Can I Get Help with My Child’s Behavior?
Key Themes in Positive Behavior Support: A Decade in Review
Being a parent, at times, feels like a referee making calls in a daily championship sporting event. Children can have meltdowns or resist doing simple chores at any given moment throughout the day. A parent can mediate right then in an attempt to briefly restore order, only getting a brief reprieve to even begin thinking about the dynamics at play. How did things get so challenging? Why do children behave like this and what can be done?
There is good news and better news! The good news is that behavior can be better understood and managed by addressing what happens before and after it. The better news is that these principles provide a framework for making parental decisions that work. Positive Behavior Support (PBS), first described in Parenting Special Needs just over 10 years ago (Parenting with PBS, 2009) offers this framework. This article will commemorate a decade of applications of PBS by revisiting key points of articles that reference them.
The overall purpose of PBS is more than replacing problem behavior; it is about starting with a vision of what we do want for our kids. This includes anything from enjoying meals with the family, taking care of their own personal needs, playing a sport, having a good friend, and becoming employed. Using person-centered planning (Ethan’s Alternative Tomorrow, 2011), a process that energizes a team’s collaboration toward a positive vision, we witness a child’s entire life reap the direct benefits and this improvement indirectly while simultaneously enhancing the lives of others who care for the child. In a sense, when PBS is correctly executed, it becomes ‘the gift that keeps on giving’.
If we want to see true behavior change, we have to understand why behavior occurs and continues to occur. Oftentimes, behavior has a deeper purpose than is evident at face value. As we learned in “What is ABA, Now Really?”, 2011, PBS uses the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to determine the purposes of behavior. ABA provides decades of evidence that all behavior happens either to get or avoid something – this something can include attention, items, activities, or breaks or delays from demands. ABA practitioners use objective measures with data recorded from observations to figure out what’s affecting overall behavior and track continued progress (Is it Working?, 2013). At first glance this may seem long-winded or complicated, but in the end, data-based decisions can be translated into useful strategies for behavior change.
Strategies that Work
Understanding why behavior happens leads to effective strategies. These strategies focus on changing aspects of the environment, teaching our children skills to better handle circumstances and communicate their needs, and managing the way we respond to their behavior to encourage the right things. Deciding how to approach any given behavior may rely on what is most practical, in addition to what may be most effective.
Sometimes we may find that our children’s behavior is best addressed proactively by setting expectations, avoiding circumstances that tend to be problematic, and providing a detour with preferences and distractions (Power of Prevention, 2010). How we plan for and facilitate transitions may be particularly important (Improving Transitions, 2014). Simple examples of proactive strategies would be reminding children to stay close when going in public, providing children with fun things to do when we are going to be busy doing something else, and child-proofing rooms where children are less supervised.
Teaching Positive Behavior
Other times, we may choose to approach behavior head on by replacing it altogether with something more functional or desirable. This involves identifying skills our children need to better meet their needs or function in their homes or communities and prompting and rewarding those skills. Examples of skills we might directly teach include potty training (Success on the Potty, 2013), eating a wider range of foods (Expanding Food Options for the Picky Eater, 2012), or playing independently (Teaching Independent Play, 2013). Communication is a barrier that many children face and learning to use their words or other methods (e.g., signs, pictures) to request breaks, attention, or preferred items has been shown to reduce challenging behavior that was previously used to express wants or needs.
In addition to being proactive and teaching skills, we need to pay attention to how we respond to our children’s behavior. As mentioned previously, behavior patterns develop when children are getting or avoiding something of value as a result of their behavior. We therefore want to provide attention, items, activities, and opportunities to escape unpleasant situations following positive behavior rather than in response to problem behavior. Tantrums for attention, access, or escape may be difficult to not give in to at times, but sooner than later this will become a battle we must all choose to fight. Sometimes, consequences can become the easiest thing to forget, though always remembering to provide a child some positive praise-specific to what they are doing can make the biggest difference in the long run. This can be as simple as remarking, “Hey, I really like the way you are _____, right now!” anytime a child is appropriately engaging in an activity. This can even be provided in the event that the child simply isn’t engaging in the problem behavior. Attention can be a very desirable commodity (Reinforcement, 2014).
Children thrive off of structure and the stability of routines reinforces feelings of security. Routines also improve children’s behavior. All of the different principles discussed thus far come to life with the opportunity to execute our strategies while embedded into our daily lives. A process can be helpfully broken down with the following:
- Identify routines – Choose daily activities that are most important to your child and family and when challenges tend to occur.
- Define Goals – Determine what you would like your children to do during the routines, imaging the experience at its very best.
- Determine Behaviors that Need to Change – Clearly define what skills your children would need to develop to participate fully in the routine and what behaviors are interfering with the activity.
- Identify patterns affecting behavior – Identify what circumstances and consequences are contributing to the success or failure of the routine (e.g., who is present, what is happening, how is the environment organized, when does it occur, and what happens afterward?).
- Create Strategies – Develop strategies that fit given the patterns to prompt positive behavior and prevent problem behavior, teach communication and daily living skills, and manage how you respond to your child(ren)’s behavior.
- Implement the Plan – Use your strategies as consistently as possible, engaging others to create continuity. The effectiveness of your plan is dependent of consistency.
- Monitor progress – Record how the routine goes (e.g., what steps are completed, how your child behaves) keeping a simple record or journal. Take time to celebrate your daily successes.
Examples of using PBS to enhance daily routines may be found in the following articles:
- Transitions – Improving Transitions, 2014
- Bedtime – Let’s Get a Good Night’s Sleep, 2012
- Morning Routines – Starting the Day Off Right, 2015
- Community Outings – Going Places, 2014
- Medical Appointments – Say Aah, 2016
- Shopping – Shopping without Dropping, 2019
Every child is an individual and the remedy for each behavioral challenge is just as unique. Using PBS allows a parent to accurately identify the strengths and barriers that currently exist in a child, daily routines, and household dynamics and to enhance family lives. To find even more information, be sure to check out the Positive Behavior Supports Special Issue as well as an Interactive Tutorial from the Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS).
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.
- Proven Strategies for Supporting Your Child’s Behavior
- Spare The Rod: Addressing Difficult Behavior Effectively
- Family Chat Replay: Improving Family Lives with Positive Behavior Support
- Positive Behavior Support as a Family Affair
- A Parent’s Roadmap to Improving Challenging Behavior With Positive Behavior Support
- Use Your Words Replacing Problem Behavior with Communication
- How Positive Behavior Support Can Work In A School Setting
- Using Visual Strategies to Improve Behavior
- Staying in the Green Zone With Positive Behavior Support
- Cultivating Support for Your Child’s Challenging Behaviors
- Bookshelf Essential: Parenting with Positive Behavior Support
- Can Your Thoughts Impact Your Child’s Behavior?
- Finding Common Ground: Working Together to Resolve Behavioral Challenges
- Getting Ahead of the Game: Changing Behavior and Family Life
- Getting Involved with Positive Behavior Support at Your Child’s School
This post originally appeared on our November/December 2019 Magazine