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How To Troubleshoot Behavior Problems

So many times I hear “We’ve tried that,” or “We did a sticker system and it doesn’t work.”  It’s difficult to walk the line of what is considered bribery versus what is imperative in facilitating a positive change in your household.  We know that children, especially when there is an underlying anxiety, behavior or sensory processing component, are not going to be intrinsically motivated by their environment. Implementing a behavior system, based on positive rewards paired with positive behaviors, is the best way to see results and change.

If the behavior plan is not working, there are a number of things to ask yourself.

  1. Is the reinforcement powerful enough? If your child is gaining access to whatever the reward is (such as screen time, alone time, stickers, food, etc.) outside of the reward system, the reinforcement will lose its power.  You need to make sure that you chose a highly motivating reinforcer that you are willing to withhold until your child engages in the positive behavior you are asking.
  2. Is the behavior specific enough? You can not just reinforce “being good.”  You want to teach your children what specific behaviors you would like to see.  This could be something like “saying respectful kind things to your family members,” “using an inside voice,” “calming down your body,” etc.  If your child does not know what to do, they are not going to be able to stay consistent.
  3. Are you being consistent? Are there times when your child is doing what you are asking, but you are busy or otherwise not rewarding them at the time. Are you paying attention?  At the beginning of a reinforcement plan, you need to make sure you reinforce every occurrence for a day or two.  Once you are seeing an increase in the positive behavior, you can slowly decrease your amount of reinforcement.
  4. Is the time expectation too long? Weekly, and sometimes daily, reinforcement is not appropriate for behaviors that occur multiply times a day.  Try breaking the day up into chunks of time, or at least give a daily reinforcer.  If the goal is too high, your child will give up.  The idea is you want the child to gain access to what he or she wants to remain motivated to do the behavior we are trying to see more of.
  5. Are you ignoring the negative behavior? If you are still paying attention to the undesired behavior, than you may still be reinforcing it with your attention.  Try to ignore the behavior, or redirect your child to a more desirable behavior before engaging them.

Also, even the best behavior systems may stop working over time.  Children may tire of what they are working for or the behaviors may change.  It is very important to take data, or keep track of the frequency of what is occurring.  If your child is tired, their diet is not clean, they aren’t getting enough outdoor time or exercise, or they are staying on screens too long, there is a very high likelihood that the behavior may not go away all together.  A child’s behavior is their way of telling you something, and while we need to rework their behavior and teach appropriate ways to communicate, keep in mind that your child is acting the way they feel. Granting them some time to let them talk or process what is going on in their minds is very important.

Looking for more tips?

Some great resources for behavior management are can be found in this text: “Parenting The Strong Willed Child”. Pick up your own copy at Barnes & Noble or Amazon!