Extinction-Child-YellingWhat is Extinction?

Extinction is a treatment strategy in which a previously reinforced behavior is no longer reinforced causing the behavior to no longer occur. For example, if a child tantrums, and always gets the iPad to calm him down, the iPad is most likely reinforcing the tantrum behavior. An extinction procedure would include discontinuing the presentation of the iPad during/immediately after a tantrum.

Other things to keep in mind when using an extinction procedure:

  • When putting a behavior on extinction, always find an alternate appropriate behavior to teach, so the child can still access the desired reinforcing aspect of the inappropriate behavior.
  • When a behavior is put on extinction, the behavior will increase before it decreases. This is known as an “extinction burst.” An extinction burst is a good clue that you have correctly targeted the reinforcing aspect of the behavior you are trying to discontinue.

What is an example of Extinction?

A child has a history of saying inappropriate words and almost always receives attention from an adult such as a gasp or being told “no” (reinforcement) immediately after. In order to put this behavior on extinction, no attention should be given after the behavior occurs. Pick an alternative behavior to increase, such as saying appropriate words instead of inappropriate words and reinforce that with attention.

Example of an Extinction Burst

A child has a history of negotiating with his parents to stay up later when they say it is time to go to bed. For the past year, that has worked. Now, when parents decided that when they say it is time for bed, the child is going to bed. The first time they discontinue negotiating bedtime, the child gets more upset, starts crying, and has a tantrum. Over the next few times, the same tantrum behaviors continues but continually gets better. After a week, the child goes to bed when he is told, “it’s bedtime.”