Saturday, January 3, 2015

Part 2: Now That I Know the Function, What Do I Do With It?

Once you decide what you think the function of the behavior is... either strengthen it or weaken it! Sometimes, as parents, we're tempted to use "blanket punishment"... sitting in "time out" or in the corner for offenses we "don't like" or even raising our voices or worse, spanking in order to "get rid" of a behavior. Or, when we see something we like, we fail to acknowledge it, believing that the desired behavior will always continue. When we know the function of the behavior, what is maintaining it, we can tailor our response to it, specifically.

Before "intervening", we need to do what we can to make sure that there are not "other" reasons for the behavior to be occurring.

If a child is instructed to sit down so his shoes can be put on and he runs away, and you determine he is avoiding putting his shoes on (if that is indeed the case... remember to look for patterns. It could be that he is running to get something. It could be that he likes the attention required to "chase" him. And so on...), you may first want to examine the situation and the shoes... Is it possible that he is running because there is something in his shoes and it hurts to have them on? Fix that, then re-evaluate. If you still determine that the little guy is still "avoiding" putting his shoes on, putting him in "time out" will most likely "strengthen" the behavior because he is still avoiding the task. However, if you believe that he is avoiding the task and you decide to follow through by helping him put his shoes on, then the behavior becomes fruitless. The child will stop running when he learns that it does him no good... the behavior is no longer functional.

If we determine that a child is hitting in order to gain access to something, we can stop the behavior by making it "useless". We make sure that when a child hits, he/she is unable to gain access to the item he wants. It may take a little time, but soon he/she will determine that the behavior "doesn't work" and the hitting to gain access to things will stop.

Very often, behaviors that we, as parents, are not that happy with are maintained by our attention to them. Whining, screaming (for no apparent reason :)), making noise as we try to read, crossing the imaginary "line" in the car and "touching" their sibling are common childhood behaviors sometimes maintained by attention. If we discover that a behavior is a result of attention and the behavior is not a safety hazard or likely to damage property... quickly determine whether or not you can stop paying attention to it. Literally ignore the behavior. It may seem silly, but as long as you react to attention-seeking behavior, it is likely to continue and even get "worse"!

REMEMBER, when implementing any intervention, CONSISTENCY is key! Look at it this way, if you only follow your planned intervention intermittently, your child will not have the opportunity to LEARN what you are trying to teach her. Instead, she will learn something else. She may learn to be more persistent with her own methods, knowing that "sometimes" you will reward her, making her less desirable behaviors functional ... even if only sometimes you don't (when you are implementing your intervention).

This, of course, simplifies the process of identifying/defining troubling behaviors, determining their function, and determining a plan to reduce them. Here are some terrific resources for more information:
The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham
Behavior Analysis of Child Development by Sidney W. Bijou

Video of Glenn Latham talking about teenagers.
Free online course materials for Glenn Latham's class on the Power of Positive Parenting at Utah State University.