It is important to be familiar with several behavior management strategies because what works on one child, may not work on another child. Similarly, one strategy may not be working in all occasions. Improving your parenting toolbox is helpful for you to have different strategies to use when they are needed.
Before we dive into behavior management strategies, it is helpful to keep in mind: “A misbehaving child is not a bad child”. Separating actions from the child is a crucial task. Good people can do bad things, and your child’s mistakes do not define who they are.
Rather than criticizing or punishing an undesirable behavior, praising a desirable behavior is more effective. Frequent and consistent use of praise (active praising), can significantly improve your child’s behaviors.
While praising your child, make sure that you label the praise as “good job” or “nice work”, have an empathic tone, provide the praise immediately after the desirable behavior occurs, and avoid complicating your praise with a negative statement. For example, telling your child, “You did a great job cleaning your room. Why haven’t you done this before?” is not considered active praising.
You can choose not to react to a non-dangerous undesirable behavior. Active ignoring does not mean ignoring your child; it means ignoring the undesirable behavior when the behavior occurs. Active ignoring and active praising are parts of differential attention, which helps shape the desired behavior.
Active ignoring includes avoiding verbal or emotional reactions such as eye contact, facial expression, or any other form of communication toward the child. You should never ignore dangerous or unsafe behavior that could cause injury or worse. Defiant or angry statements directed at you; eye rolling, or smirking; mocking, taunting, or mimicking you, can be reasons to use active ignoring.
Timeouts best work for age 12 and younger. The purpose of a timeout is to interrupt your child’s undesirable behavior and to provide a punishing consequence to the unwanted behavior by depriving the child of attention. Timeout should occur in a quiet, under-stimulating room, and should only last for a few minutes. Just like with praise, consistency is an important part of using timeout. The timeout procedure should be as predictable for your child as possible. For example, your children should understand what kinds of misbehavior results in timeout, where they need to stay during the time out, and how long the timeout will last. Just as importantly, you should carry out timeouts according to the rules. If you give a 3 minute timeout to your child and the child behaves well for the first two minutes and asks to be “let out early,” it is not always a good idea to change the rules in response to the child’s request. Rules can be changed later to modify if it seems like the child responds to timeout quickly. There is no general rule about how long a time out should last. Once the timeout timer is started, I recommend you to actively ignore any behavior that your child exhibits, except for dangerous or unsafe behavior, or behavior that allows the child to escape from timeout.
Contingency Management Strategies
There are several other behavioral strategies that can be effective in decreasing undesirable behavior and increasing desirable behavior. Use of a behavior chart is one of these strategies.
Behavior charts should adhere to the following guidelines:
Select only one behavior at a time to change. Discuss with your child exactly how to earn a star, sticker, or symbol on the chart for positive behaviors. Involve your child in decisions about what the reward will be. Add up stars, stickers, symbols and give rewards daily for younger children or at least weekly for older children. Give stars and rewards consistently.
Parenting is a skill where there is always a room to improve. Your child’s behaviors will change as their developmental needs change. At the same time, their interest, skills, and personality are shaping every day. Finding the strategy that works best for your child may take time. You are already doing your best, and I am here to support your parenting journey.
Note: These are recommended parenting skills within Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy framework. These parenting skills are retrieved from TFCBT-Web.