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Managing difficult behaviors in young children

submitted by Christie Capriotti, M.Ed., BCBA, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, MK Plus, mkplusnewtown.com

Parenting young children is a difficult job. All children occasionally display behaviors that are hard to manage, but sometimes these difficult behaviors take over the family life and impact a child and family in a negative way.

Behavior Specialists use the techniques of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to reduce disruptive behaviors and to increase desirable behaviors.

While all behaviors aren’t treated equally, there are general techniques that parents can use to bring about change.

  • Positive Praise

It’s easy to focus on the disruptive behavior and to ignore the positive behavior, but this sometimes increases the disruptive behavior. Children crave attention and will take it any way they can get it, even if it’s negative. Make a point to praise your child for the behaviors you want to see more of (I love that you’re sharing, thank you for picking up your shoes, you are great at building blocks). The rule of thumb is five positives for each negative.

  • Keep a Consistent Routine

Routines help children know what is coming next and what is expected of them at what time. Tantrum behavior can be reduced when kids know ahead of time what the order of their day will be.

  • Establish Clear Rules

Discuss family rules and decide ahead of time what the consequence for breaking a rule will be. Keep the rule list short – about five items – and post them in a central location. Use picture cues for young kids.

  • Motivate

Use a reward system to help motivate your child to display desired behaviors. Track occurrences of behaviors using a sticker chart, tally sheet, or point system. Use small but desirable rewards that can be earned repeatedly (extra book at bedtime, board game with a parent, phone call to relative). Be creative and change up rewards when necessary.