Guidelines for Management of Child’s Behavior Using Behavioral Therapy
The most important thing to remember about managing your child’s behavior is that all behavior is motivated; that is, there is some reason why the behavior is being performed. This means that the behavior can be changed by using “rewards” that motivate the child. Many people think that this means always giving the child a material object, such as a toy, for behaving in a certain way. This approach quickly turns into manipulation in which the child will not behave well unless the object is forthcoming; in other words, the parent winds up “bribing” the child to behave. The truth is that most rewards do not involve any significant expense or time for the parent. For the following set of rules, we will refer to reward as anything that produces the behavior we want from the child.
For this system, the home is viewed as a place in which there is an adult caregiver and the child. Many things in the home are rewards for good behavior, including the privilege of watching the television or playing with a video game, food treats, time spent with the parent, or time spent with toys that “belong” to the child. For example, a child may have received a bicycle as a present for a birthday, but the time he gets to spend riding it can be used as a reward by the parent. The parent is always in charge, and it is important for the child to know this, not by telling him repeatedly, but by the actions of the parents. It is not wise for the parent to give in to anger when dealing with a child, because this puts the parent on the child’s level and may result in physical or emotional abuse. When a parent senses that he or she is becoming too angry to deal with the child, he or she should make sure the child is safe, such as by placing him in his own bedroom, and telling him that the behavior will be addressed in a few minutes.
It is important for ALL caregivers of the child, including grandparents and other members of the extended family, to be aware of the guidelines.
Awaken the child slowly and have him toilet himself. Give him a few choices of clothing to wear and let him select his choice. Often, children get out of control when they have too many choices.
Allow him privacy to dress himself. Help with buttons, zippers, and shoe laces if necessary.
Breakfast should be simple and calm. Instead of asking him what he wants, provide a balanced meal. If he chooses not to eat, that is his choice. Offer no other selections.
Meals should be taken at a table and not in front of the television. They should be rich in protein, which improves concentration.
During the Day
Preschool children need a variety of activities. Remember that their attention span is short. Again, limit use of the television and computer, as these are felt to stimulate the brain in an abnormal way, promoting the development of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Suggested time is no more than 2 hours TOTAL per day, and time should be “earned.” See below.
A quiet time or nap in the afternoon promotes growth. This should take place naturally after lunch and last from 45 minutes to 2 hours.
It is important that the child be exposed to the outdoors, unless weather is too inclement. This actually boosts the immune system. Children should be supervised outdoors.
Physical exercise, whether inside or outdoors, is necessary each day. The child should be tired from physical and mental activities by the end of the day.
Include activities that promote quiet, such as looking at books, coloring, and working simple puzzles. After the evening meal, all activities should be quieter, leading the child naturally to bedtime.
The day should include some chores so that the child gets a sense of personal investment in maintaining the home. These should include some chores that he is always to do, such as pick up toys, and some that help with the home, such as taking out trash, setting the table, helping to prepare a meal, and so on. Break chores down into small parts. For example, instead of telling the child to pick up his toys, have a string or other device that you can place around an area to be cleaned. Then, move the string.
Completion of chores should be rewarded by privileges, such as earning television time. Proportion the chore to the reward: the bigger the chore, the bigger the reward. Get creative with rewards. If you decide to provide a food reward, it may be a small one, such as one or two Skittles or M & M’s, rather than a whole bag. Stickers are good, especially if placed on a chore calendar, so that the child may mark his own progress. A certain number of stickers earned may be used to earn a bigger reward. If you decide to use money as a reward, be sure to let the child have the money, and use a small amount, such as a dime or quarter or nickels and dimes with younger children. Alternate material rewards, such as money, candy, or a small toy, with time spent with the child or other non-material privilege. There are many books in the library to help the parent develop this type of reward system.
Another type of “reward” is the withdrawal of privileges. Again, make the withdrawal of the privilege equal to the thing being withdrawn. For example, if a chore is not completed with the time allotted by the parent, then a trip to the library is postponed for one day.
Rewards should be equal to the task and provided promptly. For example, the parent cannot expect a young child to wait a month for something. Children of preschool or below think that 5 minutes is a long time. They have no concept at all of a month. Do not promise a reward and not provide it. Think ahead and have small rewards ready. After behavior is established, rewards may be lessened to every other time, then every third time, and so on. Eventually, the behavior will be ingrained and not require a reward other than praise.
Select a bedtime for the child, usually 7 to 8 p.m., and stick to it. If you choose to allow the child to remain out of bed later on weekends, make sure he knows that was your decision, and not something he “got away with.”
Have bedtime rituals that signal the body that it is preparing for sleep. One hour prior to bedtime, give a soothing, warm bath or shower. Provide a small carbohydrate-based snack (such as a cracker and small glass of milk or juice). If the child has problems with enuresis, provide only a very small amount of liquid with the snack. Have the child brush his teeth. Then, it’s time for bed. There should be no television or blinking lights in the child’s bedroom. The room should be darkened. If the child requires a nightlight, replace the bulb with a red Christmas light bulb. Even a low-light regular bulb can prevent deep wave sleep, but the light waves of a red light do not do this. Read the child a story if you have time. Classical music is helpful to lull the child to sleep.
Do not allow the child to get out of bed for that last drink, to tell you he loves you, or any one of a million reasons that a child can imagine to delay bedtime. If necessary, lock his door until a pattern is established. AT NO TIME SHOULD YOU PUT THE CHILD IN DANGER, HOWEVER. Do not respond to the child’s yelling for you, screaming, crying, saying he feels sick, etc.
Remember, regarding behavior
Anything we pay attention to INCREASES.
Anything we ignore DECREASES.
If you want to see more of a behavior, pay attention to it. If you want to see less of a behavior, ignore it. This means that the parent does not draw attention to poor behavior. If the child is performing a behavior that is hurting him or someone else, he should be removed from the scene with no comment and his attention redirected. Punishment such as spanking does not change behavior.
For a physical punishment to work, it would have to be done to the extent that permanent physical and mental damage would result from it.
It is easier to see permanent results if the parent decides on a few rules and sticks to them. They should be simple, such as “We do not hurt ourselves or others.” The rules can be posted in the home even for preschool children to remind them that there is a parent who is in charge and who has their best interest at heart. It is also a good reminder to other people who visit the home and may be involved in caring for the child.