Dealing with Problem Behaviors in a Positive Way

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Handling children that exhibit problem behaviors is a common concern for parents and teachers. There are different ways to correct these behaviors. Some factors to consider are severity, frequency, and end goal.

It’s tempting to punish behaviors like tantrums and aggression, but it is not always the best solution. Choosing punishment might stop the behavior, but you lose the opportunity to teach appropriate behavior. Likewise, punishment draws more attention to the problem behavior. If, for example, a child throws a tantrum because the child wants attention from the grown-ups, being punished in front of everyone might reinforce his tantrums. The child will still get the attention he or she craves, albeit the negative kind of attention. 

Replacement behavior is a technique used to correct problem behaviors while replacing them with acceptable behavior. Replacement behavior can be useful for problem behaviors that are reinforced by drawing attention to it (as in the case of tantrums). Instead of focusing on the tantrum, replacing it with something appropriate (i.e. acceptable behavior) can be more effective in the long run.  

A Few Key Terms

Terminologies can be confusing, so keep these in mind: 

·                      Problem behavior aka target behavior – the behavior that needs to be changed

·                      Replacement behavior – the behavior that you wish to replace the problem behavior with

·                      Reinforcement – a reward or action that strengthens the replacement behavior

Finding the Appropriate Replacement Behavior

To effectively carry out replacement behavior, it is important to remember that you are not simply trying to stop the problem behavior. That problem behavior needs to be replaced with something appropriate. 

How to Replace Behaviors

To explain the concept of replacement behavior, I will use the example of a first-grader who keeps standing up in class, therefore disrupting the class. 

1.                  Identify one behavior that needs to be changed – standing up in class

2.                  Determine why the problem behavior is exhibited – ask a few key questions like “why does my student keep standing up from his seat while we’re in the middle of class?” “When does he do this?” “How often does he stand?”

3.                  Determine the replacement behavior – If the student keeps standing up because he needs to go to the toilet frequently, a replacement behavior could be to have him raise his hand to signal his teacher that he needs to go to the toilet. If he keeps standing up because he feels restless, an appropriate replacement behavior would be to keep his feet under his desk.

4.                  Reinforce the replacement behavior – if the student can stay seated throughout the entire class, they can be rewarded by being given stamps. These stamps can be collected throughout an entire week, which can then be redeemed to get a bigger reward.

Summary There are different ways to deal with problem behaviors. Popular “solutions” are punishment and extinction (ignoring behavior). While these are effective, they do not encourage student success. When replacing behaviors, it is important to remember that you have to focus on the desired positive outcomes instead of focusing on the target behavior (as what happens with punishment).

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