Biting, Hitting and Pushing: Bad Behavior or Sensory Processing Disorder?

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I often have teachers and parents ask me if a child’s sensory Blog-Bad-Behavior-or-SPD-Main-Landscapeprocessing is causing them to behave badly in school. In kindergarten especially, we often see “bad behavior” manifest in many ways: kicking or hitting peers, biting friends, spitting, or yelling at others. In some cases, the child’s sensory system may be to blame. In others, bad behavior could be contributed to the child seeking out attention, or avoiding work or non-preferred play. Read below to help identify and understand the difference between the two.

Sensory Processing:

When a child’s nervous system cannot respond logically to incoming sensory input (such as loud talking in the cafeteria), the result may cause the child to appear disorganized, clumsy, or disobedient. Oftentimes, children who are seeking out movement (vestibular input) or body position (proprioceptive input) are often the children who crave bear hugs or body squeezes. These are the climbers, the explorers, and the daredevils as they are attempting to seek out extra information from the environment to feel more organized. When they are not given these opportunities, they may resort to inefficient ways to help seek out information which may manifest into tackling, hitting or biting friends. When these children are given ways to regulate efficiently, such as 10 minutes of heavy work activities on the playground, or intense proprioceptive or vestibular input before sitting down at the table to complete the day’s activities, they are much better able to respond and attend to the activities.


Behavior, which can be defined as the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others, often is the result of a conglomeration of events. For example, a child’s bad behavior may be a response to a negative sensory experience, or it may be the child’s way of receiving more attention from parents, teachers and friends, or it may be both. A child with sensory concerns who often tackles peers or siblings may be attempting to receive feedback from the environment. However, it’s also possible he is looking for ways to get attention from others in his environment. When this is the case, it is important to follow up with a strategic plan. Experts recommend attempting to ignore the behavior as much as possible (not overreacting to the situation, ensuring the child follows through on the task required of them no matter what behavior they are exhibiting, ignoring disrespectful behavior and not responding until the child appropriately requests for help). Rewarding good behavior via a positive reinforcement chart, acknowledgement of a job well done, and praise for completing the task at hand are all examples of ways to reward good behavior.

There is no easy solution for recognizing the difference between bad behavior and sensory processing disorder. Oftentimes, parents and teachers may need to take each event on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not the breakdown occurred as a result of a sensory processing difficulty. To help decipher the difference between the two, I recommend keeping track of the specific behaviors in a journal to help identify any triggers or common events that provoke the child and cause the disruption.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


My Child Chews on Their Shirt

Many children chew on various things such as clothing, toys, and other household items. Blog-Chew-Main-PortraitThis can be a way of your child exploring his environment, fulfilling a sensory need, or it is being used as a calming strategy. Chewing on items is very common in children with autism as well as some typically developing children. Shirts are most often the item that gets chewed on because it is always available and easily accessible.

Below are a few tips on how to properly address children who chew:

  • Replace the shirt with a chewing toy. These items will allow your child to get that oral input of chewing without destroying their clothing. Chewing toys come in many forms such as tubes, necklaces, bracelets and shapes, and they are widely available on many therapeutic websites. Make sure this chewing toy is always accessible, and if you see your child begin to chew on his shirt, immediately give him the chewing item, or better yet have your child wear the chewing item so it is easily accessible.
  • If the chewing is something your child does when he is nervous, begin to explore other calming techniques in an attempt to replace the chewing with something more socially appropriate.
  • Reinforce your child during times when he is not chewing on his shirt.
  • Taking chewing breaks throughout the day. Engage your child in very fun and reinforcing activities, but let them know the chewing item needs to be put aside while they engage in the activity. Activities can include swinging, going to the park, playing a game on a tablet, singing songs, or whatever activity is really reinforcing to your child.
  • Engage your child in various oral exercises such as singing, blowing bubbles, making different sounds with their mouth, etc. Be creative and make these exercises fun and enjoyable.
  • If it seems like your child is in pain while he is chewing on items, it is important to seek the opinion of a medical professional to rule out any medical or dental issues.

If the chewing does not decrease over time or begins to worsen, there are a variety of therapists that are able to help with this behavior. These therapists can include Board Certified Behavior Analysts, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, or Social Workers. Once the function of the behavior is determined, your child could begin one of the above therapies to assist in decreasing the behavior.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


Beyond Time-Outs – What to do When Your Toddler Acts Out

When your child takes the crayons out of the closet and draws on the living Time-Out-Main-Landscaperoom walls, a common reaction would be to put him or her in time-out. After the time-out, your child goes back and draws on the walls again. What is happening? Sometimes, time-outs aren’t the best way to show your child what’s appropriate or inappropriate.

What is a time-out?

A time-out is a procedure that is used to decrease future occurrences of a specific behavior (e.g., drawing on the walls with crayons). There are many types of time-out procedures that can be utilized.

A time-out can be beneficial when the “cause” of the behavior is determined. A child engages in these behaviors to communicate his or her wants/needs. For example, if Jessie is playing on the playground with her peers and kicks David, Jessie may be attempting to remove David from playing on the jungle gym or gain attention from David to play with him. It’s important to pay attention to what happens right before and right after the behaviors occurs to help determine what your child is communicating to you.

Time-outs can be harmful when the person implementing the procedure overuses it and it becomes his or her “go-to” method for all target behaviors. Since time-outs are used to remove reinforcement for a portion of time, the procedure does not teach positive behaviors that the child can engage in instead.

There is evidence that time-out procedures are effective, however; other less restrictive methods, such as reinforcement, can be just as effective in isolation or in combination with time-outs.

What can you do other than a time-out?

Since time-outs can be very restrictive, interventions that include reinforcement and proactive procedures can help decrease the future occurrences of a problem behavior. They can also help reduce the need to use time-outs. Here are a few strategies that can help reduce problem behaviors:

Proactive Procedures (procedures that occur before a behavior):

  • Provide choices for activities/items (when possible): Select between two and three choices at one time to avoid overwhelming the child.
    • Example: If Johnny is about to eat dinner, you can provide him the choice of which vegetables to eat by saying, “Would you like carrots or peas with dinner?” This may decrease Johnny’s refusal behavior by allowing him to make his own choice, rather than being instructed to do something.
  • Give frequent reminders and expectations throughout the day: This can be in the form of vocal or visual displays (e.g., speaking to your child or showing him or her pictures of the expectations).
    • Example: If Debbie has a doctor’s appointment at 3 p.m., you can say, “Remember, you have a doctor’s appointing at 3 p.m., then we can get ice cream at your favorite store!” You can provide this reminder every two hours until 3 p.m.

Reactive Procedures (procedures that occur after a behavior):

  • Provide specific praise for appropriate behaviors: Specific praise includes the particular action that the child did in addition to the positive words (e.g., “Wow!” “Great job”) or actions (e.g., high fives, hugs) provided.
    • Example: If your child is politely asking his sibling for a toy she’s playing with instead of kicking her to gain access to the toy, say, “Awesome job asking your sister for the toy. That was really nice of you Billy.”
  • Ignore the problem behavior and only attend to the appropriate behaviors (if there is no immediate danger): You can help your child engage in the appropriate behavior by modeling or prompting the response.
    • Example: If your child is screaming to access the cookies on the top shelf, you can ignore the screaming and tell him, “If you want the cookies, you can say, ‘Can I have one cookie please?’” Then you can provide attention and praise when he complies with politely asking for the cookies instead of screaming.

Providing attention and praise to your child’s appropriate behaviors may help decrease the frequency of problem behaviors and need to use time-outs. To help with the use of time-outs and other intervention strategies to treat both appropriate and problem behaviors, contact a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in your area.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


raising a good sport

“Good Game!” Smart Strategies for Raising a Good Sport

“Good game, good game, good game…” The image of teammates lining up at the end of a sporting event to acknowledge one another and give a hand shake is one that is well known to most. Go Hawks! Although the sentiment may not be the same for all players involved at the end of a tough game, it is a ritual that has lived on and is a vital component to being a “good sport”.

Being a good sport may be something that comes easily for some, but others could use a few pointers. As a parent, there are a few things you can do to work with your child in becoming a better sport. In Fred Frankels book, “Friends Forever: How parents can help their kids make and keep good friends,” he outlines some easy steps to helping your child master the art of sportsmanship!

Tips for raising a good sport:

  1. Take the game seriously – when first joining a team or group of friends, it’s important to take the gameStrategies for Raising a Good Sport seriously with the others involved – goofing around could show the kids that you aren’t ready to play by the rules!
  2. Avoid refereeing – instead of arguing about the rules and pointing out mistakes other kids have made, let someone else do it!
  3. Let others have fun, too – If your child is MVP, teach them to let others have a chance to win, too.
  4. Give praise – it’s important to teach (and MODEL) to your child that winning is not the most important thing- it’s having fun! Learning different ways to praise his friends and teammates is vital – things like “good shot”, “nice try” and the ever-popular “good game” are just a few examples!
  5. Suggest a new rule instead of arguing – instead of shouting out when someone does something wrong, suggest that from this point “the white line is out”.
  6. Don’t walk away if you are losing or tired of playing – teaching your child to stay until the end of a round or talking to the teammates about maybe playing something new is important before just walking away!

As a parent, if you are able to watch your child in action at the park or on the field, it can be vital to remind your child of these rules and address them as they are or aren’t happening. If possible, it is ideal to be able to call your child over and talk with them briefly about what you saw and gently remind them with specific examples. Remember, as in learning any new skill, it takes some practice and reminders! Be patient and let the art of sportsmanship live on!

Click here for more tips on raising a good sport!

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

using reinforcement and punishment

Using Reinforcement and Punishment at Home

How do I get my child to listen to me at home? This is a common question I hear from parents.  One solution is by using the basic principles of reinforcement and punishment. These principles will allow parents to gain control over their child’s behavior, and they will begin to see a decrease in negative behaviors and an increase in positive behaviors at home.

Tips for Using Reinforcement at Home
using reinforcement and punishment

Reinforcement is a consequence following a behavior that increases the probability that the behavior will increase in the future.

When you want to see a desired behavior increase or continue to occur, you should use reinforcement. It is important to first identify what is reinforcing to your child. Some children are very reinforced by adult attention, whereas other children are motivated by being alone playing electronics. It is also important to have variety of reinforcers that are used. If you are reinforcing your child with the same item over and over again, they are likely to get bored with that item.

Of course you don’t want to give your child access to the iPad every time they engage in a desired behavior, so you need to mix and vary the type of reinforcement used. Reinforcement can range from simple praise for taking out the garbage to buying highly desired toy for getting all A’s on the latest report card. Decide which behaviors you currently are trying to increase or maintain, and then deliver the reinforcement accordingly. For example, if there is a particularly challenging behavior that you are trying to increase (ex: potty training), you should pick an item that is very motivating to your child, and only give them access to that item when they engage in the desired behavior (i.e. using the potty). The item should be unavailable at all other times.

Examples of reinforcers that can be used at home include: praise and attention, treats, access to preferred electronics, being allowed to stay up later than usual, buying a desired toy, etc.

Tips for using Punishment at Home

Punishment is a consequence following a behavior that decreases the probability that a particular behavior will occur in the future.

When a behavior occurs that you want to eliminate or decrease, you should use punishment. Punishment is a necessary strategy to use when decreasing undesirable behaviors. Punishment doesn’t need to be something bad or something that your child fears. It is simply a consequence to a specific behavior.

As with reinforcement, you need to determine what is going to be an effective punishment for your child. If you child isn’t really motivated by electronics, then taking away electronics privileges probably won’t change their behavior. Conversely, if your child dislikes doing chores, then giving extra chores should decrease the behavior.

Examples of punishments that can be used at home include: time out, loss of privileges or preferred items, going to bed early, extra chores, etc.

Important Considerations for Using Reinforcement and Punishment

Always be mindful of how much you are using punishment, and to make sure you are also using reinforcement in addition to punishment. When children do not receive any reinforcement, they may start misbehaving more frequently in order to gain adult attention. It can be easy to focus on the negative behaviors and forget to reinforce the positive behaviors that you see.

Just as you need to make sure you are not solely punishing behaviors, it is also equally as bad to make sure you are not solely reinforcing behaviors and avoiding punishment altogether. If your child is engaging in specific behaviors that you want to stop, punishment needs to be used. It is important to remember that you are not punishing your child, rather you are punishing a specific behavior or set of behaviors.

As your child gets older, the items used for reinforcement and punishment should also change. Both the reinforcers and punishers used should always be age appropriate. Finally, when delivering either reinforcement or punishment, make sure you are delivering the consequence as soon as possible after the behavior occurred, so that your child knows exactly which behavior is being reinforced or punished.

For more specific definitions and examples of both reinforcement and punishment, you can reference my last blog: How to properly use reinforcement and punishment.

time outs done right

Time-Outs: Discipline Done Right

Many parents express concern that their time-out strategies do not work.  However, when implemented appropriately, time-outs can be a useful tool for managing problematic behavior in children.  Instead of a time-out being a punishment, it can be viewed as a means to teach children how to “take a break” from a situation in order to self-regulate and calm their bodies and thoughts.  Time-outs can be an effective discipline technique when done right.

Try implementing these tips for effective time-outs:

  • Give your child a warning for non-physical behaviors (e.g., yelling) that warrant a time-out. time outs done rightCounting to three can be an effective means to teach children that they are displaying inappropriate behaviors which will lead to a time-out if they choose to continue.  For physically aggressive behaviors, children should be immediately sent to time-out.
  • Location, location, location. Time-out should involve a child being placed in a chair facing a wall, preferably in a room that limits distractions. Parents will often place children in their rooms which can be fun and counterproductive. In the world of time-out, boring is better!
  • Do not provide any social attention such as eye-contact or verbal remarks when the child is in time-out.
  • But my child will not stay in the time-out chair! At times, parents may need to prompt their children to stay seated. This could involve physically redirecting your child to the time-out chair, or standing in front of their chair similarly to a guard.  Remember, do not provide any social attention when your child is in time-out.
  • Use a timer. Set a timer somewhere within the child’s view, but not within their reach. A good rule of thumb is to use your child’s age to determine the number of minutes for the timer to be set (5 years would be 5 minutes).  However, the time-out period can be brief, as long as the child is calm and not exhibiting any negative behaviors.  The key is that children do not need to stay in time-out the entire time. This will teach your child that it is up to them to determine that they are relaxed, ready, and able to reintegrate into their previous setting.  If your child continues to display tantrum behaviors after the timer is up, re-set the timer for the same amount of time and tell your child, “Oh, it seems like you are still not ready to leave your time-out chair. We need to set it for another 5 minutes.”
  • Once time-out is finished, your child should be instructed to engage in a remediation behavior (e.g., clean up toys previously thrown), or prompted to show some type of pro-social behavior toward the person target of their aggression (e.g., hand shake, a hug, saying “Sorry”).

Extra Food For Thought in using Time-Outs:

  • Think of alternative behaviors to teach. Underlying all problem behaviors is a function.  If triggers have been identified for your child’s misbehavior, teach them adaptive ways of obtaining what they want.
  • Catch them when they are good! Kids love attention, so make every effort to praise them when they behave appropriately. We want your children to learn that you are like a light switch that turns on for good behaviors, but off for bad behaviors.

Click here to read more about positive v. negative punishment.

fecal smearing

How to Help Reduce Fecal Smearing in Children with Autism

Co-written by Jessica Wein MSW, LSW

In order to change or eliminate a behavior, such as fecal smearing, it is important to first understand the function of the behavior. There is a reason your child is engaging in this behavior, so understanding the motivation behind it will best inform the type of intervention/s to employ. One way to ascertain the necessary information, is to find out the “ABCs” of the behavior:

A- Antecedent; what occurs directly before and/or leading up to the behavior (fecal smearing)?
B- Behavior; the behavior itself
C- Consequence; what occurs after the behavior including reactions of caretakers?

Motivations to engage in smearing fecal matter can range from attention seeking purposes to serving a sensory input need. In some cases, there can be several motivations for the child to engage in this behavior.

Once you know the “ABCs” of the behavior, you can then manipulate certain aspects of the environment (i.e. the antecedent and/or consequence) as means to change or eliminate the behavior altogether.

For children on the autism spectrum, it is important to utilize a behavioral approach, using few (if any) words. It is also important for the caregiver to remain emotionally neutral when the child is engaging in fecal smearing. Specifically, not showing a positive or negative reaction. It can also be helpful for the caregiver to reward and provide consistent, positive praise when the child engages in more ideal behaviors. By giving attention to positive behaviors, the child will learn which behaviors earn positive attention and/or desired rewards.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

Some helpful tips to reduce fecal smearing:

  • Social stories which reinforce the routine of appropriate bowel care
  • Clothing which can inhibit access: for example back zip footed pajamas
  • Messy play

Children may seek different types of input from poop smearing such as scent, texture or the temperature. To accommodate these sensory experiences try:

  • Scent: smell sharp smelling cheese or play doh that is scented
  • Touch: play-doh; slime
  • Visual: finger painting; shaving cream


Giving kids power

How to Give Appropriate Power to Children

Have you ever found yourself engaged in a power struggle with your child?  Most parents have and they can also relate to those uncomfortable feelings that often accompany such struggles.  Ironically, those feelings of frustration, being misunderstood and unappreciated, anger, exhaustion and powerlessness are all too commonly experienced on both sides of the struggle- by you and your child.

Feeling that we have influence over our lives impacts our sense of security and self-efficacy.  Think about this in the context of parenting.  When your children follow rules to complete their homework before watching TV and subsequently earn good grades, you feel that you are able to parent effectively.  You feel good about this and, ultimately, you feel good about yourself.  You are aware of the connection between your help with the child’s schoolwork and the resulting good grade.  This is true for children as well.

One way to manage power struggles is actively to elect to give your child power in the situation through choices.  You are not relinquishing your authority as a parent, but rather providing an opportunity for your child to grow.  Providing children with choices allows them to learn the connection between their behavior and the consequence (good or bad).  It also allows children to feel they have a positive way to impact their life.  As adults, we need to help children find those positive opportunities for them to  feel powerful.  As children see making a choice is an effective way to have influence and express oneself, children are less likely to engage in tantrums or power struggles as they can see there is another way that works.  Furthermore, as children grow, learning to make choices increases their sense of independence and self-esteem.  This is particularly important as children move into the teenage years where they are faced with difficult decisions and peer pressure.  Teens with higher self-esteem are going to be more likely to make safe and positive choices even in the face of peer pressure.

Tips for Giving Children Appropriate Power:

  1. Giving kids powerRecognizing your own feelings (without judgment) is an important step in taking control of these situations.  Once you are aware of your feelings, you can make a choice to model self-regulation and positive decision making for your child while you work to address the situation.
  2. Provide children with opportunities to make choices.  Giving children choices allows you as the parent to provide structure and security while fostering independence and self-esteem.  Children are more likely to connect their behavior with a consequence (good or bad) when they have the opportunity to make a choice that includes their action and a result.
  3. Natural consequences are a great first step in providing choices.  For instance, if a child throws a toy across the room, first ask the child to pick it up.  If the child will not pick it up, then provide a choice of picking up the toy or taking a time out.
  4. Allow children to express anger, frustration, and emotions in appropriate ways.  Encourage them to share this with you.  Listen and validate their feelings.  Even if you do not agree with your child, your child’s emotions are real to him/her.  Knowing he/she can share this with you even if you feel differently decreases their need to express this in maladaptive ways.  During this time, try to refrain from jumping into problem solving mode as this takes away the child’s sense of power in addressing these.
  5. Accept your child’s choice even if it is not the choice you had hoped they would make.  Acceptance–without showing your disappointment or frustration in that moment–will allow the child the autonomy of experiencing his choice.  Sometimes children may make a choice to earn a consequence for reasons that had not been apparent to the adults.  When all are calm, ask the child about this in a genuinely curious and non-judgmental fashion.  This may provide you with important insight.
  6. Put less emphasis on the punishment and more emphasis on earning privileges.  Children will be more motivated to work for a goal rather than to avoid a sanction.
  7. It is important to be consistent and follow through.  Structure allows children to feel safe.  This increases a child’s sense of security, independence, and self-esteem.
  8. In the case of older children, a great way to work in opportunities for them to feel independent and powerful is asking for their input on age appropriate issues.  For instance, in planning a birthday party for Grandma (assuming she does not care) you might ask your child, “Do you think Grandma would like chocolate or vanilla ice cream with her birthday cake?”  This shows your child his/her opinion matters and validates self-worth.  Building up self-worth in times when things are not a midst a power struggle helps to mediate the more difficult times.
  9. When things don’t go well, talk about it with your children.  It is important to share how you might have made a better choice as well as ask them about their part in a power struggle.  This is not effective when emotions are high: it is important to wait until both you and your child have had the opportunity to calm down.  You might even ask your child how to better manage this in the future.
  10. An appropriate way for kids to feel power in relationships is through play.  Play is the child’s medium for making sense of the world.  Initiate a game of make-believe with your child and allow him to assign you a role.  Allow him (assuming the play is safe) to be the powerful character.  As you continue to play, you may find the child will change the roles; this shows his process of working it through.  Play strategies are appropriate for older children as well.   Play is a great way to give children power and a sense of self-efficacy: playing games together provides problem solving practice and creates opportunities to practice winning/losing in an appropriate manner.

In essence, as a parent, helping your child find positive ways to have control in your relationship is a strong life lesson.  This is a challenging task and requires you to relinquish control of some things you may want to go a specific way.  In the bigger picture of your child’s life, however, if the child is safe and you feel you can accept a minor change in a plan, it will be well worth all your efforts.

Peer pressure

Social Thinking: Improving social skills to enhance socio-emotional health

What is social thinking?

Social thinking is what we do when we interact with people. For successful social interactions, it is important that the individual take in and process information embedded in both verbal and non-verbal cues and process how to effectively respond based on the context and topic of presented material. Joint attention, knowledge of expectations regarding behavior, and mental flexibility are all key components for appropriate social relationships. When a child has difficulty with focus, understanding the context of the environment around them, and lacks knowledge of how their behaviors make others feel, social thinking may be impaired.

Social skills deficits can have profound effects on your child’s academic performance, feelings about self, ability to connect with others, and achieve desired wants and needs. Breaking down the components of the social uses of language can help children navigate their social environments and various contexts. For example, children talk differently to their siblings than they would talk to peers at school and might present their anger at mom differently than they would present to their classroom teacher. To enhance the social skills, pragmatic language and engagement in expected behaviors can be targeted by both social workers and speech-Peer pressurelanguage pathologists.

For pragmatic language development, the speech pathologist works towards child comprehension of the context and function of a message and how to use language in social situations, such as turn taking, staying on topic, and how to use verbal and non-verbal signals. In terms of enhancing social relationships, the social worker aids the child in understanding the context of their environment and provides education for impulse control, how to evaluate potential outcomes to enhance positive choice-making, and how various behaviors impact individuals around them.

What you can do at home to improve social thinking

  1. Teach expectations of behavior. If a child can begin to associate engagement in positive behaviors with positive responses from others, and overall enhanced feelings of self as the result, they can then come to recognize the impact of their behavior on others. This can foster increased positive decision-making as they begin to make connections with how their behaviors affect them and those around them. For example, if the child complies with an adult directive, the parent feels happy and may offer praise and positive attention thereby making the child feel good and reaffirms that this choice is the correct choice given the situation.
  2. Differentiate between contexts. Teach your child that what is permissible and “expected” at home may not always be the same across the board. Define what behaviors are appropriate in a variety of situations and explain to your child why these changes exist. For example, you may be able to negotiate your wants and needs at home with your parents but at school, you need to listen and follow teacher directives.
  3. Role Play Scenarios. Practice different situations that allow your child to see the implications of their behavior. Play with your child to model real-life scenarios that would elicit both positive and negative reactions to learn about the interrelation between behavior and emotion. For example, “How would you feel if Tommy took away your toys?” Asking your child how Tommy could make him feel happy or excited about spending time together can help teach appropriate decision-making and modes of interaction.


Child being told to be quiet

Working With Parents Regarding Behaviors at Home

One of the major stressors that parents have to deal with on a daily basis is negative behaviors.  Negative behaviors can take the form of  non-compliance, physical aggression, and/or verbal aggression.  Behavioral management focuses on increasing on-task behaviors (e.g. behaviors parents want the child to engage in) while extinguishing off-task behaviors (the negative behavior).   Below are some bullet points that are important for parents to realize about behavioral management.

  • Child being told to be quietNegative behaviors always increase in intensity when being modified or extinguished.
  • Focus should almost always be on positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors
  • Punishment only utilized when behavior is dangerous to the child or others
  • Reasons for failure of reinforcement systems

o   Too confusing; if we as adults do not understand them, then the child of course will not

o   The wrong behavior is being addressed

  • Goals need to be attainable

o   Child and parent have to see that the system will work

o   Slowly increase demands

  • Never take away a reinforcement that a child earned
  • The reinforcer will constantly change

o   What is rewarding today for the child will likely be different in the near future

Behavior almost always can be modified.  It is important for parents and professionals that are working with the child to understand that, in order for a behavioral reinforcement system to work, there needs to be consistency with the approach.   The idea is to set realistic and measurable goals and constantly identify how much improvement is exhibited.

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