child does not abide by the rules you have set, be clear what the consequences will be. This is something for your family to discuss. For example, if they do not eat all their vegetables, they do not get dessert.

• Be consistent. Once the rules are set and consequences are established, be consistent. Following through with consequences so your child doesn’t test their limits is crucial. It is easy for a parent to cave in and say, “It’s ok this time, but next time….”. Be sure to create consequences that can be applied in all settings. Children will catch on if your consequences only occur at home, and may take advantage of public outings to misbehave.

• Return to the expectations. If using a negative consequence such as time out or grounding, make sure the previous expectations are met. For example, if a child is misbehaving during homework time and are sent to their room, they need to complete their homework after time-out. Some kids may realize that getting grounded delays their responsibilities and will use it to their advantage.

• Shape behaviors. In order to change a behavior, you must give your child an alternative. Simply commanding “No” or “Don’t do that” leaves the child guessing what is acceptable and not acceptable. Explain why the behavior is inappropriate and suggest a new behavior.

Adjusting your expectations and consequences are part of the process. Stay consistent with your decisions, and if it doesn’t seem to work, don’t be afraid to adjust. Most importantly, verbally reward your child when they are behaving. The rule of thumb to live by is 80% positive reinforcement and no more than 20% negative. If you have any concerns about your child’s behavior, contact Lumiere Children’s Therapy.

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Resources:

Managing Problem Behavior at Home. (n.d.). Retrieved January 04, 2017, from http://childmind.org/article/managing-problem-behavior-at-home/