Kids i.e Cavemen

What is behaviour? It is something we tell our children to do, but do you really know what it is? Behaviour is our reaction, or response to our environment. It is triggered by what is going on around us (called an antecedent) and depending on what happens immediately after (called a consequence) our behaviour determines if it will happen again or not. “Huh?” Let me break it down into an everyday situation:

Let’s say three year old Noah is playing and his 20 month old sister comes along and takes one of his toys. Noah hits his sister and she gives the toy back. The hitting is triggered by her taking the toy away, if she didn’t come into the room and take the toy he wouldn’t have hit her, and her giving back the toy means that he got what he wanted from performing that behaviour and will most likely do the next time she takes the toy.

Our learning history can make it difficult to change our behaviours, we get used to our behaviour producing certain results, and so the sooner a problem arises, the easier it is to change. It’s easier to change behaviour problems in younger children because it is less ingrained in them, but still not impossible for older children, and ourselves.

What do you need to know about changing a behaviour? Ethically, we should only be changing a behaviour if the problem behaviour is getting in the way of that individual learning, or quality of life and which is in the best interest of that individual, not that of the person who wants to change the behaviour. So, if you are wanting to change a problem behaviour in your child – is it for your sake, or your child’s sake? Is it that it is annoying for you, but really isn’t hurting anyone?

We define behaviour in observable ways. A tantrum could mean a whole bunch of different behaviours to different people. Instead describe what others would see when your child tantrums. One child’s tantrum could be screaming, throwing objects and banging on the walls, another’s could be crying with tears, flopping to the ground and kicking legs. If you are leaving your child with a babysitter and you say “we are working on not giving Madison what she wants when she tantrums, please do the same” maybe your babysitter has a completely different idea of what a tantrum is and when little Madison starts to cry for a toy, your babysitter undoes all your hard work. Had you said we are working on not giving Madison what she wants when she cries, stomps her feet and throws things, please do the same” is much clearer. Basically, it is to get everyone in the child/person’s care on the same page.

When we want to change a problem behaviour we want to teach a replacement behaviour. All behaviours serve a purpose, whether they are appropriate, or inappropriate. What is the skill you can teach your child to get the same results as the inappropriate behaviour? Going back to the example of Noah, there are three things that should be taught: teach him to use his words to say “that’s mine” to get his toys back, teach his sister to ask if she could play with his toys and teach them how to share toys.

Not all behaviours are bad, and often we forget to notice the good behaviours since we just assume our children should act appropriately. When you see your child doing something good, something that you expect them to do, praise them. Stop and say “wow, I like that you hung up your coat”, “I love that you are helping me clean up”, “You are doing a great job waiting!”

In trying to change any problem behaviours in our children means that we also have to change our own behaviour as to how it may trigger the behaviour and how we react to it…so everyone should be prepared to change – but it’s a good thing!imageWritten by: Jennifer Frigault, M.ADS (ABA), BCBA

Photo by: Emily Winter


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