Behavior Management: Intervention Strategies
By Jane Bluestein, Ph.D.
Different types of children’s behavior require different types of interventions. We can compound problems by applying the incorrect strategies to a behavior—positive or negative. The information below can help reinforce positive behavior (without using conditional approval, or reinforcing dependence or people-pleasing behaviors), can help motivate desirable behaviors (without nagging or threatening), and can help intervene negative behavior effectively and non-punitively.
Description: Cooperative, positive or desirable behavior which your child is currently exhibiting or has already demonstrated.
Intervention Strategy: Positive Reinforcement, Recognition
Goal: Maintaining existing behavior, improving likelihood of behavior recurring independently.
Process: Connect the child’s positive choice to positive outcomes.
Step 1: Describe the positive behavior: “I see you completed your chores.” “Your handwriting has really improved.”
Step 2: Connect the behavior to the positive outcome to the child: “…Now you can go over to Johnny’s.” “…That will be easy to proofread now.”
Note: Outcome (step 2) must be need-fulfilling for the child.
Connection to Boundary: Relates to boundary expressed before behavior occurred. For example, if you promised to drive your children to the mall as long as they clean their rooms by a certain time (and according to certain criteria), once they do as you’ve asked, you allow the positive consequence promised in the boundary to occur. Experiencing the privilege or positive outcome as a result of their cooperation strengthens (reinforces) your children’s cooperative behavior. (If no boundary was used–or necessary–to elicit the cooperation, you can still reinforce the behavior by connecting it to a positive outcome. This action communicates conditions in implicit or unexpressed boundaries and helps your kids make the connection between the choices they’ve made and the positive outcomes of those choices.)
Caution: Avoid praise that connects your child’s worth to his or her choice or those that reinforce people-pleasing: “I like the way you behaved the last time we were at this restaurant.” “I really like you when get good grades.” “You’re so good when you don’t fight with your brother.” “You make me happy when you clean your room.” Focus on the child’s behavior and how the cooperative choice benefits the child, not you!
Description: Inaction; lack of cooperative behavior. Neutral or non-disruptive behavior that is nevertheless off task (that is, the child is not doing what you’ve asked or has not done what you’ve asked).
Intervention Strategy: Motivating with meaningful positive outcomes; offering choices to accommodate your children’s needs for power and autonomy (within limits that protect their need for safety and security).
Goal: Eliciting cooperative, constructive behavior from your children; getting them to do what you’ve asked
Process: Connecting low-probability behavior (what you want) to high-probability behavior (what your child wants):
Examples: “If you finish your homework before the movie starts, you can watch it with us.” “You can go out as soon as your bed it made and your clothes are folded and put away.” “If you’re in bed by the time the big hand is on the six, I’ll have time to read you a story.”
Note: To be effective, motivator (outcome) must be meaningful and need fulfilling to the child.
Connection to Boundary: The motivating statement is the boundary, connecting what the children want to what you want and expressing the conditions, terms or limits under which they can have or do what they want.
Description: Negative behavior that is interfering, in some way, with someone else’s needs. May include disrespectful or obnoxious behavior, oppositional behavior, destructive behavior or any behavior that causes a problem for someone else.
Intervention Strategy: Removing or withholding privileges or positive consequences; holding children accountable for their behavior.
Goal: Stopping the negative behavior and encouraging more cooperative choices; building responsibility, accountability and self-management. Note: The goal is not punishment or exacting some time of penalty or revenge, tempting though that may be.
Process: Depending on the behavior and prior contingencies set up, you may wish to use any of the following as they apply:
- Remove (or refuse to allow) access to positive consequences until behavior stops or until your children fulfill their end of the bargain (change to cooperative behavior, complete the task, etc.
- Ask the child to change his or her behavior: “Stop! Books are not for pulling!” “We don’t drink juice on the couch.”
- Present acceptable (positive) options: “You can share the book without fighting over it or you can each read a book on your own.” “You can yell in your room (or the garage), or you can play quietly in the family room.”
- Leave the door open for your child to stop and change negative behaviors. Give him or her time to work it out— without creating additional problems for anyone else.
- Use promises instead of threats to gain cooperation: “I will wash your clothes if they are in the hamper by Saturday at 9:00 a.m.” “You can go out when your chores are done.”
Caution: Once previously-announced limits have been violated, remove or withdraw the privileges immediately (until behavior has been corrected, until the time specified in the original boundary, or until the children correct, repair, restore or replace materials or areas damaged or disarranged. Part of good follow-through involves insisting or requiring that the children change their behavior in order to gain (or regain) access to meaningful outcomes or privileges. Leaving the door open for your children to stop and replace negative behaviors
Avoid warnings and reminders after the fact. Do not ask “why”. Instead, ask what the child plans to do to correct the situation (or make different choices in the future).
Avoid punishing, giving advice or solutions, making excuses for misbehavior, or taking responsibility for your children’s problems.
Intervene without making your children wrong, accepting them even though you do not accept the behavior.
Note: Many misbehaviors can be avoided by getting your children’s attention before giving clear directions or by making requests ahead of time, by making sure that your requests are developmentally appropriate (that they are developmentally ready and have the appropriate experience, strength and resources to accommodate your request), and by physical proximity and eye contact. Further, minimizing reactions whenever possible, validating children’s feelings or reality, and maintaining a sense of humor can avert many problems.
Note: If a misbehavior or potential misbehavior is due to lack or misunderstanding of directions, interrupt the behavior: “Stop” or “Freeze.” Give additional information or directions, or suggest more acceptable options, especially if the desired behavior hasn’t been requested, clarified or practiced beforehand: “Stop. We don’t pour paint in the trash can. Pour the paint in the sink and run the water until you can’t see the paint anymore.”
Connection to Boundary: Boundaries offer conditional access to positive outcomes (privileges, meaningful activities, for example). As long as your children behave in ways that respect the conditions of the boundary, they retain the privilege the boundary promises. (For example, they get their dinner cooked as long as the counters are cleared by 5:00, they can go out and play as soon as their room is clean or their chores are done, or they can use the car as long as they bring it home by a certain time, with a certain amount of gas in the tank.) As soon as those conditions are violated, the privilege is removed. (It’s a good idea to set up the time frame beforehand: “If this doesn’t work out, we’ll try again in next week (or tomorrow, in three weeks, etc.)” Keep in mind that removal of positive consequence depends on availability of positive consequence, which is why a reward-oriented, win-win environment makes this process possible and effective.
This book will be available at CMCS Parent Lending Library in the Fall of 2011-2012. Amazon Gift Card donations are welcome to help the continuous development of this valuable resource.
Excerpted and adapted from The Win-Win Classroom by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D., 2008, Corwin Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA. Similar strategies are described in Parents, Teens & Boundaries and The Parent's Little Book of Lists: Do's & Don't for Effective Parenting.